Tag Archives: slaughterhouse

You Must Read—Meat: A Love Story: Pasture to Plate, a Search for the Perfect Meal

Eat less meat.  Eat better meat.  (Page 258)

Meat is central to our idea of food.  It is primal.  A person’s position on meat—somewhere along the well-defined spectrum of vegan to Texan—defines so many other food beliefs that it is difficult to imagine a discussion about the future of food, or the present for that matter, without delving into meat.

9780425227565Susan Bourette’s Meat: A Love Story: Pasture to Plate, a Search for the Perfect Meal seeks to forge a conversation about meat’s place in the modern discussion about food.  In the prologue, the author writes:

The carnivores are back.  It’s like a bitch-slap to all those reedy, high-minded herbivores who have demanded nothing short of a bloodless revolution, dictating the parameters of the discussion, decreeing the rules for years.  Now it’s the meat-eaters who have wrested control of the food debate.  (Page 5)

No doubt.  Sometime during the past decade, vegetarians and their various sub-categories of various extremes have ceded control over the debate about the future of food.  It’s not about finding a tofu-based alternative to bacon, but finding bacon that comes from pigs raised and slaughtered in the best way possible.  The debate is over what is best now.

The problem is that we are separated from our food in a way that would have been almost unimaginable decades earlier:

Yet for most of us, meat is a mystery.  We know less about how it arrives on our plates than ever before in our history.  In part, this can be traced to urbanization, a population disconnected from agriculture and major corporations investing in the industrialization of meat production.  But something more is at play: our knowledge of foodstuffs is gleaned from a reading list of ingredients on the back of the package and not from hands-on experience.  (Page 41)

Jamie Oliver did a smashing job of showing how disconnected our children, and therefore our future adults, are from food when he asked a classroom of kids what various fruits and vegetables were in whole form.  Pictures of fairly common vegetables—I am not talking about alien looking kohlrabi here—went unrecognized.  Meat is not an animal to most people anymore.  It is a shrink wrapped slab of protein on a foam tray in a refrigerated case at the supermarket.  It is always been said that no one would eat meat from the major U.S. suppliers if they saw first-hand what the conditions were like for the animals and the process of factory slaughter.  Bucolic it is not.

Meat comes to our table as part of a larger system.  Like anything in modern agriculture, the meat on your table is the end result of a lot of actions and actors.  Therefore, the way in which the meat is raised from day one is important:

Turns out, we not just what we eat but also what our animals eat.  It’s welcome news in this puritanical age of culture that has dissected gastronomy into minute bits and bites of fat grams and trace minerals.  At a time when we think of the dinner table as a booby trap, jerry-rigged with potential landmines and enemies.  When our first question is not “Is it good?” but “Is it good for me?”  (Page 164)

If you treat the animals right and feed the animals good food then the questions of “Is it good?” and “Is it good for me?” can be answered in the same positive “Yes.”

Some of the vignettes in Meat are odd.  Obviously, the foray into raw meat dining in the high country of Colorado counts as odd.  This is not a story about paleo diets, but pre-fire diets.  Given what we know about dangerous microbes—our knowledge of beneficial microbes is pretty small—there is something to be said for utilizing the cleansing power of fire.  I am not a total advocate of pasteurization, but I do not subscribe to some pre-pasteurization ideal in that everything bad with the world comes from our obsession with cleanliness.  Some destruction of microbes is good for our health in the long run.  Sorry to bust your bubble cave people in Aspen.

I also find the piece about whale hunting in Alaska off-putting.  It’s annoying when practices are defended as cultural tradition, therefore somehow immune from criticism, even if the larger world finds the practice abhorrent.  In general, we do not accept barbaric practices on cultural tradition grounds when it comes to concepts like slavery or infanticide or…pick something that seems like it is from Game of Thrones.  Sure, the killing of whales for sustenance has a long history in the native peoples of the Arctic but times change.  Whatever, I feel like I am screaming at the wind on that one.

At times, Bourette’s prose reads like a burgeoning treatise on the gender issues surrounding meat whether it’s regarding the whale hunt in Alaska or the hierarchy on the line in a Houston kitchen.  These are easy tropes for a writer to insert—little woman in the big, bad world of meat—but they do little to advance the central tenant that meat is a central component of our food system regardless of gender.  I suppose that the imagery is just loaded with gender stereotypes because of societal conditioning—the man of the house carving the turkey or tending the grill—making it almost impossible to write about meat, or food in general, without falling prey.  Michael Pollan was accused of gender “baiting” in his most recent book because when we hear the words tradition, kitchen, and food together people automatically assume it is a diatribe about female abandonment of the domestic arts.  Whatever.

