Friday, November 28, 2008

From Road to Kitchen to Stable



This morning after a 2.5 hour drive from New York and following a fine day at my parent's house to celebrate Thanksgiving, I roll in to the farm to find that the two days prior to 27 November had been so busy that we were nearly wiped out of all the stuff that I am responsible for making for retail sale. So, delighted, I jump in and immediately begin breaking down the last of the three sides of veal that are hanging in the meat locker. (See above) There was some brown veal stock to reduce to demi-glace, turkeys to bone for sausage, pancetta to cut and package, ripe salami to cut down from the drying room for packaging and I'm working alone and rocking so hard that at 2 o'clock when I see Alex (who comes when he's off from school to hang out with his father, our chief farm hand ) run in to the kitchen and grab some paper towels, I almost don't understand that a calf is about to be born.



I drop the boning knife I'm using to take apart a side of veal, grab my camera and hustle out to the barn and shoot these pictures (below) of the birth of a Ayrshire dairy calf.

I'm sure that most of my readers will understand how bewitching something like this is to someone who has made a career from , in large part, cooking animals. I was never comfortable cooking, serving or eating meat in the absence of having direct knowledge of all aspects of the food web. I always felt that unless I had the guts to interact with the creatures that I used for food before they became food, I was a fraud. Certainly it is cowardly for me to cook meat if I cannot work up the courage to know and butcher animals.

Of course, that's a standard that I only apply to myself.

I will not say that everyone who eats meat is a coward if they cannot butcher and cook an animal with whom they have had a personal relationship. (For the record: the female calf you see being born will probably not end up in my kitchen, but one of the bull calves at the end on the slideshow probably will.) But I will say this.

If you eat meat and the sweet, life-affirming pictures you see here make you seriously unhappy about preying on animals, you might consider giving serious thought to either becoming vegan or spending some time doing what I'm doing. Veganism is noble (vegetarianism, not so much) and so is -I believe- what Trent, and I am trying to do: face up to the reality of the consequences of appetite.

Think about it. Who wants to be one of those people who eats meat but says things like "Oh, if I had to kill an animal and cut it up, I'd probably become a vegetarian?"

I know that I don't.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am curious as to why veganism is noble but vegetarianism is not. Having known many vegetarian farmers who ate only the dairy and eggs produced by animals living in humane conditions under their personal care, I don't see how that is any less noble (or, frankly, any different according to your logic) than being a vegan or someone who kills animals in a way that 'faces reality'.

I would also take some issue with the moral equivalence you imply between vegans and omnivores who 'face reality,' though. Being aware of or involved the conditions under which food is produced is worthy and great if it is an option (which for most omnivores, it is probably not), but it is a delusion to suggest that witnessing the life cycle of stock animals makes one aware of the reality faced by those animals. The phenomenal [in the Kantian sense] reality of the prey can never be truly understood by the predator, although such a belief may provide comfort. Until you live and die to be eaten, you will never be able to face that reality. That doesn't mean you can't kill animals for meat and be a good person, it just means you shouldn't lord over others with a sense of complete moral superiority in regards to diet.

Which brings me to a final point: you might consider the inconsistency between your claim that you do not hold others to your own standards and your later description of certain diets as more or less noble than others. Either you make normative judgments of others' diets or you do not -- pick one!

Tags said...

Factory farms owe their existence to the desire most people have to bury the reality of slaughtering animals in an ocean of idyllic farm fantasy.

Unlike icebergs, they keep the whole thing submerged, including the tip.

This makes it easier for agribiz companies to profusely crowd, medicate, and corn-cram their animals with impunity, clearing the way to allow the Smithfields & Tysons of the world to pollute our rivers until they're uninhabitable.

Nancy Heller said...

Though my first reaction was "simply amazing" - I guess it is and it isn't - it's nature.

Thank you for sharing this, though. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

yankee noodle dandy said...

you guys are awesome.

i work with a quarterly food and culture journal i think you would be into called Diner Journal (thedinerjournal.com) i'd like to send you some complimentary copies
if you are interested send me the addresses where you'd like them sent

mercedez

Bob del Grosso said...

