Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This Little Piggy...

I've been thinking a lot about animals recently.
Meat, muscle.
The life cycle.

Of course, I know that chicken, pork and beef all come from living creatures.

But, I think I haven't felt the weight of that until now.

I had already typed a draft of this post...
When I came across an interview with Alton Brown dated today.
The full article from can be found here .

The interviewer asked Alton the following question:

Any crusades on the agenda?
We've always stirred a few into the pot. But now I'm working on several issues regarding sustainable seafood. As consumers, as devourers of flesh, we've got to look at the environmental issues around the things we enjoy. We've been taught to place so little value on the lives of animals. We don't care how an animal dies as long as we get the meat cheap. That sounds intrinsically evil to me. One of the biggest problems in our culture is trivializing things. And the cheaper things get, the less we actually value them.

Back in June 2003, Alton said the following in Channel Guide mag:
When I was in culinary school, I went to a family-run slaughterhouse and worked spring slaughter of lambs -- because I really thought it was hypocritical of me to be a chef and not know what it's like to have something lose its life. I place very high value on meat and I eat meat and I enjoy it, but I don't flinch about the fact that something is going to die for it. I treat it with more respect.

And, if you can bear with me...
Just one more quote.
This one is from Chris Cosentino from a May 2007 article in which you can find here.

The interviewer asked Chris:

You may hate this, but you really sound equal parts meat eater and animal rights activist. Do you feel compassionate towards the animals you serve?

About two years ago I took my entire kitchen crew, three cooks and [food writer] Harold McGee, and we went down and did a goat slaughter, which would later go into an Easter supper at my house. We bought the goats and slaughtered them on the farm.

And I’ll tell you, from that day on, there were never any mistakes with meat in this restaurant. Because the cooks that watched the slaughter, they realized that there’s an animal that’s dying. There needs to be that consciousness in this industry. I felt like a hypocrite; I can go and serve meat all the time and talk about the whole-animal ethic, and yet I hadn’t done a slaughter. And it was hard. It was really hard. I don’t think people realize what it does to you emotionally. It makes you really think about what you’re doing at the restaurant every day.

I'm just... I'm beginning to think...and it's not directly from what either of those two said...that maybe I really should see how this creature got on my plate. I have family in Michigan and they were talking about buying half a cow. I wonder if they could hook me up with someone who would let me be present to witness the slaughter of one of their animals.

Gosh, that sounds so...sick.
But, whether I watch it or not, little piggy is going to market.

Note to self: I've been reading too much Anthony Bourdain.

I dunno.
I think the more I read, and cook and eat...the more aware I am that *This* is a rib. Be sure you enjoy it because... a pig, cow, critter... gave it's life for you to enjoy it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I ever would have condoned the mistreatment of animals. But, in the past week or so...actually I can narrow it down to a day, there was an awakening in me. I bought a bit more meat for my chili than I needed and tossed the leftovers in the fridge. I thought I would portion it and freeze it once the chili was cooking. I forgot. And, then life happened and I was distracted. So, 10 days later I looked in the fridge and saw the meat.

My usual response would be,
"Damn. That's 2 pounds at $3.09. That's a lot of wasted money"
"Wow, what a waste of food while people go hungry."

But, this time, I thought,
"Wow, what a waste of an animal."

And, my reaction really surprised me.

Please don't condemn me for being late to the party.
I'm a suburban gal.
Meat around here comes on Styrofoam.
And, I just took my time before sending my R.S.V.P. to this party.

Actually, if I think back, I guess this realization started back in 2003.
Sometimes I'm a slow learner.

I was a guest at a farm in the Dominican Republic - a very wealthy plantation in comparison to the one room wooden shacks in the area. We were told they would be slaughtering one of their goats for us that night.

That, strange.
So, biblical.
So, foreign.

I felt honored.
But, as we drove on the farm we saw the animals free-ranging - I felt awkward.

Hours later, hunks of roasted goat arrived on plastic plates as dogs and cats circled our feet hoping for remnants. I remember it was difficult to eat, since it was just "cleavered" - yes, I verbed that - into chunks, and we had to eat around the bones.

Wasn't my favorite dinner ever, but not bad.
I was a guest.
I ate what was put in front of me.

And, I knew that children were literally going to bed with empty stomachs a few miles down the road.

Honestly, I think that experience has been rolling around in my (apparently somewhat empty) noggin since that time.

You know, soon it will be Thanksgiving.
And, for me, that means being surrounded with people I love, in a comfortable home. And, as always, I will be thankful for those around me.

And, deeply missing those who aren't.

We will likely play board games or cards the night before the big day. And, I will be grateful for laughter that makes me out of breath, crying, with my sides aching. In the morning, we will wake up in a warm home to the smell of fresh coffee and I will be thankful for the knowledge that heat, and food, and shelter are a given in my life.

And, this year, when I look around at the food before me, I think I'll be just a little more grateful for the feast. One more thing has been added to my private list of thank-you's.

For those who stuck around till the end, one little last bit of irony.
Actually, two bits.
I have a quarter to spare.

I live in Chicagoland.
And, if I were older, I would have memories of sitting on the front porch on a warm summer night.
The thick breeze blowing from the city.
From the stockyards.

And, this post would be a lesson learned long ago.
But, I wasn't alive then.

Back in 8th grade Literature, I chose a Carl Sandburg poem from a list of required memorization. You can read the entire poem, entitled Chicago, here.

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders...

Sometimes it just takes me a while to understand life's lessons.
Luckily, I'm still teachable.

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