You are what you eat?

So I could share a lot of juicy tidbits from last weeks’ NYT Dining section, but I won’t this time. Check out the link for an interesting article about the fortune cookie. I also enjoyed this week’s "The Pour". Eric Asimov, "The Pour" writer, also had a great post about hangovers on Friday as well.

But what we need to devote our discussion to is Julia Moskin’s article, “Chef’s New Goal: Looking Dinner in the Eye.” Jamie Oliver just got his slaughterman’s license and he, along with other chefs and agricultural ethicists, is dedicated to convincing the public that they need to be on intimate terms with the animals they are eating. Slaughterhouses, death, questions of morality and ethics: these are all part of what gets that yummy food on our table, and the sooner we are aware of this, the better. Why? Because the argument goes that our omnivorous choices will be made with an educated mind and with a greater appreciation for what we put into our bodies.

Jamie Oliver hosted a “gala dinner”, where people sat at their tables, sipped champagne, and watched a chicken get slaughtered and baby chicks get suffocated. I found a video on YouTube where the chicks are being suffocated; apparently, the male chicks are “dispatched” in the egg-laying industry because, since they don’t lay eggs, they’re rather useless. I’ve included the video below. PLEASE DO NOT WATCH THIS IF YOU ARE EASILY DISTURBED!!!! This video is intense and disturbing and challenging, but important, I think.

Obviously, there has been a lot of controversy over this, as there should be. It’s certainly provocative. One of the major reasons for our country’s obesity crisis – our food crisis – and our lack of a food identity is that we are so far removed from the land and the animals. I know, I know, says the gal who lives in New York City. But I certainly try: every once in awhile when we’re having proscuitto with dinner, Adam and I will make a toast “to the pig”. It’s a sign of respect and thanks for those that gave their lives to nourish us, as well as a sign of respect for the food chain: it’s certainly good to be human, no?

I like the idea discussed in the article that if you’re going to kill an animal for food you “should be able to look it in the eye, taking responsibility for both the treatment it receives in life and the manner of its death.” Mostly I like the idea because it’s just good sense. Now, have I actually looked something in the eye before killing it and eating it? Hell, no. But it’s climbing up my list of things I need to do because I do feel that it’s important. It could turn me vegetarian, perhaps, and I’m okay with that because I’d be making an informed decision based on first-hand knowledge of the process an animal goes through from life to death.

A chef here in NY made a comment in the article that coming face-to-face with the animals we cook is “a pathetic fallacy.” Really??? I disagree. I mean, is it realistic for me to see the pig killed that made my proscuitto? Not really. Or what about the filet mignon that I had for dinner? No, I don’t need to see that specific cow. However, I regularly buy buffalo meat at the Union Square market. Could I drive upstate on a Saturday to visit the farm and see first-hand how it’s all done? Absolutely, assuming the farmer would let me take part. The “duck guy” at Union Square might let me partake as well…even though he is reallllly crotchety. My point being that, even a “New York City gal”, like myself, has the resources available – if I get off my ass to do it – to truly get in touch with the land and the animals that sustain my way of life. It’s just a question of how much each of us cares to challenge and educate ourselves.


Anali said...

You know - I'm not going to watch that video. I am a confirmed omnivore, though I consider myself a respectful one. I do avoid certain meats, such as lamb, veal, fois gras, etc. because I have an ethical disagreement with the process. I don't know that I would go look my dinner in the eye, and I don't know that I NEED that - but I agree that it's important to be aware. So, hear hear!

Anali said...

Thought you'd appreciate this blog post.

Unknown said...

Fantastic, Anali! Hmmm...Toronto isn't that far away... I'm unapologetic about the fact that a butchering class sounds fascinating to me.

And I also agree with you, Anali, that you don't necessarily need to do the "dispatching" yourself but that awareness is necessary. I avoid those meats as well, though I did give veal a shot not too long ago. Let me tell you, to be cliched, that it taste just like chicken. I'll stick with chicken.

But for anyone else reading this, I urge you to read Omnivore's Dilemma. It's eye-opening for people like me who thought that corn fuel was good and "cage free" labels actually meant the chickens wandered free around a farm. Needless to say, I was wrong on both counts.

Anonymous said...

there's a local farm here that lets you go in with other families and purchase a cow. they kill it on the farm, rather than making it go through the stressful slaughterhouse process, then deep freeze the meat for you in portions. this all sounds very odd written out, but i like the idea of committing to a cow and using all its parts (not just the rib eye), and the connection with the farmer. they also have a B&B on the property so you can meet everyone (though, i might not want to meet my personal cow. i might become affectionate and it's a slippery slope toward vegetarianism)

Anonymous said...

ooh AND
there's an org here called locavores that advocates using not only seasonal ingredients, but working with items in your local foodshed and getting them directly from the farmer whenever possible. they were hosting full moon feasts where they would cook a low cost BYOB organic, seasonal meal for a group and then have a guest speaker from the local food industry (rancher, produce buyer from the co-op, etc) to educate consumers about how their choices directly affect lives (human and otherwise). how rad is that? i am going to see if i can volunteer in their kitchen