In the past two months, the PMC has had the privilege of being on OPB and NPR several times. Our rabbit slaughter and pig butchery classes were first featured on Julie Sabatier’s brilliant Destination DIY (we’re about 40 minutes into the show). Then, last Sunday, the Splendid Table ran a shorter version (sans rabbit slaughter). On Tuesday, while I was in the air on my way to Europe, Ben Meyer, one of the PMC’s instructors could be heard talking about the PMC on Think Out Loud, which did a show centered around the theme, “Know your Meat.” The show’s producers asked me if I would appear on the show, but, alas, I wasn’t able to due to my travels. Thanks Ben! I so wish I had been, as it’s rare that those of us on different sides of the meat world get to really talk about it with each other in front of others.
At any rate, the show brings up a lot of important points: 1) That we don’t have enough USDA slaughterhouses in Oregon; 2) That maintaining a USDA slaughterhouse is prohibitively expensive for many meat processors; 3) That even when we’re buying meat raised by a “local” rancher, that rancher may have to drive several hundred miles just to get his meat slaughtered and processed and then delivered to a store near you, which begs the question, what does “local” really mean; 4) That the long-circulating photo of Naomi Pomeroy, chef and owner of Beast restaurant in Portland, Oregon, hugging a dead pig, will continue to inspire debate, which is why I’ve always thought it was such a brilliant photo, even if it was never meant to be so controversial 5) That people in Oregon (and elsewhere) still struggle with the very idea of eating meat and tend to think of it in very black and white terms (check out the comments on the Think Out loud website for a few examples of this).
I wish that the show hadn’t focused so much on the word “local” and had instead really tried to define what “good meat” is, a much more challenging endeavor. Good meat needs to be defined by how the animal was raised, what it was fed, and how it was harvested. These issues so often get swept under the rug in the name of “local,” when in fact there are plenty of “local” farmers not raising their animals well, not feeding them a natural, proper diet, and not necessarily even raising the meat they sell under their own label. “Good meat,” in my opinion, is necessarily produced by small farmers, and yet all the USDA’s regulations and rules regarding farming, slaughter and processing are mostly aimed at large, factory-scale meat farming and processing conglomerations. If Think Out Loud had run about four or five hours longer the guests might have gotten to a discussion about the ways in which farm policy continues to ignore pleas from the small farming and processing community to have regulations address the ways in which small farms operate, which is very different from the ways in which a Tyson contract farm or processing plant must (and should) be required to operate.
A USDA representative was interviewed on the show and he suggested that “local” is defined in the latest Farm Bill as locally produced agricultural food product that is raised, produced, and distributed within a locality or region and is transported less than 400 miles from its origin. Great. But the conversation needs to go further. Local cannot and should not be the catch all phrase for “good” or “healthy” or even “moral” if you want to go that far.
Of course, there are plenty of people who believe that there is no such thing as “good meat” because all meat is bad. Which brings me to the continued bevvy of fascinating reactions to the photo of Naomi Pomeroy, chef and owner of Beast restaurant, holding a dead pig. I have always loved this photo, mostly because it does incite such complicated emotional and political reactions–many along the lines of those I once received as a speaker on a panel about the ethics of eating animals in which one audience member compared me to a Nazi and another audience member accused me of being anti-feminist by oppressing animals in the same way that women have been oppressed throughout history (a doubly complicated accusation considering I’m a woman). I find the arguments about eating or not eating meat to be incredibly polarized and polarizing, which is why I started the Portland Meat Collective in the first place: to give citizens an opportunity to experience all parts of the meat production system (small and large, good and bad) so that they could find a place along the political spectrum that was well informed, whatever that place may be.
I’m happy that the Portland Meat Collective’s mission continues to get play in the press, as I hope, it will only further the debate.