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Raw Meat

March 11, 2014

Meat is marvelous. Meat is also murder. There’s no way around it. If you eat animal protein, something has to die for your pleasure and nutrition. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true. Stone crabs just get one of their claws is ripped off their bodies. The injured crustacean is sent back into the depths to try and fend for itself albeit under more challenging circumstances.

But technically, the poor creature doesn’t have to die.

Honestly, I’m okay with all of this. To an extent. I have no qualms about putting a lobster into a pot of boiling water, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for slaughtering a cow, pig, or a lamb myself. Mammals are a little too close to home, but I might be able to dispatch a bird. I imagine the first one is always the hardest.

While I have no interest in actually slaughtering my own chickens, I can see many ways how it can be a beneficial experience. From evaluating whether the bird you eat is healthy and happy, to making sure it died in as a humane and respectful way as possible, to creating a greater appreciation for the resulting meat and giblets. The alternative is the chicken grabber.

Have you ever seen the chicken grabber? It’s mesmerizing.


Hopefully you’ll watch the above clip. It’s not that long and it’s a beautiful look at the terrible and fascinating world of industrial agriculture. The scale is impressive, and I especially enjoy how the filmmaker closes the segment with the excess of consumerism and its ultimate result.

As I was looking at the grocery carts piled high with pre-formed hamburger patties, I was struck by a remarkable realization.

Almost no raw meat has entered the Fussy home in a long, long time.

How could this possibly be? But it’s true. And more than anything else, it’s emblematic of the fact that we tend to eat fairly low on the food chain.

Yes, we have our weekly roast chicken. But for convenience sake, that’s picked up already roasted and just gets warmed in the oven and crisped under the broiler. The kosher chickens we’ve been buying from Wegmans may be marginally better than conventionally raised birds, but really that’s a lie I just like to keep telling myself.

Still, that’s just one chicken and we make it last. It feeds the four of us on Friday night, and then there’s usually one last breast that finds its way into a dinner on Sunday. The carcass gets wrapped and put into the freezer, where it will wait to be turned into stock.

Vegetarian and vegan bean dishes are a staple around these parts. Occasionally meat makes its way into the dish as a flavoring agent. There was the Niman Ranch petite ham that went into the pot of southern black eyed peas. And I was finally able to find some good ham hocks from a local farm to add their rich, silky and smoky essence to a pot of split pea soup.

A package of Applegate Farm organic grass fed beef hot dogs will last for over a month. Mostly because they will get chopped up and put into a can of organic baked beans from Trader Joe’s. It’s an “emergency dinner” for the kids that they love. But we still consider this to be a sometimes food.

Maybe I should consider bacon to be a raw meat, but I don’t. It’s been cured and smoked. Even the stuff I buy that says is uncured is still totally cured. The only truly uncured meats look gray. If your bacon isn’t gray, just know that your “uncured” label is lying to you. Bacon gets frozen in packages ranging from one to three slices, and they get pulled out as needed. The fat is rendered and either used in the dish or saved for Young Master Fussy’s scrambled eggs. The crisp lardons are either used as a soup topping or added to a frittata or maybe a savory bread pudding.

Occasionally we get a special delivery of meatballs from Venda Ravioli in Providence, RI. But I have to tell you something. A funny thing happens when you stop thinking of meat as the main part of your meal on the center of your plate. It gets awful filling awfully fast.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, but as much as we love these meatballs, neither Mrs. Fussy nor myself feel good after eating a whole one. There’s nothing wrong with the meatball, it’s delicious and made from good quality ingredients. It’s just that all of that meat just sits heavy in our stomachs and we’re much happier with a half meatball each.

Charcuterie comes into the house as a treat too. The Whole Foods that’s close to home sells the Fra Mani sopressata, and I’m always on the lookout for La Quercia’s Tamworth prosciutto. Both make an incredible product out of well sourced pigs. These are mostly for Little Miss Fussy and me as our secret little pleasure. The other members of the household don’t quite hold the same love for glorious nuggets of pork fat.

But there are no chops. No roasts. No steaks. Occasionally we’ll have these things out.

It’s not as if I can’t cook these things. I have. And I have a pretty good talent for it, too. For a while my high heat roasted leg of lamb was the go-to dish for when company was coming over for a meal. But we just don’t eat like that anymore.

Partially it’s health. But the other part is caring more about how our food is treated when it’s still alive. Yes, meat raised to a higher ethical standard can be much much more expensive. One way to enjoy meat without breaking the bank is to simply change how you think about it.

Meat is a treat. It’s an indulgence. It’s something that’s special. It’s something that demands respect. But in a world where supermarket shelves are overflowing with cheap pre-packaged meat, these notions can be hard to remember indeed.

It’s a good thing that some of those images in the clip are so indelible.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 11, 2014 10:17 am

    I could not dream of eating HALF a meatball. Now I feel like a glutton . . . when I join my parents for their home made spaghetti and meatballs . . I eat TWO pretty good sized meatballs all by myself. Not because I am hungry . . but because they are just awesome. I would eat three if I could get it down.

    I grabbed a quick burger with some of my store staff this weekend at a place (that will remain nameless) nearby. The burger was huge at 3/4 lb of meat. I watched a couple at the table nearby split one in half. Sigh . . I was a glutton again. I do love me a good burger . . but this one missed the mark. But that’s another story.

    We eat a lot of meat in my house . . but reading this made me realize – I too don’t cook much of it. I am up at 5am every day and home around 9 or 10pm. Gone are the days I used to enjoy a bottle of wine in the kitchen and spend 2 to 3 hours cooking. I miss those days sometimes.

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