How and Why the Sausage Is Made


Another Friday, another Now I Know Weekender edition! As long-time readers know, I use Fridays to share something a bit different than usual; today, I’m going give a little behind-the-scenes glimpse into Wednesday’s email.

I’m sure I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: This newsletter is called “Now I Know” and not “Now You Know,” and that’s very intentional on my part. This project is about me learning something new — it isn’t about teaching you, the readers, something interesting. That’s just a byproduct, albeit a really great one. When I choose something to write about, it’s almost always because somewhat recently, I just learned about it and was amazed to find out that it happened — and I wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. Thankfully, all of you have signed up to listen, so the latter part is pretty easy. All I have to do is write!

But that writing process isn’t the end of the learning. Often, it’s only the beginning. Wednesday’s email, titled “The Somewhat-Fake Sausage That Saved Lives,” is a great example. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it, then come back.

Back already? Great! Let’s go on.

That email is the story about how a community of Portuguese Jews in the late 1400s/early 1500s developed a pork-free sausage to help hide the fact that they were Jewish. The story is pretty basic: Jews were being persecuted by the government, sometimes to the point of execution, so those that didn’t flee or convert practiced in hiding. That’s not impossible, but there was a problem. Their neighbors would hang sausages for the winter, and those sausages contained pork. Observant Jews don’t eat pork, so they didn’t have any sausages to hang. A lack of sausages suggested that the people living there were Jewish, and it’s not hard to see why that would be a problem. So the Jewish community in northern Portugal developed a pork-free version of sausage.

That’s the story and, really, I probably could have gotten to the fact down to two or three sentences. But if you look at Wednesday’s email, it’s nine paragraphs. The first two paragraphs are mostly set-up and perhaps unnecessary (a topic for another day, perhaps). The next: I already knew the basics of kosher food but figured many readers didn’t, so I took a paragraph to establish that. The other ones, though, are really a reflection of me learning more and more, in real-time. I have a glib understanding of the Spanish Inquisition, so I did a little reading to learn more, and then shared some of that in the next paragraph. I knew virtually nothing about the Portuguese Inquisition and didn’t know about the Lisbon Massacre at all, so that had to be shared. And then I finally get to the meat (heh) of the story, which I spread out over about two paragraphs. Finally, while learning all of this, I found a few recipes for a modern version of the sausage, which, ironically, now calls for pork. So I made mention of that.

Every step of the way, I’m learning more — and sharing what I learned.

As a result, my emails aren’t just a tweet-sized “fun fact” — they’re 500 to 1,000-word journeys. Thank you for being part of those journeys. 

The Now I Know Week in Review

MondayThe Luggage Loophole That Isn’t: You can’t just wear it.

Tuesday: The Day Fake Wrestling Became Real: The Montreal Screwjob. If you don’t know what that is, great! You will once you read.

Wednesday: The Somewhat-Fake Sausage That Saved Lives: See above.

Thursday: The Price is Fixed: It’s about Plinko, which should make it an inssta-read if you know what Plinko is.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “A Stranger Looked Like My Twin. That Was Just the Beginning.” (New York Times, 9 minutes, October 2021). This was written by a friend of mine; that’s how I discovered it. I am sharing it, though, because the story is extraordinary. Here’s the first paragraph: “I was asleep when my identity exploded. One Friday morning in 2019, I awoke in Brooklyn to an email from a guy in Florida that read: ’23andMe says you’re my half-sister. I’m very confused. Can you please call me?’”

2) “A Class Riot at Brooklyn’s Grace Church School” (New York Magazine, 31 minutes, July 2019). This is a story that won’t make you feel good about the world after reading it — almost all of the people involved feel like a villain to a degree. Reading it won’t make you smarter, or kinder, or anything else positive, and you may actually feel worse about the world afterward. But it’s quite a story.

3) “An Extraordinary 500-Year-Old Shipwreck Is Rewriting the History of the Age of Discovery” (Smithsonian Magazine, 19 minutes, November 2021). The title should be enough to capture your attention, but what really got me was that the ship sank in 1495 and was, for all intents and purposes, missing until 2001 — and yet, it’s still in rather good condition

Have a great weekend!