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?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Temple Grandin's House of Slaughterhouses

Folks, have you had it up to here with stubborn animals that refuse to enter the killing room? Then maybe it’s time to replace that old slaughterhouse with one of the many new designs at Temple Grandin’s House of Slaughterhouses. Whether you’re a big supplier or a local family farm, we’ve got the perfect solutions for all your killing needs. Folks, I’m considered the authority on farm animal welfare, so every slaughterhouse from Temple Grandin’s House of Slaughterhouses comes with unbeatable PR.You’ll get kudos from PETA the Humane Society and countless other animal rights organizations.

At Temple Grandin's House of Slaughterhouses, we’ve taken my cutting edge insights into animal behavior to create state-of-the-art slaughterhouses that will improve killing efficiency and increase profits! See, the problem with ordinary slaughterhouses is cattle often refuse to enter the chute, fall down and jam up the entryway. And a downed cow means downed profits! But my curved cattle chutes take advantage of the natural circling behavior of cattle, so they move toward the killing room peacefully, without holding up the line. Or maybe your animals slip and fall when you’re trying to restrain them in the holding pen. Then get rid of that old slick concrete and check out the non-slip flooring options from Temple Grandin’s House of Slaughterhouses. We start with the highest quality concrete then we use a special grooving machine to make it virtually slip-proof. We haven’t forgotten you pig killers, either. This handsome diamond-patterned flooring was specially designed for the unique shape and texture of pig hoofs.

Best of all, when you shop Temple Grandin’s House of Slaughterhouses, you can rest assured that everything comes with our risk-free, six-month guarantee. If after six months, you’re not convinced your new slaughterhouse has improved your killing efficiency by at least fifty percent, return it and we’ll give you your money back, no questions asked. Big companies like Hormel and McDonald’s swear by the slaughterhouses they got from me and you will too. But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to what some of our satisfied customers have to say.

"Thanks to the curved chutes I got from Temple Grandin’s House of Slaughterhoues I kill more cattle in a day than I used to kill in a week."

--- Billy S.

All that slipping and sliding used to drive me nuts. It lowered productivity and the video of my workers beating downed cows with a metal rod resulted in negative publicity that had our PR department working overtime. So I went to Temple Grandin’s House of Slaughterhouses. She showed me how her non-stick flooring keeps the animals from slipping and I couldn’t be happier.

-- Ron K.

So if stubborn animals who don’t want to die are making your slaughterhouse less efficient, depriving you of the profits you deserve, give Temple Grandin's House of Slaughterhouses a call today. Call in the next fifteen minutes and we’ll throw in these mats made from woven tire threads, guaranteed to reduce hoof damage, absolutely free. Kill more. Make more. At Temple Grandin’s house of slaughterhouses.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Joel Salatin on the importance of making pigs happy before you slaughter them.

He may look like the villain in the latest James Bond movie, but he’s really Michael Pollan’s number one sidekick in the heroic struggle against industrial farming. Virginia farmer Joel Salatin rose to fame after Michael Pollan featured him in Omnivore’s Dilemna. The Guardian newspaper paid a visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm to talk about his role in the film, Food Inc. and find out more about this farmer so “admired for his outspoken articulacy on the horrors of industrial food.”

Joel Salatin offers up some of that outspoken articulacy...

Films like Food, Inc. are finally exposing the kind of corruption and evil when you don’t ask: how do we make pigs happy? .. the industrial food system is so cruel and horrific in its treatment of animals. It never asks the question, should a pig be allowed to express its pig-ness?

To summarize…

Evil, cruel, horrific = factory farms that shatter pigs’ skulls and slice open their necks without first taking into account the pig’s pig-ness and asking how do we make pigs happy

Moral, decent, good = family farms that take into account a pig’s pig-ness and ask how do we make pigs happy before shattering their skulls and slicing open their necks.

