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Everything But the Squeal

In light of the hunting post [1] I wrote last week, I thought a brief discussion of Newsweek’s recent article on the growing interest in going “whole hog” [2] 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 [3]. 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 [4], 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 [5]: 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 [6] – and most of us use supplements to fill in the blanks [7]. We lift heavy things [8] often and run really fast [9] every now and again. I even use intermittent fasting [10] 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.”

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. [11] Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Cheap Meat Round 2: “Thrift Cuts” [12]

Peculiar Primal: 10 Perfectly Primal Foods You Probably Haven’t Eaten [13]

What’s the Difference Between Paleo and Primal? [14]

Did Grok Really Eat That Much Meat? [15]

Serious Eats: Pig Butchering Class at The Brooklyn Kitchen [16]