Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking about meat (or: that pork chop is not a graham cracker)

Erik's post earlier has me thinking about meat. I am most certainly on board with decentralizing meat production and reverting to a more immediate, local, and sustainable model for meat production and consumption. Obviously, we should do this for the environmental, economic, and health reasons, but I've been thinking about the cultural and pyschological ramifications of this as well.

Meat, as a commodity in its current state, has little to do with animals. The supermarket has endless little plastic packages of neatly aligned pieces of meat, most already carved up so that people can forget they came from animals at all. The best example of this is boneless, skinless chicken breast. These amuse me. Think about it-- they've taken the least flavorful cut, pulled off the skin to ensure that it dries out when you cook it, and mark up the price. Often, four feet away, you can buy a whole chicken for a fraction of the price. I've had this conversation with a ton of people, and a lot of them just can't handle cutting up a whole chicken, or can't even deal with the "yuckiness" of the bone and skin in a split breast. For many people, meat has to be sanitized and made to seem un-animal. Seriously, how else can we explain the otherwise most inexplicable popularity of the boneless, skinless, chicken breast?

Buying meat in bulk is widespread where I grew up; one purchases a side of beef or a hog-- it really does make a difference that the language used reflects the fact the meat came from an animal.

The economics of a local, sustainable meat production chain would not only entice people to eat less meat and discover other fantastic sources of protein (culinary evolution is inevitable and welcomed), but perhaps would force them to come to terms with cutting up a dead chicken, too. I think this is a good thing. It is easy to be uninterested in how the animals you eat are raised and slaughtered when you don't think about them as animals; suddenly, when you are eating the chickens from down the road, you do care. Beyond that, people would be more aware of their general environment and its effect on animals they consume. If you see the cow, suddenly the cleanliness of the water and air matter a little more. Raising, slaughtering and eating animals ought to be a meaningful experience-- humane and respectful, almost religious even.