Hogs and hygge

Karl Worley’s Talk at Camp Bacon 2018

Good morning. I bring you greetings from the Appalachian Mountains. My people say howdy. Y’all are a much better looking bunch than who I spoke to last week. Last week I got the opportunity to speak at camp tofu. Definitely not nearly as good looking as y’all. I delivered a message to the vegans, I want to deliver a sermon to you good bacon loving folk. I come to you today to talk about hogs and hygge. Spelled H.Y.G.G.E. and as one of the great anarchist of my time, Winnie the Pooh says “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”

Hygge is a Danish term that has no exact translation. This term is used to represent the feeling of calm, joy, safety, security that we feel when something takes us back to that part in our life that feels homey. These feelings are different for everyone. For some of us it is sitting around the fire chatting with friends while drinking good wine. For others it’s being by ourselves reading a good book. I challenge that many of us here today have a hyggelige feeling about bacon. As silly as it may sound, bacon is not only what binds us together here, but also what brings this feelings of home to many of our memories. I know for myself, bacon represent some of the earliest hyggelige memories I have. Sitting around the breakfast table chatting, connecting, and eating food together. I reference John Egerton, the undisputed king of Southern food writing, who said “In practically every good and lasting memory any Southerner holds — of family and friends, of home and countryside, of school and church, of joyful and even solemn occasions — food is there, working through all the senses to leave a powerful and permanent impression.”

I come here today not to give you everything hygge is, what makes great bacon, how bacon plays a role in our society, there are far more scholarly people who will tell you all about that, but I come to challenge you to introduce the idea of hygge to the world around you. How do I do this you may ask? My favorite way is through bacon. Just so this isn’t theoretical, I want to tell you about my life.

I was born at Route Three, Bristol, Tennessee. This is 60 miles northeast from Knoxville, TN and 240 Miles Northeast of Nashville, TN in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. It was there that I first saw the light of day. I spent the first three years of my life living on my grandfather’s farm. It was a picturesque farm in East Tennessee with rolling Hills, beautifully manicured fields, tobacco fields, 2 acres of garden, and a beautiful farmhouse. Now as you paint this picture in your mind I want you to think about the beautiful field with the long grass blowing in the wind, happy cows grazing in the distance. Now imagine a mobile home in the middle of this beautiful field. That is where we lived. When my grandfather passed away I was four. We put the wheels back on the mobile home and move it to a mobile home park. My parents were long divorced, and my mother began dating again. She brought home a man who would eventually become my stepfather. He would remain in my life life until I eventually moved in with my real father when I was in eighth grade. The man who was my step-father taught me many things about hard work, how to live with little, and how to use tools. One of the things I did not learn from him was the meaning of home. On the weekends, he would be 12 beers in by 10 AM and by noon, he would progress to liquor. I would live with constant optimism of him being passed out by 5, but that rarely happened. On the other hand, he and my mother would begin verbally fighting, and more often than not, it would end in physical matches that I would get involved in. The weeknights were not much better, with the exception of 12 beers in meant 7pm, and passing out after dinner. This was my life. I say these things to you not for pitty, not for some therapy, but to challenge you.

You see because this was my life, I did not have the feeling of home. One of the great blessings that, at the time I was ashamed of, but realized later in life, was growing up in a mobile home park. I had 15 other hard-working families around us that knew this situation that I was being raised in. It wasn’t too long before I began being invited over to the May’s house for breakfast. I might get invited over to the Smith’s for lunch, or the Baptist preacher who lived in front of me may invite me in for dinner. These were people who lived simply, and shared with me what they did not have to, their food, their attention, their time. It is because of them, I have a deep sense of appreciation for the word hygge, even when I didn’t understand what it was. With families around me I was able to let my guard down and experience home. I was able to experience comfort, joy, peace, and hygge at its simplest form. Every time I smell bacon cooking, I go back to the Mays’ table and I can see the formica table with eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, and gravy. Mrs. Mays commanding her cast iron skillets with the grace of an orchestra conductor. I remember how great the end of summer tomatoes tasted from their tiny garden, and how they would always send me home with 2 or 3 for later. I remember walking down and watching their 9 o’clocks (flowers that strangely opened at 9am) open and always being invited in for breakfast. I remember the smell of those flowers, and it takes me back home. Not to the house I grew up in, but to the home I knew as a 5 year old child. The place that made me feel safe, secure, and like nothing else in the world mattered. Where time stood still.

