Q&A with @PorkAdventurer aka Abdullah Saeed

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Three weeks ago, 25-year old Philadelphian and lifelong foodie Abdullah Saeed did something thousands of people around the world were doing that very minute – he wrote a blog post. The post, titled “What a strange new feeling” was the first for his blog, ‘Adventures in Pork: A Muslim eats various pork dishes for the first time in his life and divulges his thoughts.’ Over the next four weeks, Saeed, a DJ and freelance writer tried Wendy’s Baconator, Pork Vindaloo and BBQ pork ribs among other pork dishes. The reaction from the blogosphere was immediate. Phoodie, a Philadelphia food and drink blog had this to say about Adventures in Pork, “Saeed’s almost poetic prose and fresh perspective on swine merge like ribs and BBQ sauce that makes for a witty feast for the eyeballs.” Thrillist wrote, “a scrumptious blog from a guy who realized he could have his pig and eat it too.”

I first heard about Saeed a few days ago, when I asked Hassan from Sunny Ali & The Kid who ‘The Kid’ was in the band. He introduced me to Saeed’s blog and suggested I read it. I was immediately hooked. I simply had to interview my bacon-brother-from-another-mother (especially given my own current exploration of pork.) Saeed was kind enough to sit down and share his story with SM. Q: Tell me a little about your upbringing.

A: I was born in New Hampshire but my parents moved to Bangkok, Thailand when I was an infant and we lived there until I was 13. After that, we moved to Long Island and then New Jersey. We also spent some time in Boston, where I first met Shahjehan of The Kominas. I came to Philadelphia in 2002 to attend Temple University where I majored in marketing.

Q: Marketing, huh? That explains a lot. Is that what you did after you graduated in 2006?

A: I hated marketing. However, I did work for an ad agency after graduation. Then I started contributing to Foundation, a mix-tape magazine based in South Philadelphia that is now defunct. I wrote music reviews for them before I became their music editor, which I did for a year and a half.

Q: When did your interest in music begin?

A: I originally played drums in high school for an old-school style punk rock band, in the Dead-Kennedy’s style. I was listening to Brit electronica, which I got from my older brother (who I later played with during college in a band called Cold Hands Collective). As a DJ in high school, I had no one to rap over my beats. That was about the same time I came up with the name Blame the Kid. I craved having DJs and rappers around me.

My jumping-off point was writing for joshspear.com about music trends. I also wrote about music for the website One Riot. I’ve worked with a lot of websites and there are a lot of web projects I did with decent success, but nothing like the initial response to Adventures in Pork.

Q: Why do you think this particular project, Adventures in Pork, resonated with so many people?

A: Well the idea is so provocative, someone who is Muslim eats pork for the first time. My non-Muslim friends were very excited about how I was getting about this eating of pork. People kept giving me recommendations, telling me ‘You should try this pork dish or ‘You should go this place for pork.’ I saw this as a button that hasn’t been pushed yet.

Q: Your blog is centered around the idea of your Muslim heritage. Is that something you incorporate in your music?

A: In music I never utilized my heritage. I never said to myself. I’m Pakistani, I should listen to Mehdi Hassan because it has to do with my heritage. Actually one of my inspirations was Shajehan from the The Kominas who showed me the Taqwacore documentary. Being a young male musician who is also American Muslim, that documentary really inspires you, even if you’re not playing desi music or Islamic music.

Q: When did you first think about eating pork? In your blog, you write “I drink alcohol, philander with women (albeit only one. I call her ‘girlfriend’), gamble within my means, and duck every regulation that doesn’t fit with my lifestyle, yet I did not eat pork.”

I had no intention of ever eating pork, never even thought about it. One day in May, I grabbed a Vietnamese hoagie, called banh mi from a place in South Philadelphia and went to pick up my younger cousin, who’s like a brother to me. My cousin went to take a bite from the hoagie and I told him, “There’s no meat in it, it’s veg” because 10 out of the 12 hoagie options at the place had pork in them and I didn’t eat pokr. My cousin gave me an incredulous look and said, “You don’t eat pork?” I was shocked. It was like my older brother telling me that he smoked pot. I was excited by that idea.

Q: Tell me about the first time you ate pork.

I went to the Rome for the month of August and just before I left, I had a conversation with my mother, who has never eaten pork herself. My mom is very liberal, she didn’t tell me not to do it, she just said, see how you feel in the moment. I went there and my friend’s girlfriend was cooking a lot of Italian pork dishes and I was just like, ‘To hell with it.’

Q: Do you consider yourself Muslim?

