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Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

—A.A. Milne
A black and white photo of a heart-shaped tomato on the vine

Natural Law #16

To get positive outcomes, we need to begin with positive beliefs

As many of you know, I’ve been working for a while now on what is the next set of Natural Laws of Business (and also of life) that I hadn’t yet formulated when I wrote the initial essay back in 2009 in Part 1. Natural Laws, like gravity, are simply the way the world works. We don’t have to like them, but they will remain true, nonetheless. Exactly how they play out, like everything in the natural world, will always be local, but the principles will be consistent regardless of when and where you put them to work. In the last few months, I’ve written about Natural Laws #13, #18, #19, and #23. This week, I’ll share another from the growing list: #16—“To get positive outcomes, we need to begin with positive beliefs.” Said differently, in an inverted way, “You can’t get positive outcomes from negative beliefs.”

To back up a bit, in The Power of Beliefs in Business I wrote about beliefs as the metaphorical equivalent of the root systems of our lives. We can’t generally see them, but what grows above the surface is always 100-percent correlated with the root system below. In an example of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ wonderful suggestion to seek “simplicity on the other side of complexity,” I started to look at beliefs in three broad categories: negative beliefs, neutral beliefs, and positive beliefs. The roots/beliefs metaphor made the conclusion obvious. What will grow from the roots is already clear before anything sprouts above the surface. Negative beliefs will lead to negative outcomes (aka, “weeds”); Neutral beliefs won’t do much; Positive beliefs will lead to positive outcomes (which we might imagine as the vegetables or flowers we want in our gardens). As anarchist Alexander Berkman once wrote early in the 20th century, “You can’t grow a rose from a cactus seed.” And as Gertrude Stein said thirty years or so later, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” (Stein, by the way, was a student of William James, the pioneering psychologist who said, “Belief creates the actual fact.”)

To be clear, negative beliefs can create action. We could all, I’m confident, come up with a long list quickly. One can use negative beliefs to cause conflict, get someone fired, or even overthrow a government. They can also be used in the short term to push for big achievements by defeating opponents or crushing competition. But ultimately these remain negative pursuits, and the energy behind them will inevitably peter out unless they’re replaced later by positive beliefs. As historian Robin D. G. Kelley writes, “Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us.”

Working with positive beliefs doesn’t mean there are no problems. This is not about Pollyanna. I’ve learned, though, that one can have negative beliefs about a problem (“We’re doomed!”) that lead us toward feeling like frustrated victims. Or we can have positive beliefs about a problem (“This is difficult, but we can do something to make it better!”) that will inspire us to take constructive action. Since I’m already writing about plants and root systems, I’ll use my good friend Melvin Parson’s We the People Opportunity Farm project to illustrate the point. We the People addresses a couple of serious issues. One is helping returning citizens who have only recently gotten out of prison to find jobs and reacclimate to being in the community in positive ways. The other is the loss of farmland and farming in the Black community over the course of the 20th century. Rather than simply express his anger and concern, Melvin created what is now one of the most positive non-profits I know in the area. In the process, Farmer Parson has realized in practice what Grace Lee Boggs advised us half a century ago: “You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.”

(I should add that there’s a whole other discussion which I wrote about in Part 4—what will actually be considered a “weed” will be different from one organization or one culture to another. To wit, a baker questioning an accountant’s financial statement accuracy in most corporate settings would be considered a bad thing, probably grounds for at least a polite reprimand; in an Open Book Management setting, it would be a cause for serious celebration. See endnote #14 on page 580 for a bit more detail and Élisée Reclus’ lovely description of dandelions!)

