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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Foodie fight

Lifestyle | 'Solemn' pig slaughtering and 'honoring' of soon-to-be-eaten goats suggests idolatry

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

While many public-school cafeterias serve processed foods, those in affluent Aspen, Colo., spare no expense: School cooks make ketchup from scratch and roast their own beets. For the past two years the Aspen public schools, for the sake of health and the planet, have also observed Meatless Monday. According to The New York Times, restaurants in the exclusive mountain city have embraced the campaign, backed by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, to go meatless once a week.

Aspen city council members, concerned about gaining a flaky image, balked at issuing a public resolution in support of Meatless Monday. Nevertheless, the national Meatless Monday Campaign proclaimed Aspen "the nation's first true Meatless Monday community." (Not to be confused with meatless Friday, which might suggest religious motivations.) Even the local hospital encourages its cardiac rehab patients to frequent restaurants that don't serve meat on Mondays.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has also been thinking about meat. He announced recently his 2011 challenge: to eat only meat that he kills himself. He's not talking about stalking and shooting wild game but slaughtering the chickens, pigs, goats, and cows he eats. According to the CNN/Fortune website, the 27-year-old billionaire said, "Every year I have a yearly personal challenge. . . . I decided to make this year's challenge around being more thankful for what I have. I ... eventually decided that forcing myself to get personally involved and thank the animals whose lives I take in order to eat them was the best day-to-day way to remind myself to be thankful. So every day when I can't eat meat I am reminded of why not and how lucky I am, and when I do get the chance to eat meat it's especially good."

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That Zuckerberg thinks the best way to give thanks is by killing his own meat might sound weird to most people, but not to some foodies. In a trenchant Atlantic essay, "The Moral Crusade Against Foodies," B.R. Myers dissects the books and essays written by the current crop of food writers. His subtitle-"Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony"-gives a sense of his conclusions. Several times in the essay he touches on the fascination some foodies have with butchering their own meat, including "crowding around to watch the slaughter of a pig-even getting in its face just before the shot."

Myers quotes one foodie describing "solemn" and "respectful" behavior at a pig slaughtering; another watches a goat-killing and wants to "honor our goat" by wasting as little of it as possible. Myers concludes, "The full strangeness of this culture sinks in when one reads affectionate accounts (again in Best Food Writing 2009) of children clamoring to kill their own cow-or wanting to see a pig shot, then ripped open with a chain saw: 'YEEEEAAAAH!'"

In a similar vein, New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan mused recently about "the great clash that now reverberates through American culture: the clash between foodies and techies." She pits efficiency against purism and asks, Who has time to cook by scratch? She celebrates the late Poppy Cannon, author of The Can-Opener Cookbook, who described America as "the land of the mix, the jar, the frozen-food package."

For Heffernan, convenience is a good thing because it frees women to do other things with their time. She writes, "Cannon-style invocations of efficiency and convenience still drive foodies crazy. The concept of convenience in food preparation is steeply at odds with the idea that all food is sacramental, and eating expensive, rich foods is a devotional act that is somehow also politically progressive."

Is food just fuel for the body, or is it something pleasurable but not central to our day, or is eating it a devotional act? Is it possible to make food-a good thing-into an ultimate thing?

Green misery?

Boyd Cohen, CEO of a carbon-credit-trading company based in Vancouver, Canada, recently ranked the top 10 "climate-ready" cities in the United States. These are cities where officials are promoting less energy use and "investing in appropriate climate change adaption solutions."

Cohen measured membership in certain environmental organizations, the number of "green" buildings per capita, university leadership, transit access and use, clean tech investment, and emissions. The top 10: San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Washington, Denver, San Diego, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Chicago.

Those cities might be gaining praise from environmentalists, but two of them also landed on a less prestigious list-America's Most Miserable Cities-compiled by Forbes. It used 10 factors, including serious ones like crime and unemployment, and less serious ones like the success of local sports teams, to find the 20 most miserable cities. Chicago was in 7th place, and Washington 16th.

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