Sounds like a fair distinction to me. And if not fair, at least a money making distinction. After his starring role in Omnivore's Dilmena and Food, Inc, joel Salatin is in high demand. He’s got speaking engagements all over the country. His farm can barely keep up with all the new orders. He even had to leave the Guardian interview early to take a call from Oprah.

Joel Salatin lives and kills on Polyface Farm. (Polyface Farm maybe because Two-faced Farm wouldn’t do him and all his inconsistencies justice) The Guardian reporter is smitten with Polyface Farm. He rhapsodizes about the

...absurdly picturesque landscape … the rambling white clapboard farmhouse … and as if the children’s book looks were not enough, the roads have names like Cattleman and Sugar Loaf and Buttermilk Spring.

Guess he didn’t make it as far as Stun Bolt Drive and Carcass Lane. The reporter starts off the interview with a faux paus. He sees...

...the nicely treated hens, all happily pecking and glossy-feathered, and I’ve held one in my arms. Suddenly it makes little sense that this animal, whose welfare has been of such great concern, will be killed in a matter of days. Na├»ve, I know, and Salatin seems surprised when I ask if he ever considered becoming a vegetarian.

“Never crossed my mind,” Joel Salatin says. The problem is what he calls the “animals as people” movement.

You have to concede it, Salatin is right about that. Animals are nothing like people. People are unique. We have special abilities. For instance, we have the ability to slaughter other living beings because we enjoy the taste of their flesh while simultaneously perceiving ourselves as moral defenders of the animals whose necks we’re slicing open. A pig is simply not capable of such profound self-deception. That’s what makes pigs lower animals.

Self-deception is just one of mankind’s unique abilities. We also have the limitless capacity to rationalize our behavior. And some of us, like Joel Salatin, even have the ability to rehash trite truisms without realizing they undermine the very point we’re trying to make.

Joel Salatin thinks the way you treat animals is a reflection of the way you will go on to treat human beings.

Uhm, Joel, if that's true, since you kill and eat animals, is that a reflection of the way you will go on to murder and cannibalize human beings?

But the reporter doesn’t ask this natural follow-up since he’s still trying to make amends for naively getting the interview off on the wrong foot by asking Joel Salatin if he ever considered going vegetarian. Joel Salatin has now started to ramble and there’s nothing the reporter can do but hit the play button on his recorder and fasten his seat belt.

What happens when you don’t ask: how do we make pigs happy? Well, you view the pig as just a pile of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated however cleverly human hubris can imagine to manipulate it. And when you view life from that kind of mechanistic, arrogant, disrespectful standpoint, you very soon begin to view all life from a very disrespectful, arrogant, manipulative standpoint. And the fact is we aren’t machines.

There’s got to be some explanation for this whacked-out meaningless random jumble of words. Joel Salatin doesn’t inject his animals with hormones before he eats them. Maybe he injects them with LSD. But he's back to his main theme again.

Respect for animals leads to respect for people. If we don’t care for our least, we can’t care for our most.

Sounds like something on the crocheted wall hanging above the Salatin fireplace next to the "Slaughterhouse sweet Slaughterhouse" needlepoint.

And yet, and yet… "Joel Salatin is admired for his outspoken articulacy against the horrors of industrial farms." Maybe he should be admired in business school seminars about capitalizing on moral concern for animal welfare to expand his business by creating a demand for higher priced free range meat. Maybe he should be admired by self-styled activists who want to proselytize for animal rights without giving up their chicken dinners. Maybe he should be admired by sadists who simply appreciate torture and killing. But who else could possibly admire him?

It’s hard to imagine opponenents of capital punishment honoring a death row warden because he spoke out against cramped jail cells and let the death row inmates stroll around the yard and served them a home-cooked dinner before he clamped them to the electric chair. But for some reason Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, Temple Grandin and all the others like them are considered important advocates for animals. With friends like these, farm animals really don’t need enemies.

btw, the Bond villain comparison was flawed. Bond villains are kind to their animals. We all know that chicken's neck was wrung the moment the photographer finished packing up his gear.