Livestock SwagOn November the 4th, I went to the first of two Livestock evenings, 'The Butchery of a Cow' (The Butchery of a Pig took place on the 11th; sadly I missed it). Livestock, held at the Art Institute's International Culinary School, was billed as 'an urban conversation designed to explore the literary and literal aspects of killing our dinner' And it was just that.
Meat's been on my mind the last few weeks. I already mentioned the Futurist Banquet at SFMOMA a few weeks back. I was reminded of it last week when my father wrote on his blog about a soup my mother had made, using some beef stock he had made with a rib he'd pinched at the banquet.
And then there's been all the meat conversations and debates online. Between Nicolette Hahn Niman and Helene York at the Atlantic Food site, addressing especially the environmental concerns of eating meat. Articles about Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals at the New York Times Book Review (Jennifer Schuessler) and the New Yorker (Elizabeth Kolbert).
Worst of all, there was the undercover video from the Vermont slaughter house I came across from a Michael Ruhlman tweet. Warning: I could only watch about 30 seconds of it, it's that horrendous. You can read a bit about it here. It's the kind of thing that makes me wonder why restaurants serving foie gras get picketed, but beef, pork, and chicken coming from God knows where raise no such ire. And it makes me worry about the people as well. It reminded me of a line from a book I read last year (and liked very much), So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. In it, a man tells his niece what he has against her suitor: "I saw him taking something out on his horses. I didn't enjoy it. And you wouldn't have either."
But back to Livestock. The brainchild of Watershed Culinary Productions and Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective, Livestock's literary promise was my main attraction. I'd already had my introduction to where my meat came from years ago, when my father took me out of school for a day to help butcher a goat. Turns out a refresher course is always a good idea.
About 40 of us had gathered in an upstairs culinary school classroom. While B.T.Shaw, Emily Chenoweth, and Joe Strecket gave readings, Adam Sappington of The Country Cat butchered a quarter cow. The stories were interesting--B.T. Shaw's piece about hunting and her father and having possum in her lunch box was particularly funny and moving--but my mind kept wandering. Because watching Sappington work was fascinating. The combinations of moves with his various knives was a little like a dance. Nearly careless seeming flicks of the boning knife followed sure swift strokes from his chef's knife. The movements were accompanied by sounds: sighs and exhalations, slaps and pats on the meat--at once respectful and affectionate.
After the readings, there was a tasting of three braised beefs: Sweet Briar Farms (Hereford/Black Angus), Ford Farms (Highland cattle), and Carman Ranch (Black Angus; the only completely grass-fed beef we tasted). The Carman Ranch, being grass-fed, was leaner than the others. It also seemed to be the favorite of most people where I was sitting. Its flavor was interesting, slightly gamey (in a good way). When you ate it, you stopped and appreciated the tastes, which is exactly how I'd like to be eating meat.
And then the conversation started. The audience was full of smart, curious people. Butchers from local businesses, farmers, curious onlookers (should I say on-eaters?), and even a vegetarian or two wanted to talk about how the meat was raised, where it came from, and how they approached eating meat.
The Portland Meat Collective is a promising development--it aims to let people own shares of their animal before slaughter, giving them a say in how the animal will be butchered. And they're also planning on having classes in butchery and charcuterie.
Two lines from the evening really stood out for me. The first was from Sappington, when he was asked about how he felt when butchering the cow. He answered (and I'm poorly paraphrasing here) that slaughtering is something very different, but butchering is not emotional. "I don't know if that's okay, but I'm comfortable with it".
And Clare Carver, in the audience from Big Table Farm, responded when people started wondering about 'painless slaughter'. She raises her pigs from the time they're weaned and slaughters them herself She said the night before slaughter is incredibly difficult. But she really cares about those pigs throughout their lives. "Basically, they have many happy days and one very bad day."
There are so many arguments to be made about raising, killing, and eating meat. In the end, we can only make our own peace with eating meat or not. And I have. I am a meat eater, and though I probably eat it only a couple of times a week on average, I like it very much, and have no intention of stopping. But I also like animals--a lot. For me eating meat is both a priviledge and a responsibility. I'll be curious to watch the conversation unfold.
Oh, and the swag: Adam Sappington's beef jerky