When Pigs Can't Fly

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008

Q. In Spain, tourists get to savor delicious Serrano ham practically anywhere but are cautioned that our Department of Agriculture minions will seize the product if we attempt to bring it into this country. Is this true? Why?

William M. Young, Richmond

A. Your passion for this long-cured Spanish delicacy is to be commended, but is that any reason to dis an entire federal agency? And before you answer, consider this: The only thing keeping out all those mad cows and foot-and-mouth types who lurk among the pigs you love are customs agents and people at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. People like Masoud Malik.

"Our regulations do not allow any meat products to be brought in from certain countries" by private individuals, he told us. "That includes all of Europe and all ruminant meats from there: cattle, sheep, goats, any animal with four stomachs."

Four stomachs? Wait, is a pig a ruminant?

"No, but they have their own diseases as well," Malik said, among them swine vesicular disease and classical swine fever. He went on to warn that the agents that cause disease "cannot really be inactivated by normal cooking and heating. So that's why we do not allow it." (For more information on import restrictions, see or call 301-734-3277.) Further, people who try to enter the United States with, say, a pig's leg stuffed in their pants "are taking a chance not only for them, but for the livestock of this country," Malik said.

Coincidentally, Malik has just returned from inspecting a plant in Spain, one that he approved for shipping meat to the United States. Why not make it easier on yourself and secure your Serrano from a company such as La Tienda? The Williamsburg importer's prices aren't cheap, but for those with a fever for swine, there's currently no better option (800-710-4304,

Some friends and I are planning to tour the old Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, but I was told that a portion of that road is somewhat depressing. What can I expect?

Judy, Shreve Laurel

"One person's depressed building is another person's historical landmark, I guess," said David Knudson, who heads something called the National Historic Route 66 Federation (909-336-6131, "But I have rarely heard that, I must say."

True it is that the road has seen better days, and you can expect to come upon your fair share of "dilapidated, falling-down motels, diners and trading posts," but you'll also discover small towns "just out of a picture book," mom-and-pop inns with $39-a-night rooms and quaint breakfast cafes where the eggs come straight from the farm, Knudson said.

You'll also see what Knudson modestly termed the largest restoration project in history. A 2,400-mile project, that is. The government has been "issuing matching grants to the tune of about a million dollars a year," he said. As a result, restored cafes and spruced-up storefronts are popping up all along Route 66, and this storied bit of roadside Americana is becoming ever more popular with tourists, especially foreign ones, who account for 40 percent of its visitors.

"I've been live on drive-time radio in Australia, England and Japan," said Knudson, who attributes this fascination to the old "Route 66" TV series, which, believe it or not, still airs in some countries, and the animated hit movie "Cars." So what kinds of questions do they pepper him with on drive-time radio? "One is, 'Are the Indians still dangerous?' And the second is, 'Can we survive driving across the Mojave Desert?' "

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