Nancy
I had a great Thanksgiving and I hope you did too! I spent it with my wife and kids at my parent's home (as I have done for half a century)on Long Island, NY -the promised land :-)

Yanky doodle dandy
Thanks, I'd love to see your journal. (!) But I cannot contact you to give you my address because Blogger does not all me to access your email address. So, if you don't mind, please email me at bobdelgrosso@gmail.com and I will send you my snail mail address so you can send the journals.

Anonymous
Please write again after you have had a good night's sleep and after you give serious consideration to using your real name. I'm not inclined to respond in kind to dunning comments from people who, by choosing to not say who they are, will not meet me on common ground.

cookworm said...

This was fascinating to see, thank you. To be honest, I'm a bit intimidated by cooking meat most of the time, but would so love an opportunity to more fully experience the process, especially like this.

Don Luis said...

Glad you had a nice thanksgiving.

I don't think you meant "dunning", which means to pester someone for the money they owe you. I think you meant "kvetching".

I'm at a loss to see how veganism or vegetarianism is noble. In the first world, that may be a choice, but for the rest of us, um, protean? That comes from pigs, chickens, and cows, among others.

My wife's cousin raises and slaughters pigs, and I committed to watching nearly a year ago, but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. I understand it's a messy and smelly business.

"Anonymous" may not use his/her real name, but he/she sure can write (although I thought Kant was a putz).

My name is really Lou Iorio.

Maura said...

I'll ask the question, Bob. Why is veganism more noble than vegetarianism? I don't agree or disagree, because I've never thought of it in that context. But I'm interested in what more you have to say about it, what with you being one of my food heroes and all. :)

Bob del Grosso said...

Don Louis
I was using the word "dunning" in the sense that he/she was demanding payment in the form of an answer to what I read as a (at best)too stridently posed or (at worst) rude comment. However, I was pretty tired when I wrote that and now that I have reread the comment, I see that while it is still seems rudely posed, it is also pretty insightful.

Now, about my comment about the relative nobility of the concepts of vegansim and vegetarianism.

I should have written that I was using the word "noble" in the sense of how it is used in Buddhism wherein that which is noble conforms to the dictates of the Four Noble Truths and is reached by following the Noble Eightfold Path en route to achieving the ultimate goal of enlightenment following the abandonment of suffering and existence.


Here the concept of veganism gets higher marks for "nobility" because unlike vegetarianism it demands that humans do not have the right to cause animals to suffer death. Vegetarianism, because it allows for some animal suffering at the hands of humans -as long as there is not too much of it- is less noble.

I realize that not only did I not clarify what I meant by noble when I first applied it, but that I also changed the sense of how I was using it when I applied to what I am doing.

What I'm doing is not noble in the sense that it's aim is the reduction of suffering in the world. Actually, it isn't noble at all.

I suppose I should not have used the word noble in any instance, and instead written about the relative reserves of bravery required by each system of eating, and how I believe that those of us who eat meat, but cannot bring ourselves to kill and butcher animals, should consider stepping up and taking a stand.



I'll anticipate the inevitable protest that since only privileged first world people like myself have the luxury of asking such questions,they should not be asked in deference to those who have no options, by suggesting that the context of this blog renders such protest absurd.

This is a food blog that takes it's title from a surrealist short story about a guy who's art is to starve himself in a carnival act. In other words, anyone who believes that it is wrong to weigh questions about eating because doing so insults those who do not have (or believe they have) the luxury of asking such questions ought to have been warned off by the title and the graphic -I should add.

Bob del Grosso said...

Maura
I think my comment to Don Luis answers your question -albeit indirectly. One is nobler than the other in a narrow context (Buddhism) that was not provided by me in the original post.

Otherwise, all bets are off, and the discussion about the relative merits of different ways of eating needs to be redrawn.

Don Luis said...

Please don't get me wrong; I love and respect you dude. I certainly meant no offense.

Thanks for educating me about "dunning". I don't have the knowledge of the nuances of language the way you do, and I don't mean any sarcasm in that. I'm a tech writer in search of English.

I feel free to disagree on your site for the same reason that I feel free to disagree with the American government; it's what the founders intended. I make you this offer: say the word, and I will never post on your site again (especially when I've been drinking).

