Editor’s note: It is the policy of the News not to publish work anonymously, but in this case, the Magazine has made an exception due to the sensitive nature of the material discussed. The News has independently verified the identity of the author, who is a Yale undergraduate student and wishes to be referred to by the pseudonym “H”.
Pork rinds are underwhelming. They’re underwhelming in the same way gay sex is underwhelming.
Think back to the first time you had a pork rind. Maybe you’re Colombian, and you can’t even remember because you were so young, and your abuela kept a never-ending supply of chicharrones in the snack drawer. You must have been sick of them by age five. Or maybe you bought a bag by accident at the supermarket, thinking it was some sort of organic tree-bark chip; got home; peered at the bag; and in a post-Pilates, stomach-grumbling moment of I’ve-been-vegan-for-two-weeks-now-and-I’m-still-depressed, you ate the pork rinds. I told you—underwhelming.
Pork rinds are especially underwhelming when you, like me, waited eight years of your life to have them.
I’m not lucky like Colombians or bad vegans. I’m Muslim. For most of us, pork is not a dinner staple or an innocent mistake in a grocery bag. It’s haram. And for some reason which I’ve never cared enough to learn, it’s a very bad haram. A statistic: there are more Muslims in my life ready to shoot up black tar heroin than nibble on a pork loin. Nibble! Not me, though. If pork is our Prophet’s dope, I’m a junkie.
My addiction started on a second-grade field trip. Since discovering the illicit meat existed, I hadn’t stopped dreaming of it. Clear of parental supervision, I finally had the opportunity to indulge my fantasy. I sat up as our bus pulled over for lunch. I prayed that there was pork at this rest stop. There just had to be.
Behind a stampede of hungry students, I swaggered to the vending machine, fingering the soft one-dollar bill in my pocket like a badass. Of course, the dollar was absolutely flaccid as I attempted to feed it to the machine. When I managed to get it in, I selected my forbidden fruit, labeled with cautionary bold letters: PORK RINDS. My heartrate quickened. The bag spiraled out of its row and dropped into the basin with a noiseless thud. I retrieved the pigskin and walked into the shade with my best friend Jacob, half-Jewish and the only trustworthy witness to my first transgression. Before I knew it, the bag was open, and I was crunching my way to hell. The pork rinds tasted like what packing peanuts probably taste like, if seasoned with Old Bay. They smelled worse.
Despite the anticlimax, I was hit with a rush of adrenaline. There, on the side of a Central Florida turnpike, I committed myself to a lifetime of chasing that heretical high. I was convinced that I loved and craved all things pork. It was advantageous, then, that my neighbors, the Galls, were pork connoisseurs. Getting my fix was as easy as telling my parents I was dining at Jeff’s. I dined at Jeff’s all the time. Ribs, loins, and bellies would crowd my plate beside a small portion of starch and an even smaller portion of salad. It was my WASP-y wet dream, an all-out pig orgy. Napkins stained with pork grease piled on my placemat, a record of my impiety. Though my house was just next door, I felt miles away from halal lamb and lentils.
Some Muslim boys can evade our Prophet. None, not even me, can evade our mothers. Thanks to Mrs. Gall, my loudmouthed pork plug, I was discovered and scolded for my sinful irreverence. But my dad, a drinker, and mom, a smoker and a drinker, couldn’t be too mad. After all, the only thing Muslims hate more than pork eaters are hypocrites. Friends and family couldn’t judge me for eating pork while they drank, smoked, cheated, and lied! I was armed with moral righteousness. Pork became a cause with personal stake. For what seemed like the first time, I had skin in the game of Islam.
Around the time I was outed as a pork eater, I decided to embrace a nickname that had been assigned to me by my friends. It was unrelated to my dietary habits but apt nonetheless: Hammy. Hammy is what you get when you give your Pakistani child a common Arabic name and send them to prep school in the South. It’s the pork-ification of a sacred word, an etymological nightmare for a Muslim family. My real name means strong lion. Hammy is mutant swine. Hammy is haram embodied. Hammy is the first step to dangerous assimilation: lacrosse games, house parties, B-grades, white girlfriends!
The worry was warranted. Hammy became my way into white spaces. I was pronounceable, which meant I could hang. If proof of my coolness was needed, I could always back it up by casually eating a bacon, egg, and cheese in front of a group of friends and await their nods of approval. Of course, they didn’t give a shit. But I did. An alter-ego emerged, one that shattered expectations of how many boundaries a Muslim kid could break. If Hammy could eat pork, he could be Western, modern, openly gay.
But as Hammy consumed more of my identity, transgression became a pattern that extended beyond the culinary. I became a pathological liar, social drug-user, and bone fide arrogant jerk. My slippery moral relativism could justify any behavior, however irresponsible, as long as another Muslim in another place was probably doing something worse. I felt emboldened in my personal jihad against hypocrisy. I was entitled to the world. Since when did pork taste like hubris? Was the Prophet right all along?
The first guy I had sex with had an underwhelming dick. I could barely feel it. It was the best sex of my life. As I laid next to him on my dorm room bed, not exactly panting, I realized something I should have at the rest stop, all those years ago, when I was stuffing my mouth with my first bag of rinds. I didn’t love pork. I loved freedom.