Several years ago, I read a study conducted between children 7-12(ish) years old who were asked to draw a turkey. The majority drew what they see on the Thanksgiving table- a roasted bird ready to be carved up. Many were startled to learn that a turkey is a living animal. Starting from the time we are children, American food culture has discouraged our connection from understanding the sources of our meat and the process of getting it to our table. When Americans visit French farmers’ markets for the first time I will hear the echo of disgust amongst the crowd as they disapprovingly eye the intact carcasses to which the meat for sale belongs. It’s a legitimate reaction given that we are used to it magically appearing on our dinner plates.
I remember the first time I cooked a meal for my parents in the US after having spent 4 years abroad. I asked the butcher at the Fred Meyer’s for the bones of the beef I just bought in order to make a sauce. He looked at me as if I lost my mind and made some excuse about all bones having been discarded that morning. For a moment, I questioned if my cow ever came with bones.
Recently, I noticed a French friend who lives in the US posted a picture on Facebook of a full pig on a spit that he was eating for some celebration. Out of his thousand friends only a handful “liked” the photo (probably also French). I thought it looked fantastic and what a wonderful way to party with friends. It got me thinking of how different Europeans view dead animal bodies and how Americans, uncomfortable with it, prefer to compartmentalize the death involved with the meal.
Europeans, in general, have a closer relationship to its farmers, which has instilled a culture that is more accepting of the process of raising, butchering and preparing animals for consumption in a respectable manner. Exposing the body of the animal in butcher shops not only allows consumers to be more knowledgeable about where the cuts come from but also, more importantly, serves as a reminder that our food comes from an animal that was once alive. It’s not something to be ashamed of if the methods of raising and butchering are conducted correctly. If we can’t accept that then we shouldn’t be eating it.
Yes, the American meat market for the masses is a different animal and Michael Pollan can tell you about the atrocities and where it all goes wrong. Nevertheless, there are still legitimate resources allowing access to free range animals. For example in Washington State there is eat wild and I’m confident with a quick Google search you can find farms a short drive from you. Last year we went through the Granger farm on Lummi Island, WA that butchered a cow and pig for us and split the meat with my parents.
After having toured many farmers’ markets and perusing the meat lockers of proud butchers in Europe, Chris and I can’t help but feel more connected to where our meat comes from. A French chef at my cooking school would say “if you show your food love, it will love you back [by providing a wonderful meal]”. It’s cheesy but I believe it entirely.
I must confess this post has been sitting in my “Blog” folder for the last month but I haven’t been able to “publish” it for fear my readers may think I’ve lost my own connection with reality. I was relieved to hear Michael Pollan articulately express the same sentiments in his recent book “Cooked” and thus has given me the courage to finally hit “publish”…
“Just because we no longer pay attention when we eat meat doesn’t mean that something momentous- in fact, a kind of sacrifice-hasn’t taken place. You have to wonder, who is really the more “primitive” character here? In our failure to attend to the processes that put meat on our plates, we moderns eat more like the animals than the ancients did.” Michael Pollan “Cooked” pg 52 [Kindle Edition]