Imported pig prompts foodie fistfight


The trouble started at Cochon 555, a multi-city cooking showdown in which local chefs prepare a whole heritage breed pig. The tour came to Portland in May, where the winning chef used an Iowa-raised Red Wattle pig—a fact which did not sit well with restaurant owner Eric Bechard, who thought out-of-state pigs should have been excluded from an event that promoting sustainable and local food.

Headbutting and fist-flying ensued. Like you do.

Before things got ugly that night, the pigs' pasts were a concern for several people attending the event. "Misrepresentation!" they chanted in the back of the room at the Governor Hotel. Mr. Bechard was the most passionate among them.

"I get there and I get the flier and I'm immediately sickened because I'm seeing 'local,' 'sustainable,' 'local farms,' 'local chefs,' 'local wine,' " Mr. Bechard recalled, "and then two of the pigs are from Kansas and Iowa? I'm looking at my friend and he said, 'Eric, just let it go.' "

Many hours and drinks and insults later, witnesses told police Mr. Bechard was the aggressor when he encountered Brady Lowe, the event's Atlanta-based organizer, outside a bar. Words were hurled and fists flew. The police came, firing Tasers and pepper spray.

New York Times puts the fight in context of Portland's local food/business movement.

Willamette Week Online has the he said/he said details.

Image courtesy flickr user be_khe, via cc


  1. So apparently it’s not ok to eat a pig if it has traveled across an arbitrary political border before being prepared. However, it is ok to try to punch someone in the face. Sounds like wonderful people.

  2. There is an incredibly conservative moment in the local/organic foods movement. That is only starting to be expressed. Think Edmond Burke.

    No doubt that there are important issues of misrepresentation of a local festival. But will this morph into out-of-towners, foreigners, people we disagree with are not welcome?

    1. I love me a good food fight.

      more seriously – foodies take food seriously, and most chefs (esp the ones i know firsthand) are not known for their calm demeanor and introspective sides.

  3. This in a world where hunger is prevalent. Words were hurled, fists flew, the police were summoned to restore order. So passionate about something that really matters, aren’t they? Spoiled babies.

  4. Sounds very un-Portland the fistfight. Something in the air or water, maybe all the green but it is a very mellow place nearly 100% of the time. Maybe it is something about competition chefs being a little crazy.

  5. A friend of mine forwarded the article to me with the commentary: “totally Portland”.

    My response as a Portland resident?

    Why yes, the police firing tasers and pepper spray for a small, 2-man squabble is totally Portland!

  6. @Apreche Trucking something 1800 miles is not just crossing an “arbitrary political border.” Especially when the event was meant to highlight locally raised ingredients.

    That said, this is still kind of absurd.

  7. This is one of those rare cases where I think the use of tasers and pepper spray is pretty appropriate.

  8. Technically, the chef who started the physical fight is with a restaurant in McMinnville, which is a smallish rural suburb town about 90 minutes from Portland. It’s recently become much more suburban, but used to be quite rural and is still very much a farming community. I am sure people can understand a top notch chef from a farming community, where food is raised, being bent out of shape about food that’s been imported.

    That being said, he still shouldn’t have punched and/or headbutted anyone over it. He really wasn’t trying too hard to go against the common misconception that small towns are full of violent rednecks.

  9. You can’t cook Pork & Beans Buckingham Palace Style without a tasty li’l Hammus Alabamus.

    Because the only critter as tasty is…

  10. I’ve started my own public, foodie-related shitfest that played itself out in the media as well. Mark Frauendfelder linked to it, here: The story made it into the Washington Post.

    Here’s what I learned: I was acting like an incredible, attention-seeking asshole. So was the coffee shop’s owner, so was everyone involved. The whole situation was like the Olympic logo made out of brown, puckered rings.

    Stories like this are really entertaining, but nobody ever looks good in them.

  11. Half your friend list is spam accounts (first world problem)
    Your hams from another state (first world problem)

  12. Hilarious.
    Portland is a great town, but this story is totally un-surprising, as noted above.

  13. The unfortunate part of the story is that this chef has a raging bad reputation for starting fights and taking the party beyond alcohol. In this case, he took the chef community of Portland down the tubes. His action of pushing women, according to the police report “pushed a woman involved with the event” – is taking things too far (when was that okay to push women) and in the midst of the smoke come out looking as a food vigilante of sorts. He did more damage to the newly adapted food tem “localvore” then all he claims to do being a voice of local – which – i am sure segregated some communities. In addition, I am sure the chef community in Oregon, not even portland where he claims to be from – is not signing his praises. The nat’l food community and those interested in local food are looking at this aged incident as anchor of complaint for the city of PDX as a whole – enough to land it in the grey lady. This is a sure case that a rogue chef not seeing the big picture. Bring local sometimes helps you miss being part of a larger community – but i guess one can lose site of that living in a vacuum.