I wrote a lot about how to put this approach to positive beliefs into practice in Secret #41 in Part 4. There are sixteen practical recommendations and a whole range of stories about what the work looks like when we do it well, and also when we don’t. Both metaphorically and practically, I got additional supporting evidence for Natural Law #16 while listening to sustainable farming specialist Jason Hobson on the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast. Asked what separates farmers who fail when they try regenerative regimens from those who do really well with the same practices, Jason said:

The people who believe things are going to work and that things are gonna change overwhelmingly see success. The people who believe they’re not going to work, probably aren’t going to see success. … Very practically, if you believe in something you’re gonna do the little things that are necessary to make it successful. … What’s the one criterion, the one thing that separates people who are successful in our work? It’s the belief that things are possible, that things can change, it’s the belief that it can happen. And the belief that they have the ability to create the different outcome that they’re looking for.

From a very practical and interpersonal standpoint, I can see this Natural Law play out every day in our workplace. When we live it, by leading with positive beliefs, the odds of things going well go up significantly. When we don’t, the odds of success sink. Recovery is usually still possible, but only by mindful use of positive beliefs.

So many of our issues—mine, and everyone else’s—are triggered by miscommunication and misunderstanding. I’ve long looked at that as a frustration to work past. But in the spirit of what I’m writing, I’m going to shift to a more positive set of beliefs around the problem. Misunderstandings between people, while frustrating, are probably the norm; meaningfully effective communication is the exception. (Thank you to Hasna for helping me see this.) Even with good intentions, it’s not easy to make happen. If we begin, then, with the belief that we will more often than not be misunderstood, knowing too that we will just as often misunderstand others, we can start to see communication more as the all-important craft that it is. Just as great cooking or carpentry require years of conscious practice to achieve anything close to mastery, communication can be something we practice and improve on for the rest of our lives, rather than just another problem to get pissed off about. This, I’ve realized, is one of the most important places to put positive beliefs to work in our day-to-day organizational lives.

Here’s a near-everyday occurrence, which shows how significantly a seemingly subtle shift in beliefs can change our day, or even our entire relationship: Something small goes wrong. It happens, everywhere, every few minutes. One person, frustrated by the problem, starts with the same negative beliefs we all see in the news every day. Based on those beliefs, they come quickly to conclusions like “Clearly, she’s not committed!” Or it could be “He doesn’t even want to work here,” or “She doesn’t care!” What follows from those sorts of beliefs? They’re pretty much going to lead to tension, conflict, anger, maybe disengagement and distancing. More often than not, they will also likely lead to the spreading of even more deeply rooted negative beliefs. As I’ve tried to move myself into embracing Natural Law #16—“To get positive outcomes, we need to begin with positive beliefs”—I’ve worked to change the stories I tell myself in these sorts of situations. And then, taking it further, to help those I coach and work with every day to switch out some of the stories they’re telling as well.

What I’ve begun to do is to ask the folks who are starting with the negative beliefs about their colleague to share some alternative stories they might make up to explain the situation. As Gareth Higgins writes, “The stories we tell shape how we experience everything. When we tell a diminished story, we make a diminished life.” Because beliefs are so far outside most of our day-to-day mental conversations, many folks I ask to reconsider the story they’re telling are almost unable, in the moment, to come up with a more positive alternative to explain the situation they’re so, understandably, stressed about. I get it. It’s taken me six years since I first started working with positive beliefs to get to where I am, and I still slip regularly. To help folks go deeper, I ask again: “So, if you were looking at this situation through a more positive and compassionate lens, what story might you tell?” If they’re still stuck, I try to help by offering what at the Deli we could consider “free samples.” I’ll begin with something like, “Maybe she’s scared and doesn’t know how to handle it well?” Or “Perhaps it’s possible that she shuts down when her stress gets super high?” Or maybe “He might just be afraid to say he doesn’t have all the answers?” Or “Maybe he’s overwhelmed?”