The most salient point in the entire book is not reached until near the end:

The secret of boudin is the secret of all good food.  You can watch, you can learn at the hands of the master, but the fact is that all good food is rooted in time, place, and culture.  It is idiosyncratic, unique, and expressive of the place where it’s made and the people making it.  The closer the food is to the place, the more it defines its makers and eaters, the more intense its flavors.  (Page 248)

This is something I have tried to explain to people for years.  Some foods just fit a time and a place that does not necessarily correspond to its absolute place in the culinary world, as if such a ranking were to actually exist.  No one is going to place loco moco at the top of the food pantheon, but on the first morning in Hawaii no other food puts me on “island time” quite like the gut busting local favorite.


Ag-Gag Law Flow Chart

Grist.org put out a flow chart to understand the ins and outs of the various ag-gag laws moving through state legislatures:

newaggagflowchartInstead of actually cleaning up their act, various companies have decided to respond to the spate of video exposes by sponsoring legislation that would make it illegal to make videos like these.  The sponsors of the legislation are couching the support for a restriction of our free speech rights by saying it protects our food supply from terrorism, blah, blah, blah…

In Iowa such a law was passed in March 2012.  I do not know of anyone who has challenged the law’s constitutionality or if anyone has been brought up on charges related to the law.  It’s only a matter of time.


Friday Linkage 6/8/2012

A little heavy on the food related links this week.  It was nothing intentional, I just found a lot of stories about food and the modern food system to be fascinating this week.

On to the links…

Prius Success Undermines EV Attacks—Does anyone remember when the Toyota Prius was the target of attacks by the right wing blowhards?  Not since the Prius became one of the bestselling vehicles in the world.  What will the story be with the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf in a couple of years?

How Cheap will Algae Bio-Fuel Really Get—Maybe the goal should not be parity with gasoline—granted, the price of a gallon of gasoline does not include the externalities of pollution cost or wars or propping up bad regimes—but rather commercial scale and availability.  If I were able to purchase a biofuel made from algae the price premium would be worth it.

A Failed Food System—A food system is not just about production.  It is comprised of production, distribution, and nutrition.  This article about India highlights that it does not matter if you increase your food production by 50% if you cannot effectively distribute that food.  The problems may be inefficient infrastructure, too much corruption, or simply lack of processes, but the end result is that people do not get enough to eat.

Is Your Supermarket Chucking Foods Before Expiration—In India, the food goes to waste at distribution centers.  In the U.S., our supermarkets throw food away before it is expired.  The system is doomed to failure.

Small Scale Slaughterhouses Keeping it Local—One major problem with getting truly local meat is that the approved facilities to slaughter and process an animal are getting fewer and farther between.  Not to mention these facilities are often controlled by the large firms responsible for so many bad things about meat today.

Why Do Humans Crave Crispy Food—Why do we crave crispy food?  Because it is oh so good.  Oh wait, there might be a scientific reason why.

Your Burger Just Got a Little Safer…Thanks to Uncle Sam—Sometimes I think we need to say thanks in spite of Uncle Sam.  I love how the major meat packers try to persuade regulators that certain strands of E. coli are benign additions to meat and thus need not be regulated.  Huh?  It’s E. coli.  Like the famous line in Fast Food Nation: there’s shit in the meat.

The Food Movement’s Final Frontier: Taking Care of Workers—Whether it’s grape pickers in California or tomato pickers in Florida or illegal immigrants working in a packing plant in Iowa the food movement needs to make sure that the workers are taken care of as well as we expect to be taken care of by the food these people help produce.  There can be no real change unless social justice, environmental justice, and good food intersect.

Disney to Stop Allowing Junk Food Advertising—This is how things start.  A company decides to take action on an issue where it has a critical mass—like Disney does with kids—and suddenly people start realizing the world has not flown off its axis.  Do not think it’s possible?  Just look at the cigarette industry.

Reagan was a Keynesian—It is an article of faith held by most conservatives that Ronald Reagan slashed taxes and spending while beating back the Soviet menace himself.  That might be a little bit over the top, but just wait until the Republican nominating convention.  I just love Paul Krugman detailing how Reagan was not quite the darling conservatives have made him out to be in the past two plus decades.

China Wants Foreign Embassies to Stop Commenting on Air Quality—This is almost something I expect to see from James Inhofe.  There is no global warming because I do not recognize its existence.  Of course you cannot say the same thing about god.  Huh?  It’s amazing that people forget just how clean the air has gotten.  Here is Pittsburgh in the 1940s:

Of course, here is Beijing today: