Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Meat-Eaters Need to Know

By Jesse Hirsch
Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 11:09 AM

It was standing-room only last week at Revival Bar and Kitchen in Berkeley, when four of the Bay’s most prominent butchery experts got together for some meaty discourse. The free event came with tiny meat snacks and a big, chunky title: What Meat-Eaters Need to Know: Guidance On Making Good Food Choices From Experts In Carnivory. Said experts included Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, Marissa Guggiana of The Butcher’s Guild, Morgan Maki of Bi-Rite Market, and Peter Hertzmann, author of Knife Skills: Illustrated.

The discussion’s main theme was raising consumer consciousness, and the ways ethical meat purveyors can take on an instructor’s role. For instance, Maki loves educating Bi-Rite shoppers on whole-animal butchery, schooling them on the strengths and preparations of less glamorous cuts.

Maki (left) and Hertzmann
  • Maki (left) and Hertzmann

However, even if you stick with off-brand animal parts (hearts and offal were repeatedly mentioned), Maki acknowledged that pasture-raised, sustainable meat costs significantly more than its factory-farmed counterparts. Hertzmann, who teaches butchering skills to minimum-security prison inmates, at one point mentioned that his students “can’t afford to shop at Bi-Rite.”

One audience member (an employee of Berkeley’s whole-animal butchery The Local Butcher Shop) said he has friends who still eat at McDonald’s. He wanted to know how to convince them to purchase better meat. Guggiana’s retort, “Make it delicious!” got a few chuckles. Maki then shared an anecdote about an eye-opening course he taught on how to butcher chicken and make it into soup. It was a nice story, but it involved students who had the intellectual curiosity (and means) to sign up for a butchery class. How do you reach people who doggedly eat fast-food meat, even when their friend works at one of the best butchers in the Bay Area?

I recently interviewed an NYU food studies professor who said that Americans who buy non-factory-farmed meat are still “so few as to be statistically insignificant.” Last week’s panelists were stoked about how savvy meat shoppers are becoming — at one point Farr whooped, “Eat more meat!” — but the Bay Area can be something of an echo chamber. It’s one thing to make an impact on people who shop at Bi-Rite and who have seen Food Inc. It’s something else entirely to reach consumers outside the food-forward bubble, and convince them to spend double for a pastured whole chicken.

The Revival Bar panel was sponsored by the Butcher’s Guild, a national association of about sixty ethical meat purveyors, and there was some discussion on how to best marshal that group’s resources. A thought: What if the guild sponsored some conversation-starting neighborhood barbecues (outside of Rockridge, Berkeley, or the Mission)? Guggiana’s point is well-taken — the best way to gain converts may be to “make it delicious.” Fire up the grill!

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.

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