To be very clear, none of these latter stories deny the actual issue—there’s no question that you/they were frustrated when the situation played out as it did. We certainly want to work through the problem. What these new stories—all of which are positive beliefs about the people involved—do is give us a more meaningfully effective way to enter into a conversation in which we have reasonably good odds at emerging with sound understandings and agreement on positive paths forward. Embracing Natural Law #16 has helped me to believe the best about everyone, even those whose beliefs frustrate me, or whose actions I believe are destructive. As Gareth Higgins has it, “We may still want to be right, but we’re learning that it’s better to be creative.” With that in mind, early on in doing this work, I simply decided to believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the limited—and often even inaccurate—information that they have in their heads. While I may still not like what they’re doing, I remain committed to working to find better alternatives. As I wrote in Part 4,

I agree with Isaac Asimov when he writes, “To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable of enjoying the good things.”

Making this switch has, without question, reduced my own stress level, and at the same time, helped me to move more quickly towards mutually-agreed upon solutions. My energy is better and so is my effectiveness. As the amazing author Anne Lamott reminds all of us, “You can either practice being right or practice being kind.”

Gareth Higgins says that the story we tell ourselves about our life,

is the single most important element in determining our happiness and the kind of life we will lead. It is immensely powerful, though most of us aren’t conscious of this much of the time … the story you tell yourself will determine the part you play; as either a courageous, wounded, healer (of yourself and others) or merely a victim of the other people’s broken stories.

Stories, I’ve come to see, are beliefs made manifest. Change the belief, and we change the story. Change the story, and we change our beliefs. Psychologist Paul Watzlawick pointed out that from a car driving past in the dark a man hunched over trying to find his house key looks pretty much identical to someone trying to pick the lock. It’s a great insight, with important implications in all parts of our lives. What we believe—at work, at home, and in the world—will significantly alter what we see. What we believe changes what we do. What we do changes what others believe, which in turn changes what they do. And, it turns out, about nine times out of ten in my experience, what they do will reinforce our original belief.

One of the keys to doing this work well is to become ever more mindful of which beliefs we’re using to sort out any situation with which we’re confronted. Learning to begin with positive beliefs, after living most of our lives with a wealth of weeds growing unwittingly in our intellectual and emotional gardens, can take years of practice. I wrote in Secret #33 in Part 3 that mindfulness lives in the space between stimulus and response that Victor Frankl wrote about. It’s in that space that we can take pause, pull the roots of old weeds, and plant the seeds of more positive stories. Like all changes, it is awkward at first. A lifetime of learning and living with negative beliefs won’t go away in a day, but it can be done. (See Secret #43 for a recipe for changing a belief.)

If you want another elegantly simple construct to help you with this work, consider this “recipe” from Gareth Higgins. Regardless of the situation, he recommends:

When you encounter a story, ask yourself: “Is the story true, and is it helpful?” If the answer is no for either, take responsibility for finding—or making—a truer or more helpful version.

It’s an awesome mantra: Is the story true? If not, is there a truer story to be told? Is the way we’re telling it helpful? If not, is there a more helpful way to tell it? Give it a shot over the next few days. I’ve tried it, and Higgins’ suggestion works remarkably well.

Certainly, this is all easier said than it is done. When our anxiety rises, it’s understandable that we start to slide back into old negative ways of thinking. But we can use Gareth Higgins’ handy prompt to help talk ourselves back into a better, more positive set of beliefs. Instead of saying stuff like, “Everything is coming apart!” “We’re screwed!” or “It’s a disaster!” we might try a story that sounds more like this: “I’m feeling so anxious. I know we’ve been in difficult spots and we’re in one again. How are you feeling about things? What do you think the best way might be to get through this together?” The content, to be clear, is really no different in the two descriptions—we still have big issues to overcome—but the second snippet of conversation is a hundred times more likely to lead someplace constructive.

From what I’ve been learning in reading the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton and Dr. Mario Martinez, our beliefs also have a big impact on our health. Dr. Martinez writes a great deal about the impact of our beliefs about our aging—certainly something that’s relevant for me as I get older. People who buy into the belief that life is “essentially over” at 60 or 65, he says (with a good bit of scientific data to support the statement) will almost always live shorter and much less rewarding lives. Those who believe that life can continue to get better as they mature, and that there’s much left to learn and do and contribute, are meaningfully more likely to live to past a hundred. As artist Christine Mason Miller writes, “At any given moment you have the power to say: this is not how my story will end.”