  14. “You can’t cook Pork & Beans Buckingham Palace Style without a tasty li’l Hammus Alabamus.

    Because the only critter as tasty is…”

    Not sure where you’re going there … Irish babies?

  15. Delicious tazed ham with pepperspray sauce.

    a lot of restaurant people can be pretty belligerent and cranky.

    1. “Oh the trials and tribulations of elite hipsterism.”
      You have no idea. Nowhere on earth are there more skinny jeans and fixed speed bikes as Portland.
      Tasty food, though.
      Also a lot of bums and losers, however. Not homeless, just bums and losers that seem to gravitate to the city. Other than that, it’s a cool place.

  16. I think the reason people are linking to this story is because it’s kind of funny that he takes it so seriously. I guess he watches too much Gordon Ramsay on TV. I think this whole fad of cooking an entire animal from head to toe reeks of machismo anyways. It’s always dudes trying to show how cool/ daring it is to eat pig brains and such. It’s like a foodie version of Fear Factor.

  17. I had no idea that “heritage breeds” of pork were a thing. Now I’m just one ingredient away from the world’s snobbiest BLT!

    1. Alton Brown explained this once – it’s because factory farmed pigs have been bred specifically for lean meat and stability, and thus the pigs most of us eat lack a lot of flavor.

    1. Haha!

      “Officer Gordy, we have a disturbance at Cochon 555.”

      “Thanks, Babe. I’m on it. *snort*”

  18. if you go back to the root article in the willamette weekly – the chef pushed a girl before attacking the organizer. Was it okay to push girls in the name of local food??? Was that seen as someone needing to be held accountable – sounds like a chef with a drinking problem was upset with the outcome of the event and by all means wanted to share his rage with someone. What if the fight did not happen, the chef (living 50 miles outside of Portland) could have really hurt someone by drinking and driving. Could he of blamed that on the pig too? To me, it doesn’t sound like he was making good decisions.

    The point here is looking beyond local to grow any community. I lived in Seattle and we saw outside influence at the University market. Years ago, there was a very simple arrangement of vendors selling the same thing, four varieties of tomatoes, 2 kinds of squash, just a couple greens. One cheese guy and one pig farmer. Now there is a bounty of change and more on the horizon. Farmers are expanding the types of livestock beyond the “pink pig” of industrial agriculture – one guy having a “wooly pig”. These types of pigs/tomatoes come from exposure outside the market plain and simple. I read a story on a farmer who saved money to go visit another farm, across the country. They brought back a new idea and then tried to find a couple chefs in their area to buy the new pigs they were raising. Unfort, the business was not doing well because they could not find buyers and when it came to pay the bank back, they had to sell there hard work for the same price as commercial pigs. They lost money and their inspiration. Having to learn a new breed, find customers and deliver product is hard work. To me, it sounds like this event is bringing new breeds to each market across the country – and most of all, finding customers for farmers. The event creates inspiration for iowa chefs to use pigs that are winning in Portland food competitions and for Oregon farmers, it creates inspirtation to look at new types of livestock. After looking at the cauchon555 website, i saw a huge list of chefs who buy the right pigs – its almost a calling card for farms.

  19. I bet they weren’t yelling about the food as they were fighting.

    Most fights start off as something stupid, but then someone calls someone an asshole, and then a pussy, and then there’s a shove, and then it’s on.

    They end up fighting because of the insults and wanting to avoid looking like a coward.

  20. Maybe I’m a bad person, but this is what I thought when I read this…

    [julia child voice]
    First you season the belligerent cook with pepper spray for extra pizazz.
    Then you taze him until he’s nice and tender.
    [/julia child voice]

  21. As a chef who’s also an adult, I’m getting tired of the “bad attitude and/or shit people skills = sexy food rebel” bullshit put forth by the Food Network and pop authors like Anthony Bourdain. (Thank God someone took Bourdain aside and told him that you can get Ramones t-shirts at Hot Topic these days.) A chef is a chef is a chef, nothing more; the title is an incidental adjective and does not come with other positive or negative adjectives attached. And any immature dipshit with money to burn can buy the full sleeve tattoos and custom chef jackets and try to pass them off as a rebellion of sorts to a credulous public.

