Building a 10′ x 4′ x 3′ barbecue pit behind Gailey Hall was not necessarily on Allen Clark’s list of things to do this year. As Food Service Director for Sage Dining, however, he has learned that students at Mount Vernon are eager to learn about food — where it comes from, its nutritional value, regional availability, and various cooking techniques. Food education is a centerpiece of Sage Dining’s mission.
Clark shares, “Many of the students that I talk to at MVPS do not have a great understanding for the provenance of their food. Often meat is “that red stuff” in packages at grocery stores, fruit and vegetables are things that are found neatly stacked in the same stores and other food items are found the same way. I make no argument against the convenience and efficiency of this manner of procuring nourishment, but there is something lost in not knowing the chain of events that must occur for our food to be available to us in this manner. The work that is done and the ultimate sacrifice made by the plants and animals is so far removed from us that we lose appreciation for those things. It makes food a disposable commodity. So, I decided to bring in a whole pig to cook so our students could experience the nature of food.”
Mohamad Dirir, Executive Chef, and Clark built a full-scale barbecue pit out of cinder blocks, then added racks and an aluminum cover in preparation for the 100-pound pasture raised hog they received from a farm in North Georgia. After dressing the meat by rubbing herbs and spices inside and out, they placed the pig on the pit and covered it to retain the heat of burning wood and charcoal. The temperature inside the pit started at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit and sat for two hours before it was reduced to 200 to 225 degrees. It was maintained at that level for an additional 14 hours, overnight, until the temperature in the middle of the meat registered at 200 degrees on a thermometer. By that time, the skin was a reddish-brown and the smoky aroma filled the campus.
Several pork shoulders and loins were smoked alongside the pig to serve to students, faculty and staff that day, for lunch. Clark adds, “It was a feast of smoked pork!”
Throughout the smoking process, Clark led several classes to the pit, detailing the genesis of his endeavor. He explains, “Having a whole pig on the grill offered me a great opportunity to reach many students — encouraging them to think about food, energy, ethics, respect and nutrition. It was a great conversation starter, helping our students to make further connections to the world around them. And, it was a delicious lunch.”
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