Thursday, February 21, 2013

On why our notion of "creepy" in food is all messed up.

A friend shared this article with me, on how North American attitudes toward offal illustrate a possibly disturbing trend in our attitude toward food. The whole article is worth reading but the following parts were my favourites:

I firmly believe that if I am going to eat meat, I need to be able to use every part of an animal. Absolutely everything. Nothing should go to waste and I shouldn’t value one part over the other. In other words, I’ve no interest in fetishizing any part of the animal. And I don’t find that the process of utilizing the whole animal has anything to do with the fetishization of meat or meat-eating. It’s interesting, however, that such utilization has become something so exotic, so abnormal, (read: creepy, sadistic, off) to so many people who eat meat or not.

In fact, what should be interpreted as exotic, and outrageous, and creepy, and sadistic and off is the way in which we’ve normalized the system of meat production and meat consumption in America.

Once you learn to prepare and eat every part of the animal, your relationship to eating meat changes drastically. In fact you begin to eat a lot less of it. And you begin to realize how long a whole animal can be made to last. You also see that we are a society that would rather not be reminded that meat comes from an animal—funny how that face, those legs, that heart, those feet creep so many people out….and yet they still eat meat!
What’s sad, and wrong, and creepy is a society that believes its normal to only use certain parts of the animal and throw the rest to the dogs (literally). A society that raises a pig only for lean porkchops. That raises a chicken only for the white, tasteless breast meat. A society who deems someone who decides to transform a pig head into an edible meal sadistic and creepy. A society so unwilling to SEE and THINK (REALLY think) about what it is they are eating, where it came from, that we feel more comfortable just looking the other wayfrom a system of meat production that’s WAY MORE DISTURBING than a porchetta di testa could ever be.
I think the case of factory farms is way less cut-and-dry than this author makes it out to be. The fact that we're able to produce food so cheaply in a world where many people still go hungry is unambiguously good. But if we can reduce suffering without interfering with that model, shouldn't we?

From a recent trip to Quebec - tails, tongues and ears.
Eating more of an animal means that less of it goes to waste or is treated only as a byproduct, and that means that fewer animals have to be raised and killed for the same amount of food. If we are raising pigs just for the bacon, chops and tenderloin then how, exactly, are we any different than the cowboys who drove buffalo to extinction by slaughtering them all for their humps - a group we're all taught to revile as children*?

We shouldn't feel that we need to eat every part of every animal whether we like it or not, but the stigma around eating offal and other less common cuts of meat that prevents so many people from even giving it a try is problematic if we're interested in being honest and ethical about what we eat. Right now the attitudes are definitely backward.

*It's worth noting, for the sake of correcting historical revisionism, that Native Americans were also guilty of slaughtering buffalo, taking choice pieces and leaving the rest to rot, but do I believe the really terrible mass slaughters began only when Europeans arrived. The mass slaughter was a result of only using choice cuts of meat and also of slaughtering buffalo to starve out Native Americans rather than for food. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm mistaken.