Sunday, December 16, 2007

Carnivore Politics (Part III): Final Thoughts

--CHOW has an interesting analysis of the Bill Buford essay for the New Yorker that I discussed in my first post for this series. Miriam Wolf argues that Buford’s three subjects—Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Martin Picard, and St├ęphane Reynaud—“reflect the three streams of thought that have led to the re-adoption of meat as our most treasured foodstuff.” In her view, Fearnley-Whittingstall represents the “sustainable farming” movement that Michael Pollan promotes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Picard is part of the meat-for-meat’s-sake crowd that isn’t really concerned with ethical implications; and Reynaud espouses a “slow-food” approach that originated in Europe and is becoming more popular in the United States.

I think Wolf is generally correct in her interpretation, but it’s important to remember that these “three streams of thought” she identifies aren’t inherently separate. For example, Pollan’s arguments for a more sustainable mode of eating are favorable toward the Slow Food movement; there’s actually a fair amount of common ground between the two, especially on emphasizing the benefits of local livestock and produce sources. (He also partnered with slow-food adherents for this fundraiser last year.) Also, Wolf obscures the fact that Picard and like-minded unrepentant meat lovers still express ethical considerations about where their meat originates, even if they don’t directly voice those considerations. As I wrote in the first post, the fact that “Picard relies on local suppliers for his Montreal restaurant and ‘rarely offers beef in his restaurant, because he has yet to find a producer he trusts’ ” is telling. Picard relies on local suppliers for his Montreal restaurant and “rarely offers beef in his restaurant, because he has yet to find a producer he trusts” It is highly ethical even if his primary concern is simply whether his beef sources are “good” or “not good.”

--I’ve mentioned Michael Pollan and his 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma repeatedly in this blog, and there’s a good reason for that; it's become one of the most important books on food this decade due to Pollan’s crack research (particularly on how large a role corn plays in the American diet) and his willingness to ask tough questions about what’s on our dinner plate and how it got there. It has inspired plenty of praise as well as some inspired criticism, leading to larger debates about food production, including what organic food really means. And Pollan already has a sequel of sorts that is due for release early next month.

--A final point: When it comes to purchasing and consuming our meat from ethical, sustainable sources, it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to be completely consistent on our decisions. Heaven knows I do a pretty poor job overall, and even though I’ve made some changes that I’d like to think are for the better (buying organic free-range eggs and vegetarian-fed beef, for example), I doubt that they’re even that adequate. With that said, awareness is a necessary first step, and if we make the effort to figure out the source of our meat and what it does and doesn’t contain, then that alone is huge.

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