Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Goat juice dribbles down Michael Pollan’s chin as he talks out of both sides of his mouth.

Michael Pollan is having a 36-hour dinner party

Here’s the conceit: build a single wood fire and, over the course of 30-plus hours, use it to roast, braise, bake, simmer and grill as many different dishes as possible – for lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again.

No, here’s the conceit: thinking people would be interested in reading a 4500-word account of 36 hours' worth of Michael Pollan’s cooking and eating over a “cob burning oven” in a “shady backyard of Napa.” But apparently Michael Pollan means conceit as in theme, not as in narcissistic presumption. So on to the 36-hour dinner party.

Since Michael Pollan is involved, you know he’s only whetting our appetite with all his rhapsodizing about baskets of morels, canopies of mulberry and oak logs burning in a cob oven. He’s biding his time, building up to his favorite topic: the lovingly described slaughter and consumption of an animal.

Which turns out to be a goat.

Mike and I drove to the ranch to choose our animal and watch an itinerant butcher slaughter and dress it; Mike says the experience made him want to honor our goat by wasting as little of it as possible.

Michael Pollan doesn’t fraternize with heartless killers, so we know his friend Mike will be deeply affected by the goat’s suffering yet still desirous of consuming it without pangs of guilt. Michael Pollan pulls this off by insisting a goat get to experience his “goat-ness” before he becomes Michael’s dinner. Mike takes a different route to guilt-appeasement.

Mike says the experience makes him want to honor the goat by wasting as little as possible.

Typically, honors will be conferred in the form of medals, trophies, speeches, toasts, etc. etc. Mike has come up with something altogether new here -- conferring honor by consuming every last bit of the honoree’s flesh. Consuming only a small portion of the flesh would of course be an intolerable insult to the goat, throwing scraps on the ground a slap in his face. But having as much of his flesh consumed as possible, at a 36-hour dinner party, no less, knowing his flesh is helping Michael Pollan and friends rediscover the pleasures of the communal fire, what goat wouldn’t burst with pride at the honor?

They must run out of things to talk about at a 36-hour dinner party. To re-establish any animal defender credentials the goat bone he’s gnawing on may have lost him, Michael Pollan could quote some of the outraged passages from his article on the foie gras industry.

"...the lives of billions of animals on American feedlots and factory farms are horrible to contemplate, an affront to our image of ourselves as humane" … hey, can you pass the goat stew?

Oops, better try again.

Legislation to ban foie gras has been introduced in six states. How delicious it must feel for a legislator to strike a blow on behalf of defenseless ducks and geese at the expense of an unpronounceable and Frenchified delicacy…

Did he ridicule this unpronounceable French delicacy while he was eating...

the [goat] scraps which Anthony collects to make a sugo – a slow-cooked Italian meat sauce..

Michael Pollan continues:

...the battle to ban foie gras must seem like a tasty target of opportunity.
Michael Pollan’s constant glorification of eating animals has started to affect the way he expresses himself. “How delicious it must feel?” “Tasty target of opportunity?” Can’t he come up with a simple descriptive modifier that isn’t related to flesh consumption?

By suggesting we’ve outlawed the most heinous practice in animal agriculture, the campaign against foie gras allows everyone to feel good about doing something for animals. Yet it leaves the much larger problem untouched.

No, the above passage wasn’t written by a critic of Michael Pollan. It came from Michael Pollan himself. How does he not see how seamlessly he fits into his own indictment? Simply replace foie gras with Michael Pollan and voila…

By becoming a prominent critic of the most heinous practices of animal agriculture, Michael Pollan’s campaign against the abuses in factory farms allows Michael Pollan to feel good about doing something for animals. Yet it leaves the much larger problem, i.e. animal torture and slaughter, untouched.

Because you see the same man who decries the “heinous practice of animal agriculture” delights in the details of carving up the goat carcass at his 36-hour dinner party.

Melissa … has a sure hand with the hacksaw and the butcher knife; within 20 minutes the goat is transformed into considerably more appetizing cuts of meat: the baron, or hindquarters, and the saddle … two racks of ribs (for tomorrow’s lunch); the shoulders (destined for an overnight braise) and the scraps…

Meanwhile, Mike is still in the process of honoring the goat…

Mike cuts a few slivers from the loin and passes them around; a ceremonial tasting of the uncooked animal is, he explains, a butcher’s privilege. The raw meat is surprisingly sweet….

Maybe this is the point, with the juices of the raw goat meat dribbling down his chin, that Michael Pollan slams his hand on the oak firewood and exclaims...

the lives of billions of animals on American feedlots and factory farms are horrible to contemplate, an affront to our image of ourselves as humane.

Stop talking with your mouth full of goat flesh, Michael Pollan. I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

I said, “the lives of billions of animals on American feedlots and factory farms are horrible to contemplate, an affront to our image of ourselves as humane”

His fellow 36-hour diners hear him this time and they pause for a solemn toast: to the billions of animals on American feedlots and factory farms. May mankind someday find the compassion to ease their suffering. And until that day comes, can I have another piece of the raw goat meat, please?