If you want a bit of an artistic insight, as well as some additional evidence, on that last bit, check this statement from the amazing artist Eva Zeisel who said, “No creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative impulse. A negative impulse is always frustrating. … No negative impulse can work, can produce any happy creation. Only a positive one.” Zeisel, by the way, lived to be 105, and she was designing pretty much up to the day she died.

I was reminded of the tragedy that negative beliefs can cause when I read this beautifully touching piece by Syrian poet Amineh Abou Kerech. It’s called, “Can Anyone Teach Me How to Make a Homeland?”

I’m trying to design a country
that will go with my poetry
and not get in the way when I’m thinking,
where soldiers don’t walk over my face.
I’m trying to design a country
which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet
and make allowances if I burst into tears.
I’m trying to design a City
of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,
free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.

What I’ve come to understand, in the spirit of Natural Laws, is that if we want to design that sustainable, loving, peaceful country—or company or community—of the sort Ms. Kerech is seeking, it must be based on positive beliefs.

The proof of all this, I believe, is in how we put the principles at play to work every day in our personal lives and in our organizations. Our new Statement of Beliefs is one very productive way to do that at work. Every belief on the list is positive. All of us at Zingerman’s, me included, have much to do to make it an everyday reality, but the more we do, it is clear to me, the more we honor Natural Law #16, the better our work and our lives are likely to go. The Statement of Beliefs is one part (along with vision, mission, and values) of a real-life answer to the question asked in the title of Ms. Kerech’s poem. The beliefs we were brought up with are what they are; but what we do going forward is up to us. As Margaret Wheatley writes, “It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do.”

P.S. The ZingTrain master class that Maggie and I are teaching is sold out. Using positive beliefs … it’s a good problem. You can still learn about beliefs by picking up a copy of Part 4. Or if you want a shorter less weighty way to access the info, we’ve put together a Beliefs Bundle—Secrets #40, #41, #43, and our Statement of Beliefs. Guaranteed to get you thinking! At least that’s my belief.
Order the Beliefs Bundle
Two halves of Kentucky Rose cheese stacked atop one another on a wooden shelf in the Cream Top Shop

Kentucky Rose Cheese

A wonderful role model for “milk’s leap into immortality”

Writer Clifton Fadiman, quite a radical back in the middle decades of the 20th century, once famously called cheese “milk’s leap toward immortality.” When I eat this delicious, full flavored, creamy, and complex Kentucky Rose from Kenny Mattingly and crew down in south central Kentucky, it immediately calls Clifton Fadiman’s fine quote to mind. In its own quiet, poetic way, this is seriously a cheese for the ages.

Thirty years or so ago, Kenny Mattingly was doing dairy farming in Barren County—down in the southern part of the state, not all that far from Nashville. Although he liked working with the cows, Kenny was concerned about the financial future of his chosen field. While most people would just continue to worry and fret, Kenny chose positive beliefs. He decided to do something about the problem. Rather than stay with the shaky pricing of selling liquid milk to the mass market, he decided to move into what the farm world refers to as “added value”—he figured he’d figure out how to make cheese.

The folks at Kenny’s make a range of fine cheeses, and Kentucky Rose is my favorite! The cheese is named for Kenny’s mother, Mary Rose Mattingly, who passed away two years ago. The crew at Kenny’s say, “Mary Rose Mattingly, our original cheese-maker, marketer, farmers market minivan to Louisville schlepper, and inspiration on many long hard, earlier days when it was difficult to soldier on with our duties on the farm and in the creamery. Her constant reminder that this business is about People and Relationships has become one of our guiding principles.” It makes sense—Mary Rose was a Child Development Specialist with Head Start.

