Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The carnivore's dilemma

One of my dad's greatest fears is that I'll become a vegetarian again.

There is a precedent for this: when I was 15, I stopped eating meat one day and didn't touch it for five years. (Much to my mother's chagrin. She thought I was just trying to be difficult. I was a teenager, after all. Meanwhile, dad would try to sneak it into things: anchovy paste in the rattitoille, chicken broth in the rice. I would have none of it. Stubborn? A bit.) I had decided, after much deliberation, and being around a best friend who had been a vegetarian (and for a brief period, a vegan...until I brought her back to the dairy dark side with a pint of Phish Food) for years, that I could enjoy a perfectly healthy diet without an animal's life being claimed to feed me. The decision to stop eating meat came about because it made sense for me at the time. I could not come to terms with the process of meat production for food. I couldn't accept what I knew of the way the animals lived and died.

I started eating fish on occasion my last year of college, and about a year later was eating red meat again. The change was born of necessity: I had joined AmeriCorps, where the combination of a collective food budget (calculated at the local poverty line) and physically intense projects like 10-hour days of building hiking trails and houses as we trained as forest firefighters meant that I moved from eating cheese and tomato sandwiches to devouring anything that wasn't nailed down. I needed the calories.

It's been about a decade since I started eating meat again. I don't cook much of it, but I do eat it. And if I do say so, I make a pretty mean lamb curry (with dried fruit, cinnamon, and rose petals). When I buy meat or order it for dinner, I ask a lot of questions. I want to know as much as I can about the life that the animal led on its way to my plate. Was it free to roam around and fulfill its animal nature -- grazing, rolling in the mud, drinking fresh water, lounging in the sun? Did it experience a humane death? If I wanted to, could I meet my meat and see how it's raised?

Following a delightful potato pancake brunch at the couple's inn earlier today, I had the opportunity to learn about Fountain Prairie Farm's grass-fed beef operation from the man himself, John Priske, and meet the herd. John told me about the challenges of raising the heritage breed in Wisconsin: comparatively few buyers are patient enough to wait for the animals to get to an appropriate age and weight, and generally only chefs able to appreciate the superior quality of the meat are willing to pay a fair price for it. Because the Madison area has a number of restaurants and events focused on local, sustainably-raised food, the farm does okay. But it's not just about financial sustainability. It's about respecting life and treating the land and animals the right way. John believes in his animals living full lives, well beyond the average lifespan of other breeds of beef cattle, and because of this he is unable to justify selling animals too young, especially veal calves -- "their lives are cut too short" -- even in the face of a market that generally treats cattle as nothing more than animals to fatten up as quickly and cheaply as possible for our fast food nation.

I've had some of the meat raised on the Priskes' farm -- marinated short ribs at the Sassy Cow event yesterday; burgers at the UW Slow Food dinner tonight -- and it is superb. I suspect I will continue to grapple with eating meat, but I do feel pretty strongly that if I am to continue to do so, I want it to be raised by people like John.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. Hi Ipte - Its Diane Strauss - met you at the WI Foodie kick off party in Milwaukee - I am the one who's family does Free Raised Veal. Veal that is raised outdoors on pasture alongside mother and herd. I am trying to hook you up with Jim Duncan - food journalist in Iowa and also contacts in Northern California - please email me your email address - sorry but I am a little tech challenged - hope you are doing great - things are looking good from your blog :) Have Fun! Be Safe!! Njoy!!!

  2. Diane - hi! Good to meet you as well. I can't access your e mail for some reason, but let's chat soon. You can reach me at ibberoo2@gmail.com.


Thanks for your comment! Just making sure this isn't spam.... Thanks for your patience. :)Ibti