A: Well, when I was younger, I was constantly questioning my faith. I don’t take Islam too seriously. For now, my only connection to Islam is cultural, I don’t practice it. But I know that when people look at my name, they are going to treat me as Muslim.

Q: You and Hassan Malik, formerly of the band POPO, recently started a group called Sunny Ali & The Kid. How did you meet Hassan?

A: I was playing with a band called The Mighty Paradox at the same show that Hassan was playing with POPO. When Hassan started his thing, he contacted me. Before this, the only desi guy I had ever played with was my older brother.

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Q: In a recent blog post, you write “I still won’t cook it [pork] at home, nor will I buy it at the grocery store.” Why?

A: I don’t cook pork. I do cook a lot of Thai food at home because it is comfort food for me. Each time I eat pork, it’s an adventure to me. If I’m hungry, I’m never gonna get an Italian hoagie. Even the best pork I eat, I’m like ‘Oh god.’

Q: And if I’m not mistaken, you’re still not a bacon fan. What’s up with that, man? What is wrong with you? I mean, what’s wrong with bacon?

A: I don’t not like bacon, I just feel like it’s not the great thing ever. I’m not sure why. It’s good. I just don’t understand the hype. So far the best thing I’ve had is pork belly.

[Editor's note: There was a pause before PG could stop weeping and regain her composure.]

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in Philly overall and what’s your favorite place for pork?

A: I like the Vietnamese place at 9th and Race and also Phoa Hoa at 11th and Washington. That’s my shit. I can’t decide on a favorite place for pork. I haven’t gone to the same place twice. I’m still waiting for a place like that. If there’s a place that could turn me on to their pork regularly, well…

Q: Let’s get something clear here, you do not, as of yet, actually like the taste of pork, is that correct?

A: When I say something sounds good, when I tell my friends tell me about a new place and I tell them ‘sounds good,’ I mean, it sounds interesting. I’ll try anything. I’ve had kangaroo jerky (it tasted like chicken), brains and beef tripe. Also I’ve eaten frog in Korea.

Q: Your posts often talk about the guilt you feel as you consume pork. Why is that?

A: The guilt is a result of conditioning. The guilt has nothing to do with my beliefs. To me, the idea of eating an animal like the pig has been made real dirty. I don’t ask myself ‘why?’ when I’m eating pork. I’m not thinking about the why, I’m just experiencing it. If you think about ham, it becomes too much. When I think about the parts of a pig [shudders]…

Q: As a foodie, are there any cooking shows you watch particularly?

A: I have to watch more of this cooking stuff and less Seinfeld re-runs, but I do like Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. Eating shows are weird to me, but it’s basically what I do. It’s a strange thing.

Q: Have you ever gotten flack from pious Muslims for your pork-eating adventures?

A: It’s not my place to tell anyone what to do or how to live their life. I’m not encouraging anyone to do anything. If someone can find value in my blog, good for them. If it’s offensive, well…it’s not my responsibility to keep Muslims Muslim. If anything, I’m hoping that non-Muslims will take away more of an understanding of Muslims after reading this. I mean, what really makes you Muslim? Is it the rules? I grew up in both mainstream American and Muslim cultures, I’m trying to play off one of the most interesting dietary restriction Muslims have in a country that doesn’t have any.

24 thoughts on “Q&A with @PorkAdventurer aka Abdullah Saeed

  1. i hope he tried some bacon outside of the context of wendy’s. i don’t think it’s fair to judge bacon by how it tastes in a fast food restaurant, just like it isn’t fair to judge ground beef by fast food burgers. i don’t much like pork personally, and generally avoid ham, which i find gross. food taboos tend to crystallize between the ages of 5-10, and closer to the early than late time period, according to paul bloom. but i have always enjoyed bacon, so long as it isn’t kanadian, because it is so detached from being pork, or beef, or whatever. has to be nice & crispy though.

    as for the relationship between religious beliefs/orientation/etc., as i note above i have some bias against pork products. this despite the fact that i haven’t identified as muslim since i was 8, and in hindsight it’s pretty obvious to me i never believed in all the god stuff (i only encountered the word and concept of atheism at age 8 in a book, and immediately realized that that was me). food, or something as banal as having a dog, are strongly culturally conditioned, no matter what religious or metaphysical beliefs are normally associated with a particular culture. though i’m sure SM readers know that, i’ve met several ‘mutineers’ who have as much religious sentiment as myself, but are strict vegetarians. sure, one can make ethical and health reasons, but i think the odds ratio is going to be way higher if you’re from a dharmic background.