Kentucky Rose is a raw milk semi-firm cheese that brings out the nuances of all the great milk from the farm’s herd. Creamy on the palate, it’s almost floral in its aromatics, and it’s got just the right bit of salinity. Kentucky Rose is the kind of cheese that almost everyone likes—I can imagine kids loving it and cheese connoisseurs appreciating its complexity. At the Roadhouse, it’s on the cheese boards along with some balsamic-roasted grapes. It pairs really well with the season’s peaches, or really any fruit. That said, it’s just as much at home with ham; it would make a happy match with some of the country ham we get from Nancy Newsom in Princeton, Kentucky. It would be great on a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and some of that bacon fat mayonnaise (read more below!). Melt it on potatoes or put some on a salad. Kentucky Rose is really tasty with the Bakehouse’s Sourdough (read on!), too. It pairs particularly well with wheat beers or ales.

You can try Kentucky Rose at the Roadhouse and the Cream Top Shop. You won’t see it on the Mail Order site, but just email us at and we’ll send you some tout suite!

Pick up Kentucky Rose at the Cream Top Shop
View from the top of a half a loaf of sourdough bread, with three slices laid down, overlapping each other, on a marble counter.

(Better Than) San Francisco Sourdough from the Bakehouse

A terrific taste of the Gold Rush era

Just to be clear up front, the “(Better Than) San Francisco” piece of the name comes not from some sort of competitive drive to be the “the best,” but because baking here in Ann Arbor, half a world away from the Bay Area, we’re not allowed to use the name “San Francisco.” “Better Than” was a tongue in cheek attempt at a creative solution. That said, I will say that to this day we ship many loaves of this out to the Bay Area, and many customers have told me over the years that it is what they remember “their” sourdough tasting like back when they were kids.

We’ve been baking the sourdough at the Bakehouse for nearly thirty years now—it was one of the “original eight” breads on our list. The history of the bread is much longer than that, and far older even than San Francisco. The Egyptians were using starters to leaven their breads something like 6,000 years ago. They would hold back some of the dough from one batch and then use that older, more acidic dough to start the fermentation of the next. This is still basically what sourdough bread is today. The sour works by attracting and/or retaining “wild yeasts” in the air to raise the dough. At the same time, Lactobacillus bacteria eat the natural sugars in the wheat and add the characteristic sour taste to the bread.

Shifting back to San Francisco, the bread and its popularity boomed during the Gold Rush Era. In January of 1848 gold was discovered in nearby Coloma and the “rush” quickly followed. At the time California was still occupied territory, having been taken from Mexico by the American military. During the Gold Rush, the population and the economy in California boomed and California became a state in 1850, but the price was paid by Native peoples who were pushed off their land and decimated by disease. The bread was a byproduct, but it has lasted much longer than the actual Gold Rush during which it gained fame.

As thousands of people raced across the country to get to California for the Gold Rush of 1849, sourdough was really the only method they had to raise bread. Commercial yeast wasn’t on the market until 1869, so using a starter of leftover dough to make the next batch rise was about the only way wagon travelers and miners living out in rural areas were going to get anything other than flat bread. To help keep their starters alive while traveling, many folks carried small bits of their sour in pouches looped onto their belts—their body heat kept the sour alive while going cross-country. Once in California, miners often stored starters up in the warmth of the rafters of their cabins or even slept with them to keep their sours from freezing in the cold winter months.

The Bakehouse’s (Better Than) San Francisco Sourdough is true to these old Gold Rush-era recipes. Natural sour starter—rather than the more modern commercial yeast—is used to develop both the flavor and texture of the finished loaf. It takes about eighteen hours of rise time for the dough to develop its full flavor before being baked on the stone hearth. The key to this, or any good sourdough bread, is balance: noticeably sour, yet not at all over the top. It’s got a crackling, crisp crust, a wonderful sour tang, and a great chewy texture. The Sourdough’s popularity continues to grow steadily, and over the last few years it’s become our biggest seller in the Bakeshop. I agree with Bakehouse managing partner Amy Emberling who said, “I really enjoy the thin, crisp crust—it’s very distinctive.” Coincidentally, I was speaking with a long-time customer a few years ago, who shared how she had grown up in San Francisco eating the old sourdough there. “Of course,” she said with a smile, “I like what you’re making at the Bakehouse a lot more than that. But back at the time what we had sure seemed good.”

