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Locavorism has become an extreme sport. Across the country, amateur farmers are creating their own miniature foodsheds by eating only foods grown or raised on their own property (and chronicling their successes and failures in books and blogs). Writer Manny Howard recently penned a most entertaining account of his attempt to turn his 800-square-foot Brooklyn yard into a (sort of) self-sustaining stunt farm. As I read the piece, I knew Howard would take some heat for his inability to keep his livestock—rabbits, ducks, chickens—alive long enough to eat. Some lost out to maggot infestations, some devoured their own offspring; one little duckling met his maker on the tread of a sneaker owned by Howard’s three-year-old son. “I was not a farmer so much as an undertaker,” he wrote, “stuffing their bodies in plastic garbage bags, covering them with a scoop of lime, and leaving them in the cans at the curb to be picked up.” The animals that managed to survive Howard’s House of Horrors ended up on the dinner table (only the ducks survived the entire experiment, at the behest of his four-year-old daughter).
Of course, this angered some readers (and nauseated even more). Nobody likes to read about dead ducklings. But I’m glad Howard told us about them, and about slaughtering his chickens. (A process that was especially difficult, he told Reuters: “[My wife] asked me if she had hit her head on a dead chicken. When I told her it was a 20-pound freshly skinned rabbit, I broke down and wept,” he said. “I think that’s when she realized I wasn’t getting off on all the blood and gore, and it was beginning to wear me down.”)
I think we all should—at least once—look a meal in the eyes before killing it, cleaning it and consuming it. Even better if we’ve raised it and fed it ourselves. It’s not at all fun to kill your food, and it’s certainly not appetizing (trust me, I was a provisional vegetarian afterward), but it gives one an appreciation of food that can’t be gained through any other means. A BBC show called "Kill It, Cook It, Eat It" is kicking up a fuss in the UK for broadcasting the slaughtering of piglets, lambs and calves. I understand the backlash, but this is exactly the kind of show we could use in America right now. We need to “Know Our Meat” if we’re ever going to fix the system that does the dirty work for us. Manny Howard gets this.