For many people, the sudden appearance of bacon hanging on a new neighbor’s backyard clothesline would be a harbinger of delightful times ahead. Fire up the welcome wagon—and the grill! For some residents of 7th Avenue in Whitestone, Queens, a rash of air-drying rashers and chicken has been cause for alarm and outcry. According to reports and social media, the outdoor meat has been a source of tension between longtime locals and new tenants who moved in about a month ago. Though temperatures have cooled significantly since the cured meat first appeared, tempers have not. Even though the worst of the smells and flies have reportedly abated with the autumnal weather, residents have taken to social media with complaints over the “eyesore” and “nuisance” the al fresco pork and poultry have caused.
On the We Love Whitestone Facebook page, one resident posted a picture of the offending meat, asking: “Has anyone ever seen something like this? We have new neighbors 3 doors down and today they hung strips of bacon and dead real chickens gutted in their yard. A few other neighbors called 311 to report. The raccoons and rats on 6th road are going to have a field day.” It kicked off a thread that’s clocked in at 130 responses to date, calling into question matters of legality, health, infestation, and freedom of cultural expression.
A woman at the home in question told a local reporter that the meat was to be used in traditional Chinese dishes. Legally speaking, the residents are not prohibited from preserving their meat this way. One resident reported on the Facebook thread that they had received a response from the New York City Department of Health saying: “If people at this home are preparing/curing this food for their own personal consumption, it is not a violation, unless it rises to the level of being a nuisance to other residents—through odors, etc. They cannot sell to the public or provide to food establishments for resale. From the small amount in the picture, it seems unlikely that they are drying/curing for food establishments."
Culinarily and culturally speaking—it’s not out of the ordinary. Air-drying pork belly (bacon), duck, chicken and other meats in soy, ginger, wine, whiskey, spices, or other combinations is a time-honored method of preservation throughout China, and in predominantly Chinese enclaves around the globe. The technique produces flavors that are integral in Cantonese and Sichuan dishes, and, as some commenters have pointed out they’re a way to maintain a tie to their heritage, far from home. As one man wrote: “Whitestone which is a Melting Pot just like all of New York State. Whitestone, where we have different ethnicities of Asian, Italians, Irish, Greek, African American, and the list goes on and on.”
Another noted that his fellow Croatians and Sicilians cure prosciutto in their basement, absent complaints, and still another wrote: “No one ever said Cultural acceptance would be easy all the time. But a lot of your comments are straight up ignorance. ‘Not being rude or out of hands but that's not how we prepare food in America’ Really? There is a set standard on how food is prepared in America that excludes curing Meat outdoors? You sure about that? It happens everywhere in America since the beginning of time. I personally don't want to see people curing meat but I want to hear everyone here's point of view how this is a violation of some law.”
Still, the complaints roll in, and there is talk of a petition to lobby local authorities to prohibit the practice. A radical notion perhaps, but perhaps the community might be even better served by discussing it together over a meal—perhaps even a potluck where everyone can bring a little bit of their culture to the table.