  2. Abdullah has crossed several barriers both within and without in pursuit of experience. Being a Hindu lapsed vegetarian (dairy yes and no onion+garlic as much as possible) who eats almost anything served in a commonplace restaurant now I know how many barriers I crossed. Food preferences should be respected. For the satvik vegetarian even onions and garlic could be problem. Just as kosher halal injunctions regarding pork are respected, taboos about beef and non vegetarian food at large should be respected. Having a son who is the lone vegetarian these days at home, I have seen how difficult it is for someone from the latest generation too

  3. i hope he tried some bacon outside of the context of wendy’s. i don’t think it’s fair to judge bacon by how it tastes in a fast food restaurant,

    Yes. i always thought the ultimate bacon was at peter lugers, where its served as an appetizer with nothing but itself in all its glory…and is about a 1/2 inch thick, and charred. but then i recently had the old hempstead steakhouse version of this dish…which is done using kobe bacon. there’s a reason paents name their kids after the stuff

    i defy anyone to top that

  4. If you are going to start eating pork, then you have to dive into the deep end and start with a slab of fat back.

    Aziz Ansari is also a huge food nut, who also eats pork. He started a food club with Eric from the “Tim and Eric Awesome show” and I wouldnt be surprised if they started a show on the Food network, where they review restaurants with a comedic twist.

  5. The pork taboo in the ‘moderate’ muslim community is an odd one. Although religiously i completely disassociate myself from Islam, consuming pork is something i can’t make myself do, and don’t think i’ll ever be able to. As a few already mentioned above, I’ve always been conditioned to feel this irrational guilt even thinking of eating pork, but feel totally lax about drinking alcohol and committing other cardinal and unforgivable deeds that i will later be roasted alive for, during a period of eighty million years, to quote my childhood huzur. This is something i’ve noticed in most other muslims as well, this forgiving attitude towards alcohol. Maybe cause alcohol is so deeply ingrained in the amrikan/gora culture and serves as a means and opportunity to socialize and bond and unwind.

  6. It is amazing how adults can condition kids.

    I knew of this Muslim guy back in college, who would smoke weed all day long and would never not be high.

    But put a beer in front of him and he would move away from it because alcohol is evil.

  7. I was a vegetarian for 22 years, after moving to Amrika i started to eat whatever is available (partly due to fear of becoming skinny). I like beef (except I felt lil bad when my family was worshiping the cow on Sankranthi, back in desh) but somehow i try to avoid pork (They remind me of the pigs eating from the gutter in desh).

  8. WHY DOES THIS SITE ALWAYS SHOW SO MUCH IGNORANCE NOT EVERYONE WHO IS EAST INDIAN HAS FUCKING BROWN SKIN INDIA IS HOME TO HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF RACES AND ETHNIC GROUPS FROM WHITE TO YELLOW TO BLACK NOT EVERYONE IS FUCKING BROWN SKINNED IM SICK OF PEOPLE STEROTYPING EAST INDIANS WITH BROWN SKIN

  9. bipasha, i think it has something to due with innate biases in cognitive psychology. humans have really strong “priming” instincts in relation to meat. the evolutionary model is that there were major fitness implications in the type of meat you ate, or more generally, children had to be picky about meat because it could be bad and so a health hazard. the same sort of thing does not apply to drinks, especially with something like alcohol which one is socialized to consume as an adult generally.

    and as i said, i find religion pretty incomprehensible personally, but i think food taboos need not necessarily be viewed in an utilitarian manner. after all, there are incidents of muslims who won’t touch packages with pork in them. and a friend whose family is from jordan noted that one of his cousins refused to eat at a restaurant owned by christians because he suspected hat the utensils and plates had had pork on them. so he just ordered alcoholic drinks :-)

  10. @eindian47

    There are far more important things to go off the deep end about. People on this site calling Indians brown is not even a blip on the radar.

  11. Why are the virtues of eating flesh being propagated on this website like this is so cool and ground breaking? You guys seem to be up in arms whenever Desis get treated badly or not as equals. Never have I seen anything on here about animal activism or treating those without a voice equally. Pork is pig is murder. Really quite disgusting and offensive of an image for many people. You want to pull your pants down and offend people? Go ahead. You want to kill someone and have it hang off your mouth? Not Right.

    How about you guys get some pro vegan and vegetarian posts in here? A blog about things related to the land of vegetarianism and yet none of that inspires any of your writers to bring attention to it. I’d encourage people to read up about http://www.sadhanaforest.org/ . That’s cool and progressive and different. Not this.

  12. …i always thought the ultimate bacon was at peter lugers, where its served…

    Manju, Peter Lugers has, for quite some time now, been banished to tourist-magnet status by the ones who know.