Pick up a loaf today
Or ship some to a friend
P.S. Want to learn more about baking sourdough? Sign up for a class!
Super Dark Blend chocolate bar next to packaging

Shawn Askinosie’s Amazing Chocolate from Springfield

Positive news from a place that’s facing a lot of adversity

If you’ve done any reading of the news in the last few weeks, you may well know that one of the unfortunate epicenters of the most recent outbreak of the pandemic is Springfield, Missouri. Springfield is a spot that most Americans will not otherwise have heard of, which means that most will have neutral beliefs about it. I fear that some people’s beliefs and memories of Springfield will be influenced, for the worse, by what’s happening right now.

I wanted to write this because I have truly positive beliefs about the place. In fact, it’s the hometown of folks who have had a hugely positive impact on me, and on Zingerman’s, and maybe even on you. Just as many know San Francisco as the source of sourdough bread, I know Springfield first as the source of Open Book Management—a process of involving as many people as possible in running one’s business (including, yes, seeing and studying the financial statements). The book The Great Game of Business, written by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham, is based on Jack’s experience at Springfield Remanufacturing Company. Open Book has changed our lives here at Zingerman’s and also changed the lives of many thousands of others around the world. It’s a story for another day.

I also have positive beliefs about Springfield because of my connection to Shawn Askinosie, whom many of you know for his amazing chocolate. Shawn has changed many of my beliefs about how good American artisan chocolate can be when people put their mind to it. His work has meaningfully improved the lives of so many of the farmers he buys from, their communities, as well as folks in Springfield. Teaching the farmers how to handle their cacao to get better quality, his commitment to paying markedly more to buy it, his use of Open Book Management, and give back to the growers he works with are all based on positive beliefs. All have paid off with positive results. His work in Tanzania is beyond terrific—he’s helped to start a school, get computers and books to kids, and taught our visioning process to the co-op and to hundreds of young people in the village. There is much more to say about Shawn’s amazing activity than I can fit in here. Read the wonderful book he co-authored with his daughter Lawren, Meaningful Work, or see what I had to say in Secret #45 in Part 4.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that every chocolate bar I’ve had from Shawn has been superb. I rarely go through a whole week without eating some of Askinosie chocolate. There are around fifteen of them at the Candy Store. My favorite is probably the Tanzania—it’s just so downright delicious and mouth-watering, with a really fine clean finish. Shawn’s Super Dark bar (a blend of Tanzania and Ecuador) is like an amazing bit of chocolate heavy metal—think Led Zeppelin and an 88-percent cacao encore of “Stairway to Heaven!” And I’m enthralled with the Ecuador Nibble Bar—bits of unsweetened cracked cacao nibs embedded in deliciously dark chocolate. Oh yeah, don’t want to forget to mention Shawn’s great Dark Milk bar too. Truly, all of them are amazing. When you nibble a small square, think positive thoughts for, and about, the people of Springfield. I hope that they will soon, successfully, come out the other side of this tough situation.

We sell Shawn’s exceptional chocolates—all based on positive beliefs—at the Deli, Candy Store, and Roadhouse. (We also use some in that terrific chocolate pudding at the Roadhouse.)

Pick up an Askinosie chocolate at the Candy shop
A jar of bacon fat mayonnaise with a spoon in it, sitting on a blue plate with slices of cut tomato.

