The parking lot was dark and deserted. I’ve already been waiting 10 minutes, with my engine and headlights off when the beat-up white van pulls up. I get out of my car. A man dressed in black clothing, wearing a black ski mask gets out the back of the van; in his hands my six pounds of pork belly. I handed him my cash and he gives me my meat. No words are exchanged.
For the sake of Charcutepalozza, I’ve found my way to the world of underground meat.
Okay, not so much. In reality, I met Dan from Double XL Ranch on a sunny Monday morning in front of the neighborhood produce stand where I buy milk, vegetables and the eggs laid by Dan’s chickens every week. We talked about what his hogs eat, and what size they grow to and he mentioned that majority of his pork belly customers are restaurants in the Sun Valley. That’s fine by me: if I’m going to eat pork for the first time in more than 10 years, it’s going to be the good stuff, raised by someone I’ve met, on a farm where the animal’s welfare is a top priority.
I’ve been thinking and reading (The Face On Your Plate, the Righteous Porkchop, Harvest for Hope, The Compassionate Carnivore, The Vegetarian Myth and even Cleaving), and trying to come to terms with the decision I’ve already made – a choice I think I made even before I salted my first duck breast a few weeks ago.
I’m sticking with the challenge. I’ve gone through more salt in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. I’ve made preserved lemons, I’ve cured and smoked salmon and trout, and of course, I’ve started my bacon curing too. I probably would have made the pancetta (the Charcuterie challenge) too, but I think my three pounds of bacon (the Apprentice challenge) is enough meat to get started with.
I don’t want to bore anyone to death with my rationalizations (and I won’t be bringing them up on the blog again), but I felt that my brief mention is the Washington Post required me to explore the issue a little more. Why am I a part of Charcutepalooza? A part of it is that I don’t want to miss out on all the fun. The twitter community for #Charcutepalooza is welcoming, supportive and filled with funny, talented writers who take great pictures and love food. Following their posts will challenge me redouble my own efforts. And the lovely Washington Post story, (Congratuations to the Yummy Mummy and Mrs. Wheelbarrow – and thanks so much for all the work you are putting into this!) with the accompanying uptick in visitors to my blog was a huge thrill – even though I’m technically not the wavering vegetarian I’m described as in the article.
But the real reason is simpler. Since I can buy meat I am morally comfortable with, I simply want to cook with it, and enjoy it again.
It’s hard to write about this issue without sounding self-righteous. I recognize choosing to buy this kind of meat means that I already live at a certain point of privilege and I also recognize that there are lots of other issues out there – like who makes the clothes I wear, how much gas I burn in my SUV and why I tend to leave my computer on 24/7, that leave me on pretty shaky moral ground.
I intend to limit my meat consumption (including the poultry I’ve been eating all along), to sustainably raised animals that live lives that I can recognize as decent; not confined in tiny cages, filthy feedlots, or manure filled barns. I’m not claiming I have all the answers – I’ve simply researched and thought this the issue, and made a choice about what works for me.
As one commentator on my Gateway Duck post pointed out, the brilliant thing about charcuterie is that it is way of preserving meat, enhancing its flavor, and making sure a little bit goes a very long way. And that’s how I intent to construct my new diet, with red meat playing a role as a flavor, not as a stand alone in the middle of the plate.
So be watching on the 15th of February for my official entry in the Salt Cure Challenge. I’ve got big plans for my bacon.