In my eighth-grade year I went to live with my father. It was a much better environment, but he worked most of the time. I found that same hyggelige feeling when my friend James’ family invited me over for breakfast and dinner. They allowed me to stay with them when my father was out of town. We sat around a table and ate. With eating, we shared life and experiences and stories. The hyggelige feelings instilled from them helped make me person I am today. At James’s house, I was able to experience what a well functioning family structure looked like. They took me to Dollywood, my hillbilly Disney World. I rode my first amusement park rides there. I ate funnel cake. Lots and lots of funnel cake. I watched a blacksmith make a belt buckle. I can still smell the coal burning fire he was stoking to heat the metal. You know we are blessed to shut Biscuit Love’s doors three times per year, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Dollywood Day. I still get hyggelige feelings every time we get off the bus’ with our employees, and enter the park. It is fun to see new memories being formed in the eyes and hearts of our people.

You see, I am a product of other people teaching me what hygge is. We all have that power inside of us. I was able to listen to Ari during a Speaker Series at Zingtrain last month. It was a talk about Servant Leadership. He was talking about the belief cycle (which has changed my life by the way) and stated that beliefs are learned. You and I are not born with beliefs in place. We learn these from our environment. The feeling of hyggelige is also taught. We come into the world without the feelings of home. Some of us are lucky enough to be born into a place that surrounds us with these feelings. We do this with our kids and our life partners. We do this with the people we are lucky enough to surround ourselves with. We do this where we work.
I challenge each of us to spread this feeling of home. How we might do that? It takes time. You see, the more time we spend on something or with someone, generally the better it is. Take bacon for instance. I mean, it is the common ground connecting us all this weekend. Bacon is made from the belly of the pig. We can rub salt and spices on that pork belly, cook it and it will taste great. The flavors though are just on the surface. Underneath the surface is the flavor of pork. The same flavor it has always had. The spices haven’t had time to penetrate deep into the meat and change the meat. Any good bacon is made by rubbing the salt, spices and cure on the meat I’m letting them marinate or cure for a long period time. This allows the flavor to penetrate deep down in the meat and changes the flavor of the meat all the way through. This love and attention produces something worthy of us dedicating an entire weekend to an amazing food. Hyggelige is the same way. It is great when we feel it. It is better shared with people who make it their own.

The best example I have of this is my friend Kevin. You see I have this dream of opening a nonprofit coffee in bicycle shop in Nashville. I shared this dream of one of my friends who promptly said I should help foster kids. I dismissed him until a couple of weeks later when Sarah, my wife and I drove into work one morning. In the words of one of our employees, we were debating hard. She sat at the back table and I sat at the front. About 30 minutes went by and she asked me to come back. When I did, she explained that the man sitting at the bar would like to talk to me. I told her I didn’t know him, and she said that I’d spoken with him last week. I knew that I had never met him, but I went and to talk to him. The man was obviously homeless and as our people are taught, everyone deserves dignity and respect whether or not they can pay for the meal, and so they had set him down, brought him a feast, and he was eating. I asked his name and he replied Kevin. I asked where he was from and he said east Tennessee. His story was getting great because we had something in common. I asked Kevin what town he was from, and he replied Kingsport Tennessee. I told Kevin I grew up in Bristol just down the road. I asked him what high school he went to went to, and to my surprise we went to the same high school Sullivan Central. You see, that isn’t where the bizarre coincidence (if you want to classify it as that) ends. When asked what year he graduated, Kevin said He would have graduated in 1996, but that he never really had a home. He grew up in the foster care system and was mistreated and beat, he ran away when he was 15 to live in Nashville and had lived on the streets of Nashville ever since. I left Kevin that morning thinking of how someone from my high school and my class could have been the person I was sharing time with. Later that day when I pulled out my high school yearbook from 1995, I found an old picture of Kevin. I remembered him vividly. Over the next year Kevin would come to the restaurant four times or more a week to eat. When I was at the restaurant, I would sit down with him and share a few minutes over a meal. My restaurant table and the few minutes I was able to share with Kevin became a hyggelige experience to him. You see life didn’t allow for Kevin to have many of these feelings. The really incredible part of taking time out of my day to spend time with Kevin, was the growth of the hyggelige experience in me. Much like turning a pork belly in the bacon, it took time, patience, and love with someone to penetrate deep and touch the heart and soul. You see, the most amazing thing, at least to me was what I thought was giving that hyggelige experience to Kevin was actually building it in me. I think many of our hyggelige feelings are like that. It catches us when we least expect it, and creates a imprint on our souls that feels like home, wherever that may be.

So I challenge us to leave here, and introduce the world hyggelige. Not by preaching it or teaching it, but by taking the most precious resource we have, our time, and spending that with different folk. I think our world could use a little more of that right now, and so could many of its people. Thank you for your time and God bless bacon.