Those of us not in the first world ask the same questions; we simply have different answers. I expect no deference. We simply take our food where we can, and often that's from our own land.

What you do is certainly noble, in that you bring people pleasure.

Walt said...

Bob,

Nice post, I really love your cradle to table philosophy.

mercedez ,

You mentioned the Diner Journal; the website looks interesting but I couldn't find any subscription information. How do you find this thing out here in middle America?

All,

There is another magazine out there that talks of these same issues that Bob touches on called "Meatpaper". One editor is a vegetarian and the other is a carnivore. It's tough to describe but it's kind of combines "meat art" (I'm serious here) with issues relating to the raising and eating of meat.

I look forward to every issue just as I look forward to Bob's posts here. In fact, Bob has kind of become my bridge between the glossy issues of Meatpaper in that he brings the topic to life for me.

It's printed 4 times per year and the website is http://www.meatpaper.com/.

Anyway, If you've not heard of it, it may be worth checking out. They have some sample articles at the site.

And just so you know, I'm in no way affiliated.

jhenrysmith said...

dear bob,
again i have to say that this is my most favorite site on the web. while i learn a great deal about animal preservation and technique i'm also always fascinated how you can spark a serious net riot! awesome.

Cameron Siguenza said...

The anonymous one took a few philosophy classes I see. If you use the word normative in a sentence does it allow you special powers to damn someone who was making some rather easy to understand commentary?

There is actually no inconsistency with viewing vegans and vegetarianism differently and with Bob stating how he approaches his life's work in a single post. I will ignore the red herring / straw man premise about all the "vegetarian farmers" you have known.

You seem to have missed the point in Bob's post where he states very clearly

"Of course, that's a standard that I only apply to myself"

- and this statement he made was in clear reference to the following paragraph:

"I'm sure that most of my readers will understand how bewitching something like this is to someone who has made a career from , in large part, cooking animals. I was never comfortable cooking, serving or eating meat in the absence of having direct knowledge of all aspects of the food web. I always felt that unless I had the guts to interact with the creatures that I used for food before they became food, I was a fraud. Certainly it is cowardly for me to cook meat if I cannot work up the courage to know and butcher animals."

Here Bob discusses why he is doing all of this.


If you eat meat and the sweet, life-affirming pictures you see here make you seriously unhappy about preying on animals, you might consider giving serious thought to either becoming vegan or spending some time doing what I'm doing. Veganism is noble (vegetarianism, not so much) and so is -I believe- what Trent, and I am trying to do: face up to the reality of the consequences of appetite.


This is the heart of the entire blog post and I see no inconsistency with this. He is allowed to judge vegan and vegetarians differently, while also wanting his own truth with how he approaches life, and his work.


Think about it. Who wants to be one of those people who eats meat but says things like "Oh, if I had to kill an animal and cut it up, I'd probably become a vegetarian?"

I know that I don't.


In this final section Bob is discussing meat eaters who would rather become vegetarians than know of what happens for them to eat meat. I have heard this statement before as well, both on TV and online, and in person.

You are conflating Bob's statements rather clumsily while using an unnecessarily showy manner. Quoting Kant doesn't make your inability to understand what he said any more valid. Furthermore, nowhere is Bob "lord(ing) over others with a sense of complete moral superiority in regards to diet." Where do you get that exactly? How is his moral superiority complete? Where does he state anything that suggests a completeness of "moral superiority"? I am sure you thought that statement had a nice ring to it, but I sense some faux-intellectual BS'ing going on.

Despite what you learned or may not have learned in philosophy 100, it is not a delusion to witness the life cycle of animals that are being raised for our tables. Kant lacked the subtext of modern factory farming for starters. Most people have a complete lack of understanding of this process and simply buy anonymous, factory produced meat packed on top of sterile airlaid pads.

Bob is practicing what he believes in... you may not like that, but I get it.

Charlotte said...

All philosophy aside -- I just loved the photos of the calf being born -- very very cool. And the kid who is learning (like my luckier cousins who actually grew up on our family farm) the way farmers/stockmen have learned for centuries -- by helping out. I sort of hate the way we lock kids out of doing any real work because they're "children" -- anyhow -- those calves are beyond cute and I say that as someone who is fully willing to eat them when they're older!