Bill Buford’s cookbook review in the New Yorker looks at three new books that deal exclusively with meat. These authors–a food writer, a chef, and a butcher–know their subject intimately, and along with Buford, it seems, harbor a hope that the rest of us will one day follow suit.
But an intimate relationship with meat means confronting its source, which is difficult to do if the source is a factory farm in an undisclosed location. The more we hear about ground beef being recalled for e-coli contamination; the conditions in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s); the dangerous work conditions and low pay in slaughterhouses; the energy resources needed to prop up industrial meat production, and so forth, the more we are drawn to locally raised livestock, purchased from producers we might meet at a weekly market.
But in many states, federal regulations are making small-scale meat production a large-scale hassle, like in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a couple of farmers were arrested and had their farm raided for selling uninspected pork at a farmers market.
While New York magazine , in its response to Buford’s article, doesn’t see the point of trying to “reconcile meat with virtue,” reconciling our relationship with meat might be better seen as a responsibility, virtuous or not. At Chefs Collaborative, we advocate for purchasing meat from sustainable sources. Through our work on the project to Renew America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), we raise awareness about at-risk livestock breeds that chefs have a role in bringing back from the brink of extinction–by connecting with producers, learning how to break down whole animals, and challenging their skills to transform as much of the animal as possible into good food that restaurant guests will want to eat.
While working this way might seem risky, the bigger risk is not bothering to try–and being left with an option that makes less and less sense as the argument against industrial meat production mounts. “Good meat comes only from a good animal,” writes Buford. And good animals are raised humanely. It’s a system that deserves support–even if the motivation is gustatory.