Do Something Unrealistic
So, I’ve written a book about how to make things better. It’s about meat, at its center, and the ways we raise animals and slaughter them, prepare their meat and eat it. But it is about so much more than that. You see, when you raise an animal, it lives a complex life. Looking up and looking down, and salivating, and chewing cud, and breathing air, stomping, birthing young, and pooping-- all these things are incredibly complex. To boot, the animal interacts with a lot of other beings, such as egrets and dung beetles, each working their own complex existence. Then, we eat the animal, interacting in our own right, and, the systems we have developed to do that eating create many other interactions. So, regardless of anything about you, what you eat, and what the thing you eat eats, and many other activities you do that you could not do without nourishment, EATING causes your life to impact many other complex systems, of which you are probably unaware. My book is about that. Even if you don’t eat meat, you should read it.
Anyway, due to no mysterious consequence, we face some challenging issues in our world. You may have heard of a few political, social, environmental, and economic struggles. It’s kind of a big deal. A really big deal. I am not kidding in the least when I say that the way we eat and ensure the continuation of our food supply is fundamentally and inextricably linked to so many of these problems. This is why I have devoted my life to food. So my book, while it is about meat, and food, is about some very very complex and troubling problems that, if you gave me enough time, I could link to nearly every major problem our world faces today. Yeah. It’s that majorly huge. The book is about why we all have a stake in these big, big problems, and in roughly 300 pages, how we can begin to understand the problems and endeavor to make things better.
This is a book. It is full of words. Words are massively important, but action is too. So, the book is full of words that seek to describe and distill our problems and triumphs, and provide action steps and instruction for things you can do to make things better. In my work promoting the book, my favorite question, from media, reviewers, students, and audience members, is the one where they ask,
"Do you really think home butchery is realistic? Do you think people will eat lesser-used muscles? Do you think good food will win in the end?"
This is a book about change.
As with any change we seek, we cannot seek it while doing nothing. Further, it is about BIG change. BIG! So big and so awesome that I do not expect to see it happen in my lifetime. This does not stop me from proposing it. It has occurred to me, over a decade of working for a better world, that there is actually no such thing as small change.
It might seem as though I am asking for small change when I ask my son to bring me a glass of water. I might expect that it will require small action. But, actually, when I think about it, his putting down his toy, walking to the sink, finding a glass, filling it with cold water so that it does not overflow, shutting off the tap, and then bringing me the beverage, without complaining at all, requires an amazing concert of small action. Neurons, muscles, tendons, tissues, cells, and organelles all made the magic of a favor, and a glass of water available to me. Not to mention the well, and the plumbing, and the larger watershed. Oxygenating microbes in the water? Rain? Clouds? Oh my word, stop it. Stop.
So, when you really think about it, that was an amazing feat, wasn’t it? No such thing as small change.
Spoiler alert: the action steps I am suggesting in the book are myriad and diverse, just as the systems we lean on for providing our food and fiber. I suggest ways that we can farm differently, buy differently, cook differently, and eat differently. This is an attempt to give concerned citizens as many entry-points as possible into the incredibly complex and difficult problems around pursuing an honest and just food supply.
The premise for suggesting these action steps arises from having been a farmer, and a buyer, and a restaurant owner, and a retail butchery manager, and a non profit executive director, and watching all the ways we try, with golden, giant hearts to make things better, but there are still some gaps. Namely, putting economic and ethical pressure on our producers, our farmers, when the breadth of the ethical meat question rests on all of us. For example, pulling higher value cuts out of a carcass is a very good idea, but does it make the most sense for farmers to pay extra in cut and wrap costs to make this happen? If you read my book, you’ll see why it doesn’t. It makes more sense for chefs, artisan butchers, and home cooks to do this. This is just one example of why home butchery, and better butchery training for culinary professionals, and more support for middle system local meat businesses is a good idea. It’s not only realistic. It is necessary.
Of course it is overwhelming.
When you go for ice cream, and you are offered thirty-one flavors, it may be easy to become overwhelmed, and storm out of the establishment, and insist that you will not succumb to the pressure being applied by the ice cream man to master such a panoply of opportunity. You could do that. But probably what you’ll do is taste a few flavors, and throw away a lot of tiny plastic spoons, and then eventually, you will choose. You’ll use your tongue and your eyes and your hands to consume the flavor you have chosen. But either way, you will have acted. Bravo for handling that, and not checking out, and choosing something and doing something, even if it didn’t work out for you in the end. Your life will go on, and you will possibly process your decision in relation to your life. Was that scoop worth your money? Did you have a lactose reaction? Should you, next time, perhaps get the one with the peanut butter dough balls inside? On a waffle cone?
At a convention recently, a fellow butcher, for whom I have incredible respect, stood in front of a room of people and said “People just aren’t going to eat headcheese. Or make their own charcuterie.” Standing next to him was a chef, a chef who millions of people listen to and learn from, and I was reminded of a time when, in her company, she called charcuterie “fancy meat.” Lord, I love these people. They are very good at what they do. But I wish they would not say these things. I really wish we could leave all the doors open, and let the good and hungry people come on in.
I have pulled close to 8 pounds of edible delicious off of a pig's head before. It'd be real good if we could leave that door open. And, charcuterie, at the deepest root, was the food of the poorest of the poor. It was an investment. It was tradition. It was preservation, faith, and nourishment. It'd be real good if we could keep that door open.
A long time ago, when my grandma (RIP) visited my farm, she said, "Who'd have ever guessed that Miss Priss Meredith would grow up and be a farmer one day." Right? The girl who sorted My Little Ponies by color, and grew up on the second floor of a tiny apartment in the city, and obsessed with Gwen Stefani done grew up and wrote a book about butchery. She can break down a beef, and skins sheep, for a fee.
Let’s go back to the glass of water. I bet somewhere, someday, someone would have looked at the faculties by which I received a glass of water, and fainted. NO. WAY. That’ll never happen.
The point of this little rant is that we need changes. And we will not get changes by being lazy or afraid. Changes require action, a little bit of failure, and some success. I’ll comfort you with the assurance that there are no changes in the book which will put your life in danger. I’d argue that many of the proposed changes will bring you joy or revelation in life. We don't have to do it all in the next grocery trip. We just have to start. To be useful, all you have to do is start.
You will have to try a few new things. Pick one. Just one thing. Do something unrealistic. I wouldn’t have written the book if I thought we could afford not to.