Book review: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat August 27, 2012Posted by Angelique in Food ethics.
Tags: agriculture, animal ag, book review, Food ethics
I like this book. I like the story of the people who wrote it. What’s not to like about a former vegan and (almost-) vegetarian running a butcher shop? Joshua and Jessica Applestone, owner-proprietors of Fleisher’s Meats in New York’s Hudson Valley, want to tell you what’s up with meat and butchers. If you don’t already have a lurking fascination for the process of turning animals into meat, you should probably skip The Butcher’s Guide, because most of it’s pretty technical. But if you do, this butcher’s bible, with its bluntly friendly tone and gritty black-and-white photos of carcasses slung over tattooed shoulders, might just be for you.
TBG is full of practical information about the part of thoughtful eating that this blog doesn’t cover; that is, what happens after the animal is killed, both in the butcher shop and later, in the home kitchen. Chapters devoted to each type of meat cover everything from breeds to primal cuts to recipes. Learn how to hold a knife like a pro, with the pistol grip or the surgeon grip. How to boil the piss out of kidneys. The virtues of wood vs. plastic cutting boards. How to stuff a sausage.
TBG also has a short chapter on sourcing sustainable, humanely-raised meat, which does overlap with my project here. It’s not bad for a ten-page overview of a really complicated topic, but I have some quibbles. The Applestones stock grain-finished beef in their shop and acknowledge that the cattle providing it are typically fed corn. They mention the health concerns about this type of beef but not the ethical concerns, which arise from the fact that eating significant amounts of corn gives cattle sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) – basically, a constant stomachache. The Applestones discuss third-party certifications and give a thumbs-up to Animal Welfare Approved, which I consider the gold standard of certifiers. But they qualify their approval by saying that AWA’s standards don’t make sense for all farmers without elaborating on why. The real question is, do they make sense for all animals, and if so, they’d better make sense for the farmers or the farmers shouldn’t be raising the animals.
Quibbles aside, TBG succeeds in being both entertaining and informative, so if you’re a butcher-to-be or just really interested in the best dry-heat methods for cooking a lamb saddle, give it a read.