    True, the lousy hours and crap pay can damn well make you a grumpy fuck like me … but it’s a consequence of the life, not what should draw you to the industry in the first place.

    To sum up: Christ, what an asshole (Bechard is).

  22. A pig caused the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys people. It’s not funny and people can get hurt.
    The time for porcus related violence is over.
    from Wiki-
    “The second recorded instance of violence in the feud occurred thirteen years later, in 1878, after a dispute about the ownership of a hog: Floyd Hatfield had it and Randolph McCoy said it was his.[2] The pig was only in the fight because some of the Hatfields believed that since the pig was on their land, it was theirs. Some of the McCoys objected, saying the “notches” (markings) on the pig’s ears were McCoy marks, not Hatfield marks. The matter was taken to the local Justice of the Peace, and the McCoys lost because of the testimony of Bill Staton, a relative of both families. Presiding over the case was Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield. In June 1880, Staton was killed by two McCoy brothers, Sam and Paris, who were later acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.”

  23. This is just plain nativism, an American tradition. Local-food proponents seem to have taken a page from Vegans in drawing political lines over food choice. It’s unfortunate, ultra-conservative, and socially annoying.

    1. Some of it is, yes, but not all.

      I have no inherent interest in valuing nearby farmers over farmers far away, anymore than I think the homeless people in my city deserve my attention substantially more than the even poorer homeless people on other continents.

      I *do,* however, have an interest in a) eating fresher food, and b) helping maintain and increase crop biodiversity. The more breeds of tomatoes there are, the better tomatoes will fare when new plant diseases arise, or when changing climate and soil conditions move production to new regions. The less time between when it gets picked and when I eat it, the riper it will be (and the less ripening has to be done artificially), so that some foods will taste better local. Also, crop breeds from big farms are often selected for durability so they can withstand shipping, rather than for taste, texture, and nutritive value.

  24. Oh, No, please no pictures of cute piglets.
    Grown up pigs are (to me) decidedly *not* cute, but the little ones- they make me want to refrain from eating bacon. NO!

  25. Ugh, as a Portlander, I find a lot of this commentary seemingly looking to denigrate an idea based on a false premise.

    These 2 nitwits took it way too far and way too seriously, but seriously any trivial argument can et carried too far if passions are running high.

    That being said, the local food movement has is simply about 2 primary things:
    1). Support your local farmers.
    2). addressing climate and energy issues by focusing on seasonal and local foods within 100 miles.

    We love and want to protect our urban farms and dislike subsidized corporate farming. Shopping for my family we certainly try to buy local/seasonal, but if what we *need* is not produced locally, then we are content, to a degree, with purchasing produce from other states/countries

    Yet people here seem to interpret this as some sort of militant movement due to a stupid altercation between 2 nitwits?

    So Apreche and SaintLaurent: give it a rest. Your indignation is worse than those who promote local foods.

    Gabrielm is spot on

  26. Let me translate this into locally comprehensible terms. There’s a contest to write a story about a character from Star Wars. The winner’s story is about Deanna Troi. Now do you get the fisticuffs?

    1. No. That’s not what happened. The contest was not about the pigs–it was about the chefs, each of whom was given a pig to prepare. One of the chefs got a pig from Iowa; the rest got hogs from the Northwest. But the winning chef won not because his pig was better, but because his preparations were. He just happened to have a not-local pig. The pigs were not judged, and their origin was not a matter of concern to anyone but Eric Bechard, who took it upon himself to poison a fun event.

      A proper analogy would be at Star Trek fanfic contest in which the winner used paper that was imported from Maine while everyone else’s paper was made down the block. It’s not relevant to the competition, but some self-appointed protector of the local paper industry punches the organizer in the face over it anyway.

  27. The NYT was stretching a bit to make this fight about “new provincialism”–a phenomenon that exists in Portland, where we viciously turn upon anyone who achieves national success. The fight was a window into the world of professional kitchens, many of which are run by people who are too nuts to work in the real world and are always looking for a fight. Chef bars can be scary places. While the triviality of the disagreement is amusing, the story is really a sad one, about what happens when you combine volatile people with obscene amounts of liquor.

  28. I want to know whether the pepper spray used by the police was made from locally-grown peppers.

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