A Conversation With Jason Loewenstein

Chatting with the Indie rocker and recording studio owner about his food habits and, of course, his pot-bellied pig.

Since 1989, Jason Loewenstein has served as bass player and songwriter in the seminal Massachusetts indie-rock band Sebadoh. He also plays in the Brooklyn bands Circle of Buzzards and the Fiery Furnaces, produces his own solo projects and runs a recording studio from his home in southeastern Williamsburg—where he lives with his wife, Kelli, and their 130-pound pig, Emmett. The couple found the pot-bellied pet as a piglet when they were living in Kentucky, Kelli’s home state. “It was a Vietnamese area,” says Loewenstein. “We think he was destined for a restaurant.”

The trio moved to the city together a decade ago, Emmett trading a backyard for a Brooklyn apartment and twice-daily walks in the Southside. (Ironically, they now live above the owners of the new Williamsburg barbecue spot called Mable’s, though one suspects Emmett extracts revenge through the cute clickety-click of his hooves on their ceiling.) While vegetarians Jason and Kelli are hardly foodies—their oven doesn’t work and both profess to be picky eaters—their kitchen is always well-stocked for their pig.

I was making bacon and eggs one morning and [Emmett] was looking up at me. And I was like, that’s totally weird. My wife was already a vegetarian, so it was very easy for me to try it, but all I did was eat cake and cookies. And now I’ve got diabetes on top of it. So I can’t eat the cookies anymore. I have to start eating green vegetables.

If anybody cooks in here it’s me. [Kelli] really hates to cook. What she actually hates is cleaning up, to the point where she would rather not eat.

Yesterday was shopping day. And this is pretty much what we usually have in here: lettuce and spinach and berries for the wife. We eat lots of Morningstar products—it’s just so fast to prepare. The oven has never worked. We don’t want to bother the landlord because he’s never raised our rent. We’ve been here three years. We lived in Fort Greene for three years with no kitchen at all. It was, like, a half-restored apartment, and the guy was, like, “I’ll let you have it for this price.” So it was always takeout, do the dishes in the bathroom sink.

My favorite thing to eat is salads now. [Kelli, Emmett and I] all sort of eat the same stuff: a lot of green salads augmented with soy product. And because my wife and I are so picky, I always have to make ours sort of buffet style: I chop up all the greens and put them in bowls to sort of make a mini salad bar because her taste is different than mine. I always have chopped up jalapeños and chopped up onions and things like that ready to go. I like eggs in the morning and throw that in there.

I’m also a compulsive nighttime eater; when everybody goes to bed I like to munch out. So now that I’ve become a diabetic it’s, like, no chips. No fun things that I would usually munch on. I eat edamame sometimes, but it’s still generally a bunch of fatty stuff like cheese and peanuts.

PIG PRIORITIES

The carrots are pig treats. And there’s always at least two heads of lettuce on hand. If there’s no food in the house, there’s always food for the pig. Half a head of lettuce for each meal, so seven heads a week. A couple months ago for some reason it was like $2.50, $3 a head, so I switched him to spinach, which I’d rather give him, and it was actually cheaper. He’s got a terribly high metabolism as it is, and now he’s getting older. I figure just the placebo effect of having a bunch of stuff to munch on, lettuce is probably the best thing. As a pig dad, you know, we forced him to live in the city so he had to give up his rooting, so whatever I can do to increase his quality of life is paramount. Every once in awhile I am, like, whoa, we really spoil him. There’s so much more going on in here that has to do with him than has to do with us.

KIBBLE

That container up there is his staple kibble. It’s miniature-pot-bellied pig food. It couldn’t be more precise. Can you imagine a real one? He’s 130 pounds and a real farm pig could be 400 to 1,000 pounds, I mean, they’re big. The food comes from a great, amazing place in Bucks County called Ross Mill Farm. It’s a refuge for pigs that have somehow lost their home. It’s an old farmhouse with all these cute god- damn pigs everywhere. They somehow have this formula food made, so I have to order it. It’s really cheap: I think it’s 30 bucks for a 40-pound bag, which will last two months or something. We used to get this exotic pet food brand. We noticed when we switched to this, he literally looked like he felt better. The lady who runs Ross Mill Farm is this crazy eccentric who is really tuned in to the pigs. It’s also the only place within 100 miles of here where you can board a pig. We’ve only been on vacation twice in 15 years ’cause one of us has to be here at all times.

PILLS

You know what? Half of them are for the pig. We have a vet here, on Atlantic Avenue, he’ll see the pig. Dr. Mann, he’s great. He helped prescribe an analgesic. They think he’s got a bit of arthritis and inflammation. That’s why he gets glucosamine and omega-3s twice a day. And I give him a Flintstones multivitamin every couple of days. I’m giving them to him and I don’t take them myself. I’d probably feel a lot better, right? And I give him cranberry pills to help his
urinary tract.

HYDRATE OR DIE

That is just because I never drink water. I mean, I do now. Hopefully I am getting way better. Last summer I was having headaches. And I was, like, oh, that’s why. I would just forget. I was literally just drinking coffee and a Diet Coke. I was doing tons of [recording] studio work and not sleeping a lot. It’s a great thing to get out of the room for a while when I have clients over and I’m, like, ‘I’m gonna make some coffee and have a smoke,’ then I get 15 minutes off without it seeming strange that I’m loafing. I get an ear-break without [my studio clients] feeling like they’re getting gypped.

TAKEOUT

I gotta say my most indulged restaurant in this neighborhood is this Chinese restaurant on Bushwick called Fortune Place. Looks like your standard crappy Chinese place, and it is a little, but their dishes are not quite as sweet. I love those guys. I always walk over for some reason. I feel like a jerk for gypping the bike guy, but it’s so close I also feel like a jerk for making somebody come over.

PANTRY LINERS

The only thing that’s always in there is the Splenda and the peanut butter and the coffee. Lots of Splenda for the coffee because I’m a diabetic. The espresso blend seems to work in almost any device. I can get it for $3.50 at the deli, and it’s usually $4 or over at the grocery. Kelli loves Bazzini peanut butter ’cause it’s just peanut butter, no sugar or salt in there.

HOT NUTS

Somebody gave me those as a gift, ’cause I also used to make them. I’d make peanuts and put a little olive oil in there and then garlic powder and cayenne. Kelli thinks it’s gross. I love it. I wish these were better.

CURRY IN A HURRY

That’s another staple. Kelli doesn’t like to cook at all so I keep a lot of peas and pan-eer cheese and this wonderful curry, the green can. I know that’s their most popular line cause I know every place that sells it in Williamsburg and they’re always out of it. Maybe it’s just ’cause of me.

CLEAN PLATE CLUB

My wife is very aesthetically oriented. She had to have a whole place setting. And it’s funny because she doesn’t care about eating. It was troubling to me, it was, like, ‘Why do you need all these plates, you don’t even like to eat?’ We definitely have never used all of them at once. I think we’ve had people over here for dinner once.

Photo credit:  Erin Gleeson.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.