Fareway in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Shopping at Fareway is a quintessentially Iowa experience. It’s local grocery chain based in Boone, and its clung admirably to its Midwestern roots. Employees – for example – are expected to wear white button-up shirts and black ties, even at vaunted the meat counter, where they also don paper hats right out of the fifties. Visible tattoos and gratuitous piercings are, of course, a big no-no. In a world where most entry level employees look like they moonlight in Ramones cover bands, that’s quite a demand, but somehow they find people.
Fareway’s dedication to Corn Belt ideals goes far beyond its dress code. Traditional gender rules reign supreme here. For the most part, men stock and “man” the meat counter and women run the registers. Also, as a rule, Fareway is closed every Sunday. And get this, they don’t just bag your groceries for you. They load the groceries into your car, pretty much insisting on it. One of Fareway’s big selling points is that it’s “full-service”, and I’d almost call its modestly sized stores intimate in scale and scope.
The real star attraction of any Fareway, though, is the meat counter. Sure, the produce and other items aren’t bad, but there’s nothing like having a knowledgeable staff in paper hats wrap up quality farm fresh cuts of meat in wax paper. Which, almost inevitably, brings up another quintessentially Iowa experience: cooking and eating an Iowa chop.
Iowa is the pork mecca of the United States. Right now, about 20 million pigs are snorting in Iowa and rolling in Iowa mud. So it makes sense that Iowans wouldn’t be reduced to eating thin, tough pork chops. No, the state has its own cut, the king, the T-bone of pork, a chop that demands a hefty serrated blade.
It even looks kinda like steak if you squint.
The Iowa Chop was cooked up by the Iowa Pork Producers Association in the ’70s to try and position pork as a high-end meat. It’s a thick, impossible juicy center-cut typically sold “bone-in”, which just means the meat is still on the bone, and it’s hard to cook it wrong. Even the most ham-handed weekend warrior grill master will come away with a damn good, tender hunk of meat. All you have to add is a little rub and you’re set (not that I’m against fancier approaches).
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the role the “Porkettes” played in popularizing the Iowa chop. In the sixties, thinking up product promotions was essentially considered a man’s job. Luckily for us, however, that didn’t stop a group of brave and determined woman from organizing the Iowa Porkettes to disseminate the gospel of Iowa pork to the masses. They wanted to take an active role in the fortunes of the local pork industry – and their farms, in the process – and God bless them for it.
The Porkettes successfully sold the Iowa chop to restaurants across the state in the seventies, allowing the cut to work its way into the hearts and stomachs of many an impressionable Iowan. Had it not been for their stellar efforts, the Iowa chop easily could’ve been reduced to a mere footnote in pork history, a forgotten and failed attempt at uplifting the image of the humble pork chop.
In fact, you could almost say that the Iowa chop is a feminist cut of meat. Eating it, I’d say, isn’t just a delicious way to fill up, but an homage to equality. You got to love that.
Now, if you’ll excuse, I’ve got some grilling to do. I just bought two big Iowa chops from the Fareway down the road for about $7.50.
Yeah, that’s right. You wish you lived in Iowa.