(Thanks to find.myrecipes.com for the lovely grilling picture!) Susan Bourette wrote this nonfiction romance (hmmm) about meat, which I received a while ago from my main inspiration for blogging (as a gift). A good read, this is actually more negative about a lot of things than a) its title implies and b) much of the nonfiction memoir-ish stuff that's out there. And this despite the cover also reading as follows: "Pasture to Plate, A Search for the Perfect Meal." I like the negative tone of this book. The author seemed not to be fooled and/or sucked in - whether by the evil meat packing industry of Manitoba where she began her journal (as a journalist pretending to need a job who tries working there for a very very brief period) or even at famous foodie joints like Blue HIll Farm. She journeys to a whale hunt (and fails to eat blubber), to a Greenwich village butcher where (surprise) she is not very good at butchering, a Canadian (quite testosterone poisoned) moose hunt, and to a Texas ranch. For a Canadian (who formerly wrote for the Globe and Mail), there's an awful lot of US here. And I say that as an American. . . . There is some utter stupidity here as well. For example, why oh why, if you were working on a book like this, would you wear a too-small pair of borrowed boots (your brother's?) when on one of these jaunts? Like readers were surprised your feet hurt. Every once in a while something like this intrudes -- and makes you wonder. Otherwise this is pretty interesting and reasonably well written. Not Apples to Oysters, but pretty good. And, frankly, she is not a vegetarian, though she wants to be on and off, especially after her brief employment by the meat packing industry. (By the way, Bourette does note that while the ambience was distinctly less sophisticated, the lack of sincerity in persuading new employees of the wonders of corporations was not that different than other places she has worked. Hmmm.) Despite this similarity (with which I concur), Maple Leaf went way down in my already pretty darn low estimation (as did all meat packing factories)after reading the relevant chapters.
A few bits to think about:
(1) Is meaty-ness linked to religiousness? Here's what Bourette writes: "Meat has always had mystical, even magical. elements, circumscribed by the laws of man and the divine. How else, then, explain the close association between priests and butchers -- the need for a priestly presence in the slaughterhouse?" (p. 44). (In this regard -- and on the same page -- she sides with Levi Strauss against more recent Catching Fire author, Richard Wrangham, reviewed here.)In this regard, BOurette's discussion of Inupiat whale hunting and blubber eating also raises issues of cosmology -- especially regarding reciprocity and respect, citing Charles Wohlforth, author of The Whale and the Supercomputer. There's some pretty darn funny stuff about Laura Bush on the same pages. . . (See Bourette, p. 82 and thereafter.) On Mennonites and Amish hunters in Texas, see page 130. Who knew? Somehow I thought they might not travel to Texas to hunt. But. . . And if you want to be reminded that religion is everywhere, see Bourette's citation of Joel Salatin's self description as a "Christian-conservative-libertarian-environemntalist-lunatic" on page 162. Religion everywhere.
(2) Yes, gender matters. Thus, for example, she notes that women's roles in the whale hunt are key (citing here anthropologist Barbara Bodenhorn as well as the men and women with whom she lives briefly while concocting this book. (see p. 91 or so). It's possible this matters to her early employment at Maple Leaf too, though one of the best equipped for the job, she does note, is a young woman (earning money to support her pursuit of a Ph.D.) whose background includes gutting bears on her family's hunting trips.
(3) Has food always been global? Well, maybe not. But who knew that the cowboy and related myths I held dear about the slaughter of the bison had so much to do with England's lusty desire for beef. (See pages 110 and following.) Maybe you knew. I did not!
(4) Does everything relate to k.d. lang? Yes. (and thus, maybe everything related to LGBT issues as well. . . ) since Bourette's discussion of Lang's vegetarianism appears in some detail here.As a side note, everything also has to do with kids; the famous Dr. Spock was also a vegetarian. (See pp. 116-117.)
Yes, this is a book about "carnivore chic," and "meat is the new black." But hey, it is so much more.