Ethical Barbecue: Can Traditional Eateries and Better Meat Coexist?
Image credit: The Pig on Facebook
As a British transplant to North Carolina, I have always been fascinated by this state's barbecue culture. But as a flexitarian who eats mostly plant-based foods, and who tries to stick to local, humanely reared meat only on occasion, I've often been frustrated that the most long-time, traditional eateries also seem to serve the most intensively reared meat. It's a problem that is not exclusive to barbecue, and it is a strangely ironic state of affairs, given that the longest-held regional culinary traditions were developed alongside non-intensive traditional farming methods. But there are glimmers of hope that things may be changing for the better. I am sure that believers in vegan organic agriculture will scoff at the notion of more ethical meat eating, as they have done on these pages many times before. Yet given that many sustainable farming advocates believe that integrating humane animal husbandry with small-scale farming is the only way to maintain soil fertility—there is a strong argument for retaining occasional, well-raised meat in our diets.
We've already shown plenty of examples of the new agrarian movement getting personal with meat—from graphic imagery of hog butchery workshops, through backyard slaughter in West Oakland, to a treatise on hunting, fishing and hypocrisy, it's only by rediscovering the truth behind meat that we can hope to put it in its rightful place in our culinary repertoire. (Assuming it has a rightful place, which many people will tell you it doesn't.)
But it can't just be about how we source our meat. As with any other food, it's also about how we cook it, and ultimately how we eat it. And that's what has gotten me thinking about the importance of preserving and celebrating our culinary traditions. Because many traditional methods of cooking meat—whether it be the aforementioned NC barbecue, or traditional bangers and mash from my home country—are not just about great flavor, but about thrift and making things go as far as possible.
While many a traditional eatery may indeed be out-of-bounds for me due to their heavy reliance on pork products from concentrated feedlots, and ethical meat has so far been confined to the higher-end dining experiences, there is also a parallel movement to the new agrarians, who are revamping, reviving and reopening budget eateries with an emphasis on ethical meat. From taco trucks and burger joints to, indeed, barbecue, cooks are creating no-frills food establishments, but they are refusing to skimp on ingredients.
Most recently, I discovered today in the New York Times Style Section that an old-school barbecue joint down the road from me in Chapel Hill, NC has reopened as The Pig. Owned and operated by a former vegan, the joint is continuing its emphasis on whole hog barbecue, but is buying humanely raised, local pigs; organic chicken, and is even offering country-fried tofu for the vegans out there.
Maybe our farming and cooking traditions will be reunited once more. I for one am excited.
More on Meat, Sustainability and Ethical Eating
Hog Butchery Workshop: Getting Personal With Meat
Try Weekday Vegetarianism: Eat Less Meat Without Taking the Plunge
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Monbiot - I was Wrong About Veganism