Bacon Fat Mayonnaise

A fun way to liven up your summer eating

Mayonnaise is hardly an attention getter in modern day America. But it wasn’t always that way. The first known published recipe for it appeared in 1750. It became popular in Europe and then in the U.S. really only in the 19th century. It was first sold in jars in 1907, five years after Rocco Disderide built the Deli’s building—it’s not unlikely that he and his wife Katherine would have made and/or sold it themselves then, on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley. Around the same time a German immigrant couple with the last name of Hellman began to package the mayo they made at their deli on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, first in the wooden “boats” that were typically used to weigh butter and then, in 1912, through commercial bottling.

While it’s rarely seen today, bacon fat mayonnaise is hardly new—anyone making mayonnaise at home a hundred years ago would likely have worked with whatever fat they had on hand; the original recipes were made in Spain where olive oil would have been used. Bacon fat would have been common in American kitchens, where, as I wrote in Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, bacon was the “olive oil of North America.” In the following decades, seed oil companies in the U.S. began to sell glass mayonnaise makers for home—glass “jars” with a metal “beater” (a slight bit of the same idea as old egg beaters) attached to the top so one could make their mayonnaise easily inside. The recipe was often printed on the glass, and they were used as marketing with the maker’s name prominently on the glass as well. You can find vintage ones online for sale. They’re beautiful pieces of old commercial art that were created to be super practical for everyday eating.

Bacon fat mayonnaise might likely have been particularly popular in the middle south, in the part of Kentucky in which Kenny and crew make the Kentucky Rose. As Harriette Arnow, whose books I have long loved, wrote in her amazing history of the region, Seedtime on the Cumberland, having bacon and ham was a “symbol of the good life.” Her first published piece was an essay called “A Mess of Pork” that was purchased by Esquire. “Cured meat in some form,” Arnow said, “usually bacon, formed the basis of the summer’s cookery.” Bacon fat would have been an everyday by-product; bacon fat mayonnaise would have been an easy way to use it. Back in the years of Arnow’s youth in the early 20th century, it would have been easy to be both cost-conscious and au courant at the same time. Arnow, who many will know from her book, The Dollmaker, and the film of the same name which starred Jane Fonda, lived her later years in Ann Arbor and died here a week after the Deli’s fourth anniversary in March of 1986. David E. Davis, who founded Automobile Magazine, was her nephew!

Making bacon fat mayonnaise is essentially the same as putting together any other homemade mayo, just using bacon fat that you’ve saved over the course of the week instead of olive (or other) oil. If you want the exact recipe from the Guide to Better Bacon, email me and I’ll send it your way. While it might seem daunting, remember that up until Mr. and Mrs. Hellman and their early 20th century peers started to put it in jars, mayonnaise was always homemade. It’s pretty much good anywhere you’d want to put a little flavor of cured and smoked pork belly. Try a bit on a burger, a salad, dabbed onto deviled eggs, or potato salad. It’s great as the dressing for a shrimp or chicken salad instead of your “regular” mayo. Try it brushed onto grilled corn on the cob, then rolled in grated cheese, the way folks in Mexico use regular mayonnaise. As Grant Melton writes on The Ktchen, “It upgrades everything!” And, he rightly adds, “This rich, smoky bacon mayo is the condiment equivalent of the song of the summer. Once you make it, you’ll have it on repeat all season long. And who could blame you?”

Cook some bacon, save the fat
Better bacon makes better bacon fat!!  Pick up a pound of Nueske’s or one of the ten other artisan bacons we have on hand!!

Other Things on My Mind


When I listen to music with words sung in a language I don’t know, I’m reminded how much music is conveyed in its energy. I love this album, Recuerdos de Uruguay, from Fabrizio Rossi!

British singer-songwriter Katherine Priddy has a lovely new album called Still Winter, Still Waiting, that makes me think about walking through an English garden on a sunny morning! 

If it’s of interest, here's a podcast I did with “Beyond Listening.”


Tarana Burke and Brené Brown, You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience. Powerful and poetic essays, many about finding ways to hold positive beliefs about oneself and the world, in the face of great adversity and antipathy.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this enews and you know someone else who might like it, please pass it along. Have questions about Zingerman’s? Write us at
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