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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 12, 2009

Everything But the Squeal

By Mark Sisson
25 Comments

In light of the hunting post I wrote last week, I thought a brief discussion of Newsweek’s recent article on the growing interest in going “whole hog” might interest readers. The writer focuses on butcher Tom Mylan, a former Whole Foods worker who has become the “unlikely herald of meat morality” giving lessons in traditional butchery to Brooklyn hipsters and providing pasture-raised meat for local top-shelf restaurants. Meat morality, according to Mylan, is saying, “If you’re going to kill an animal, then it seems only polite to use the whole thing.” People seem to be responding to him. His butchery classes are constantly waitlisted, he’s become a bit of a celebrity among “foodies,” and – most importantly – people are beginning to purchase meat directly from the farms in bulk.

I like this for a couple reasons. For one, we’re big supporters of cowpooling. It promotes sustainable farming and allows the average person (who probably can’t afford to buy all grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products from Whole Foods or the local co-op) to eat healthy, grass-fed meat. And the more people know about the origins of their meat, the better. While I’d argue that hunting and butchering your own game is probably the ideal way to connect with your food, doing so just isn’t feasible or practical for everyone (even Chuck, our hunting commenter from last week, only gets about half his meat from hunting). Buying the entire animal directly from the farm – or at least portions after divvying it up with friends – is a good way for anyone with the proper motivation to understand their meat.

The ideas behind the article are central to the Primal Blueprint: the importance placed on community (sharing meat/costs); the idea that knowledge of our food’s origins leads to optimal health; and that all meat isn’t created equally (factory-farmed versus free-range) and has differing effects on us (both nutritionally and spiritually). After all, at the heart of the Primal Blueprint (and really, all life) is the search for unfiltered knowledge. Reading the latest lab studies, listening to our bodies’ cues and instincts, and understanding what we’re putting into our mouths are all ways that we look for, interpret, confirm, and process knowledge.

I know that, for the most part, we put our academic knowledge of nutrition and evolution to use in shaping our lifestyle. We don’t count calories, but we’re generally mindful that the amount of fat, protein and carbs we’re taking in are in line with Grok’s diet – and most of us use supplements to fill in the blanks. We lift heavy things often and run really fast every now and again. I even use intermittent fasting to emulate those days when Grok didn’t eat. But (and this goes back to the hunting post, so it’s something that’s been weighing on my mind) we may also be missing that intimate connection with our food that Grok undoubtedly enjoyed.

Some might say that connection is forever lost to us. The urgency that propelled Grok in the hunt is certainly gone (for the most part). He hunted, killed, and butchered his own meat because – physically, objectively – he had no other options. His survival depended on it, while we always have the option to hit the grocery store for packaged meat. And when we forgo that option by hunting or buying the entire animal from a small farmer, we’re just trying to recreate that lost connection. Is it contrived? No, I think our motives are pure. Consider Chuck the hunter – is his hunting the mark of some modern homo sapien undergoing a second millennial-life crisis? On the contrary, I think that actively ignoring the easy conveniences of the modern meat industry (although some of them are just fine, of course – don’t get me wrong) to patch that broken bond between man and his meat is a laudable, valuable choice.

If you don’t go for the spiritual connection angle, that’s cool too. The farm-to-table way of getting meat has other benefits. To reiterate Mylan’s philosophy (one I can completely get behind): “If you’re going to kill an animal, then it seems only polite to use the whole thing.”

  • Our ancestors used the whole animal, and we know organ meat has loads of vitamins and nutrients not found in muscle meat
  • Buying sides of beef or splitting up a whole hog will get you quality, clean meat at a fraction of the cost per pound that you’d pay at a grocery store (provided you have enough freezer space to store it)
  • It’s too easy to separate yourself from the fact that the shrink wrapped steak you just bought was once an animal
  • Taking part in the process (whether you’re picking out an animal, aiding in the actual slaughter, or butchering your purchase) will lead to a more fulfilling meal
  • Farm-to-table meat is always going to be fresher than meat that requires a middle man (usually some dispassionate packer who sees tons of the stuff every day)

The desire to know what we’re eating, where it comes from, and that it is actually good for us is everywhere – and it’s growing everyday. As Primal Blueprinters, as followers of Grok, I think we owe it ourselves to eat meat whose origins we can trace… even if the trail ends with our bloodied (yet somehow cleaner) hands.

