Eating Animals

A Horse of a Different Color

Horse: It's What's for Dinner

The latest brouhaha over finding horse DNA in European IKEA meatballs got me thinking two things: (1) if food processors can't stretch meat with pink slime, what alternatives do they have?; and, (2) why do we have repugnance toward eating certain animals, and not others? Some time back I discussed Jonathan Safran Froer's book Eating Animals, in which he points out, tongue-in-cheek, that Americans process plenty of meat to feed their pet dogs--so why not save a step and just eat the pet dogs? By the same token, why not eat the horses? We've got to do something with them, and how much glue can the world possibly need? Nor does the New York Times article I linked to answer my most burning question--how did they suspect there was horsemeat in the meatballs in the first place? Was someone eating in the IKEA cafe, debating whether he should buy the bunkbed with the funny name or the rug with the funny name, when all of a sudden the person thought, "Hold up! This meatball reminds me of the time Grandma made my favorite pony into stew! Better run some tests."

Maybe it's not just the thought of eating Black Beauty or Trigger that gets us. It's probably also the fact that we are being hoodwinked once again. Something we thought was beef is actually only X% beef, and that not traceable to any one source. Methinks we are protesting too much. Anyone who's ever had an IKEA meatball (or many storebought brands) surely must notice those processed meatballs taste nothing like homemade. The smoother texture, the milder flavor, the uniformity and how they hold together--we shake off our doubts, drown the suckers in sugary sauce, and move on.

Basically, if it bugs you to eat pink slime, horse, "textured soy protein," or whatever, you have two alternatives: (1) go vegetarian, and then you only have to eat the textured soy protein; or (2) get your meat from a reliable source--go right to the farmer. Alternative #2 is definitely pricier. It costs money to raise cattle, especially if you let them eat grass and don't stuff them with corn, soybeans, and prophylactic antibiotics. They gain weight much more slowly, and time is money. But any family can afford to eat meat if they eat it less frequently. Instead of eating meat 7x/week, how about just 5 or just 4? Or eating it six times a week, but s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g it? I don't mean taking out the ponies at the nearby petting zoo, either, but rather doing a soup that just has some chunks of ham or a little bacon. Cooking that roast, but only serving half of it one night, so that it can be made into tacos or tostadas the next?

Thank heavens the Market opens again in May, if you haven't been doing Skagit River Ranch's Bellevue Buyer's Club (and check out their revamped website!). Not only do I look forward to seeing Skagit, but also Samish Bay Cheese and Meat and Olsen Farms. Cannot wait. Especially since our family was out of town last week and I had to miss the Skagit delivery date. (Now we'll see how long I can stretch that meat in the freezer...) But even in California my mind was on food. We visited The California Museum in Sacramento, where they had, among other things, an interactive exhibit on health.

Including...
 

What vending machines oughtta say...

We also visited the wonderful, Kelsey-Creek-like Emma Prusch Farm in San Jose, where chickens ran amok alongside goats, pigs, peacocks, ducks, geese, bunnies, and sheep.

Now, that's a rooster

Good stuff.

An unrelated postscript: remember my sour cream? I thought I'd have to toss it after being gone a week, since it had no preservatives, but, no, it's holding up great! In fact, it even set up more, into a thicker consistency. Just used it yesterday for a delicious spinach salad dressing.

Spinach Salad Dressing
(Makes enough for more than one night of salad)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
scant tsp sugar
1 tsp dried parsley or more fresh
1 minced garlic clove
lots of ground pepper to taste

Mix it all up and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours.

EATING Lots of Different ANIMALS, Part II

Possum. It's What's for Dinner.

As promised, I've finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. If you missed the first post on it, it's a thoughtful, well-written account of Foer's personal struggle with deciding whether or not to go vegetarian. (I didn't.) The discussions of factory farming were revolting enough--despite being familiar from Food, Inc. and The Omnivore's Dilemma--to reinforce my personal bias toward seafood and proteins from our Bellevue Farmers Market suppliers, but not repellent enough to make me a pain at dinner parties. Just make sure your host cooked that meat or chicken really, really, really well.

Foer raises the topic of antibiotic overuse in agro-industry and its connection to antibiotic-resistant bugs. Which made this recent claim in Wired disconcerting: roughly one in four packages of meat and poultry from across the United States contained multidrug resistant staph. That is, MRSA. Ick. And bummer about these bugs responding less and less to antibiotics because a Seattle microbiologist from the Institute of Environmental Health took 100 samples of raw poultry from Seattle-area grocery stores (including Whole Foods and PCC) and "found the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus on nearly half, and Campylobacter on more than half...The contaminated poultry included organic as well as conventionally grown chickens." Double ick. But, as Foer points out, "free-range" and "cage-free" and "natural" mean next to nothing. Industrially-raised chicken is industrially raised. I wish they had included chickens from Skagit River Ranch or Tiny's Organic in their study to represent alternatives for consumers. A study done by three universities found that, yes, organic chickens were also infected with nastiness, but at a lesser rate. These people claimed, "[t]he overall prevalence of Salmonella across all farms, sample types, and age group was 4.3% (13/300) in organic broiler farms compared to 28.8% (115/400) in conventional broiler farms."

Beyond health and infection reasons, Foer builds a case for respecting animal pain and intelligence. Animals we think of as dumb as doorknockers (cows, fish, birds) each have their particular species' intelligence, and each is capable of registering and wanting to avoid pain. While I found his arguments compelling, doggone if I still didn't want to eat them. I think I must fall in the Temple Grandin camp. In the excellent biopic, Claire Danes delivers a version of Grandin's philosophy: ""I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give those animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect." (Hence her experience in more humane slaughterhouse design. Read the fascinating Animals in Translation for her thought process.)

If, dear meat-lover, after reading Eating Animals, you find yourself swearing off any protein that has to be killed, there's still a ray of hope for you. Food Safety News ran a recent article on the advisability of eating roadkill. Yes! Moose, deer, elk--heck--anything anyone can hit with a car and leave for dead can become guilt-free dinner. (Unless you were the one who hit it.) Just be sure to really, really, really cook it because even those wild animals have their share of undesirable bacteria. Combine a little roadkill with The Road Kill Cookbook or Manifold Destiny and you've got your Easter potluck dish while you drive to Grandma's. Talk about reduce, re-use, recycle.

Speaking of Easter, I leave you with this last enviro- and kid-friendly link. Forget poisoning your children with violently- and artificially-colored dyed Easter eggs. Make your own natural dyes, if you've got time on your hands. And you should now, since I've given you the roadkill idea. Bon appetit!