    Re taboo vs taboo, several Jewish families I know (prob’ly reformed or even leftier – but I don’t ask) will eat pork products outside the home, but won’t bring it home. My brother-in-law, a true blue Kolkatan will eat anything. My father-in-law has eaten almost every game meat you can have in Eastern India but won’t touch beef. Pork is not forbidden for Hindus. There is a long tradition of pork consumption among the Kodavas, and several other Hindu communities of Odisha, Mithila, Punjab, Rajasthan (comes next to venison of course), and several parts of Central India. But pork for many is the meat of a dirty animal that eats filth and worse, and an inferior food. There is a literary and artistic tradition of celebrating the pleasures of wine in the caliphates and sultanats of yore. But pork is another thing.

  13. Bipasha wrote: Although religiously i completely disassociate myself from Islam, consuming pork is something i can’t make myself do, and don’t think i’ll ever be able to

    Razib wrote:

    as i note above i have some bias against pork products. this despite the fact that i haven’t identified as muslim since i was 8

    Comical. All these “disassociators” can’t get over the pork taboo? I’m not bacon crazy (like chicken feet at Dim Sum, it’s only a quasi-meat), but I love a good pork tenderloin. Or an Easter Ham.

    Now that Abdullah has crossed the pork frontier, he should write a new blog on transgressing other Islamic taboos. Probably too late to discover alcohol or fornication. But there is still one major islamic Taboo that Abdullah probably hasn’t violated. And it’s a doozy — directly linked to the Devil.

    I look forward to reading entries of Abdullah’s next blog project “Adventures in Anal Sex: A muslim sleeps on his belly and lets the devil take him”. Should prove quite popular.

  14. Razib,

    the evolutionary explanation of meat taboo is an interesting one. Makes sense in swine since there aren’t really any nutritional benefits in its consumption. But years back, I came across this convincing anthropological theory that pig hatred in Abrahamic religions (minus Christianity) stemmed from the fact that pigs in general were ill suited to be reared in the climate and environment of the middle east. Of course, there was a lot more to it than I can remember, but so far it sounds like the best explanation i’ve ever come across. Also makes sense that one would be much more reluctant to give in to something they’ve been conditioned to abhor as a child, as opposed to something introduced to them in adulthood. Nonetheless, I think it’s so ironic how moderate muslims (or cherry-pickers, as Dawkins coined) take the pork rule more seriously than the alcohol rule, when clearly the denial of alcohol can be way more justified. Alcohol can initiate serious naughtiness and breed violence and addiction, but how does eating swine meat make you any dirtier than eating beef or chicken would (halal of course!).

    By the way Abdullah, you have to try “feves au lard” – pork n beans in American terminology – with maple syrup. I don’t know if the canned stuff tastes as good, but really it’s the best shit to indulge in for breakfast. Well anyways, it was for me before I made the grueling discovery that “lard” in french means the same thing as lard in English.

  15. Thankfully majority Indians are non vegetarians ….

    Thankfully?

    More like shamefully.

  16. For those of you who crib about the lack of vegetarian food reportage, have you forgotten our resident Satvik Diva (Devi) Anna, and her admirer and aspiring returnee to vegetarianism, yours truly :-) ? Anna I am going to buy you a very nice vegetarian lunch. Some day I will! And then we will write about it here

  17. Eating red meat is a risk factor for developing pre-diabetes, diabetes and heart disease. There are other alternate sources of protein, vegetarian as well as eggs and sea-food, which has overall comely health affects. In a way, being culturally conditioned to avoid red-meats is a gift for desis. Our arteries are narrower on average than Caucasians and we are a red category for heart disease (further proof we are not brown Caucasians?) Thankfully, eating meat is more of a Sunday habit in most of India, and then its mostly chicken.

  18. To add to Kola Nut Techie: Although it’s great that India is the country with the highest amount of vegetarians (25%) which is the highest worldwide….let’s not forget how many of those are lazy vegetarians. Meaning because they don’t get nutrients from animals, they make up for it by consuming high amounts of dairy and sugar. India and Indians living abroad have the highest rates of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, with a current figure of 50.8 million, than any other ethnicity in the world. Shameful. India also consumes the highest amount of dairy in the entire world….scary figures since 1 in 3 adults ARE lactose intolerant and many don’t even know it. Solution: Go vegan.

    Some Sepia Mutiny coverage would be great.

  19. the consumption of pork and the use of its melted fat has been common in India and abroad since eons. i have read porky pig comics and watched its cartoon films but never found it filthy. Food is Food when properly cleaned and cooked, which provides nutrition and promotes health(mental and physical).