Alaina B. Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Cheap Meat Round 2: “Thrift Cuts”

Peculiar Primal: 10 Perfectly Primal Foods You Probably Haven’t Eaten

What’s the Difference Between Paleo and Primal?

Did Grok Really Eat That Much Meat?

Serious Eats: Pig Butchering Class at The Brooklyn Kitchen

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25 Comments on "Everything But the Squeal"

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Son of Grok
7 years 7 months ago

I am ordering another 1/4 grassfed cow soon… I think i will also see about getting a pig. I do like my pork. Its good to see this type of thing catching on.

In honor of chuck’s hunting post, i went and got myself a rabbit. (from the local butcher… i didnt hunt it unfortunately). I think it is going to make a yummy creen chile rabbit stew.

The SoG

BEE
7 years 7 months ago

After commenting I’m searching how I can buy in bulk! Amazing how many cuts I have yet to explore!

And SoG- I wanna hear all about the stew! I’ve never eaten rabbit… gonna have to warm up to that one (as my best friend had a pet rabbit growing up- seems weird to cut it up and eat it).

MaryLou
MaryLou
7 years 7 months ago

After all these posts regarding buying/hunting fresh animals, I think I’m going to have to get over the convenience of having the grocery store across the street and look into where I can find a farm (in Los Angeles???) to buy straight from. Thanks for all the good info on the benefits, health-wise and spiritually, on eating animals this way.

Rodney
Rodney
7 years 7 months ago

I would love to be able to raise some animals for personal meat consumption. It would be great to learn which animals taste the best, are most versatile, are most efficient (cheap to raise per pound of meat), and even least intrusive on the land/environment. What about rabbit, goat, lamb, turkey…you get the idea. I am sure there are great options that don’t require the space of a cow, bison or other large ruminant. Any ideas or experiences to share out there?

ray paul
ray paul
7 years 7 months ago

That Newsweek article is fantastic.

It makes one want to hunt down a master butcher and learn thy ways.

It’s pretty scary that we are getting so far removed from the basics of survival.

I suppose if we were thrown into we’d have to (and would) adapt and learn quickly. But still pretty scary.

Great article. It’s amazing the amount of quality material you pump out every day Mark.

Thanks!

David
David
7 years 7 months ago

Big fan of the traditional fabled butcher, the guy that knows his cut of meat, knows how to take apart an animal with his well-honed chopping skills. I’d assumed this man was lost like the blacksmith and the candle maker. Lost to a machine that boils and mechanically separates meat. Good to hear the neighborhood butcher is still in the neighborhood. If you live in Brooklyn.

nonegiven
nonegiven
7 years 7 months ago
DH got pissed at the packing plant, he thinks he wound up with way less deer than he brought in the last time so he started butchering them himself. He got a grinder and put an old motor on it so he can grind up all the bits we don’t want to cook some other way. I have to do the shrink wrap part. We’ve probably done at least 8 deer and a couple of pigs. Another pig was little so he smoked the whole thing in one piece. I don’t think anyone taught him how to butcher anything but… Read more »
Chuck Neely
Chuck Neely
7 years 7 months ago

Great daily post Mark. Chuck the Hunter is also going to be Chuck the farmer…we are lookinjg into raising some natural livestock to help keep the fields down on my mountain property. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Boer goats- and the fact that certain organic goat meats may be the next wave of gourmet carnivorous delights. Low maintenance animals by most standards, these goats have been promoted lateley by Bill Niman- pioneer in the natural meat market. Heres a good article on it!
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/dining/15goat.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

Ryan Denner
7 years 7 months ago

Very interesting Mark.

I thought about what it would be like to actually sit down and eat an animal that I chose to eat or butchered, and I think there would be a much greater appreciation for it. You’re right, it’s easy, especially for most of us, to just take it for granted that we can go down to the local grocer to get it. For many, they take it for granted that they can get any old meat. But to take this route seems a bit “more”.

Good post.

Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago
We’re still pretty tribal around these parts, I’m quite happy to let the butcher do the butchering especially since I can find out the origin of everything he sells. I do the eating and the going yum yum! To do it properly you need some space, and some time to hang the meat until it’s at its best, an important step often left out of supermarket processed and packaged meatlike substances. Once I watched a captivating film about the slaughter and use of a pig. One half was the pork side used for immediate meat, the other was the bacon… Read more »
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