It’s as if everyone interested in reforming the food system jumped on a bandwagon – one that promised having and eating cake – before noticing that it was careening downhill and the road was about to end. How many more crashes will we have to witness before this movement comes to its senses and takes a more thoughtful toe-path to reform?
There’s an non-waste ethic infusing foodie culture these days. Emerging from an earnest 1970s-emphasis on “reuse, reduce, recycle,” this ethic is used like a “get out of jail free” card. In order to justify the unnecessary suffering and death of sentient animals, you just use the whole animal. You’ve thereby done right by the environment, animal ethics, and, of course, your precious palate. Win-win. And win!
It’s due to this freshly dusted and repackaged ethic that the adventurous diner has heretofore unprecedented options. He can skip the traditional pork chop and eat Wilbur’s testicles. Bad-ass chefs–and, really, have anyone else noticed how utterly badass celebrity chefs look these days?–pride themselves on carnivorously-inclined menus littered with entrees that incorporate the strange viscera of dismemberment. You get a sense that the animal you are eating was not only killed, but sliced and diced and vivisected as if he were a medical school cadaver.
Which, of course, he was. And that brings us to the rub. When an animal enters an industrial, USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, his corpse emerges 19 minutes later as not only as chops destined for domestic meat counters, but as pelts bound for Turkey, lungs sent to dog-treat manufacturers, bile for the pharmaceutical industry, caul fat (the lining of organs) for Native American communities and liver destined for Saudi Arabia (which, go figure, distributes cow liver globally). Oh–and as a hog testicle sampler for a clean $11.99 at a savvy little Austin spot teeming with culinary virtue.
Point being: those seeking to use the whole carcass as a measure of their ethical status as meat-eaters are trapped in yet another contradiction. To eat low on the hog they must rely on the very institution that epitomizes the complexity of industrial agriculture: a slaughterhouse. Naturally, some backyard warrior could hack his own primal path to self-sufficiency, but to make the by-products of slaughter commercially available–and what else is animal agriculture ultimately about?–all cravings for “pig face” (not making that one up) must cede to the industrialized abattoir equipped to undertake the requisite dismemberment. The only alternative–mobile slaughterhouses–lack such capabilities.
This might seem to
be a peripheral message. But it’s in fact a symptom of the larger
contradiction that’s at the core of the push to produce “humane” animal
products. Repeatedly, the rhetoric of this movement exceeds the reality.
It’s as if everyone interested in reforming the food system jumped on a
bandwagon –one that promised having and eating cake – before noticing that it
was careening downhill and the road was about to end. How many more crashes
will we have to witness before this movement comes to its senses and takes a
more thoughtful toe-path to reform?