Are Some Chefs Tools?

We talk a lot about masculinity and the powerful symbology that meat-eating has within our culture here at The Discerning Brute. We also discuss how strongly the tools of meat preparation resonate with those seeking to exhibit masculine power. From big knives and sharp, heavy cleavers to tenderizers and grinders, this is nothing short of a shiny, dangerous arsenal designed to dismember, shred and slice flesh. And like the “Meat Business Rock Stars” banner that was flying at Brooklyn’s Meatopia event, the message is often “beware”.

Most recently,  – known for their celebration of meat-induced masculinity, launched a new show called “Knife Fight“. The ad that I’ve seen plastered up around New York City subways shows two tough-guy chefs, arms crossed, wielding knives with the bloody heads of pigs resting on cutting boards below them. This pig-head meme is a popular one, and it we see it within nearly every food publication and it has even bled into the art world. Most young chefs worth their weight in foie gras seem to line up for the opportunity to be photographed with a knife in one hand and a pig’s head in the other, with a delicately blood-splattered apron, in moody, baroque lighting, riding a fine visual line between hero and villain.

The suggestions that images like these make are complicated. We are asked to think of the subjects as stoic and masculine – doing the hard work that must be done of bringing home the bacon –  but we are also told, through eye contact and the readiness of their weapons, that they can harm or kill, which is a clear performance of power, telling us to take heed. The head of the pig is displayed as the centerpiece and focal point in images like this, like the recent New York Times article, The Proper Way to Eat a Pig“, where the subject is photographed with the head on a platter. Whether or not it’s an homage to Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist, we are asked to recognize the face as a primary element, and like our own human face, to see it as the sacred vessel of personality. To acknowledge and celebrate the face is to both acknowledge that the pig was a subject of perception; one who had an inner life. And it is in this celebration of the face that we find one of the most perplexing disconnects of carnism. The head then becomes the ultimate sacrifice, and is transformed into a ritualistic object. Like the Korean pig head ritual, it grants power to those using it. This visual is used to shock because it is shocking to see the victim’s face. It is intended to disgust because there is subconscious desirability around the power of doling out that which is gruesome.

Ultimately, all of the drama, mood and posturing in an effort to showcase power collapses under one simple fact that Carol Adams pointed out so eloquently: it is only a performance of power against the already powerless.



Meaty Meaty Tuesday


A recent article in Psychology Today by Hal Herzog, "Why Vegetarians Return to Meat: The Case Study I Could Not Put In My Book", addresses some really interesting points about masculinity and meat eating. This particular story, which Hal left out of his book "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat" considers the social pressure from über-masculine environments, like a Manhattan firehouse where some connections between the burnt flesh of animals and the burnt flesh of humans created tumult for one firefighter:

When [Jim] told them he lived in the East Village, they thought he might be gay. When they found out he was an artist, they were pretty sure of it. And when they noticed he was not eating meat, there was no question in their minds: the new guy was a homosexual.”

“I realized,” Jim told me, “that the guys were comparing me to the one person in the house who was a coward. Because I was an artist living in lower Manhattan, I was an unusual guy to be in the Fire Department. So I was already fighting an uphill battle in terms of gaining their respect.” The other firemen started busting Jim’s balls about his diet. “You don’t eat meat? You going to be coward too?”

So Jim caved. “I did not want them to think I was a coward because of what I ate,” he told me. “Little by little, I began eating meat. It took me a year before I actually started enjoying it.

Jim has since retired due to damaged lungs from 9/11, but I wonder if he would find any consolation in vegan/vegetarian Texas firefighters led by Rip Esselstyn of the Engine 2 Diet (below)? The idea compassion = feminine = weak is pervasive in our culture, and the evidence of this is nearly everywhere we look.

photo by Matt Ewan

( also check out “Oh, I know animals suffer, but I love my steak”: The self-serving resolution of the “meat paradox”)

Impressing the clientele and proprietors as well ... Rebecca Vote and Erin Dolan of Prime Quality Meats in Northbridge are even making the male customers feel more comfortable.In a related story, female butchers appear to be all the rage. “Everyone wants a butcher’s as girls get in for their cut“. Craig Cook who owns a butcher shop in New South Wales, says about his new female employees,

The girls are gentle with the meat… Our women customers seem to like talking to another woman about what’s for dinner tonight. Even the men seem more comfortable to me…

… Mr Cook’s store manager hired Erin Dolan, 26, first and then her friend Rebecca Vote, 23… “I can break down bodies. I cut meats for display, steaks or chops or roasting pieces. I marinate cuts and arrange the window display,” Ms Dolan said.

• This past weekend in NYC, MEATOPIA, an event that organizers call “a disease” and ” a form of madness, a paraphilia, an obsession”, took over Pier 5 in Brooklyn. 

The event was sponsored by Whole Foods, Amstel, and Yelp (among others) and featured everything from duck testicles in Foie Gras sauce to veal ribs to whole goat. This is find incredibly interesting since “Whole Foods Market does not sell Foie Gras in any of our 163 stores.” (source) There was a certain air of machismo amid the smoke. Recycling bins meant for Fiji Water bottles  (another sponsor) overflowed with wasted meat and trash, and many of the attendees enjoyed their share of beer. I attended the event as press, and snapped a few photos, and made a few observations, speculations, and judgements.

There was a real identity with the tools as weapons. Knives, cleavers, grills; sharp metal and fire. These are all dangerous weapons, and those who wield them pride themselves as some sort of dangerous warriors-cum-blue-collar-workers, as “Meat Business Rock Stars”, as it says in the image on the left. At the same time, colors like green and words like “all natural”, “fresh”, “small farm”,  and “air chilled” are used to greenwash the process and ecological effects of animal agriculture.
Expensive classes costing upwards of $2400 to learn to”utilize” a pig were advertised by Mosefund Farm, where “you’ll slaughter, scald, gut and split yours – under Christoph’s supervision”.
In the image below, featured on the postcard advertising the women from Portland’s Beast, the dangerous (and apparently angry) duo, wield their knives as well. Their menus often include items like Foie Gras, lamb, etc, and “substitutions are politely declined”.
Tattoos of bloody cleavers, bacon crossbones, and tee shirt slogans from “eat my meat” and “Foie-Zilla” to “titties ‘n beer” and “Eco Friendly Foods” were seen out and about. Entire pigs and cows were placed on giant grills, head and all. More common than those were cartoon images of animals thrilled-to-be-killed, beckoning you to “follow them to the best butt in town“.
What’s more worrisome to me and other people than the outright macho-meat-pride, and the aesthetic lure of irrational and unapologetic defiance (meat as an “evil” and controversial is incredibly alluring to those who thrive on being percieved as dangerous, counter-culture, and powerful) is a company like Whole Foods promoting, celebrating, and sponsoring a meat-centered event, when meat is one of the hugest, mainstream contributors to the worst ecological problems, no matter claims of being “humane”. Indeed it is a societal, environmental and ethical “evil”. This seems contrary to Whole Foods and John Mackey’s vision. It is one thing to sell so-called “humane” meats. It’s entirely another to encourage, party, and revel in meat in a festival atmosphere.  Every day in America, 95% of restaurants and family kitchens are already celebrating “Meatopia”. Why rationalize this disaster any further? Philosopher Lars Svendsen offers some insight on this in his book, “A Philosophy of Evil”:
…when evil is redefined as an aesthetic object [yummy meat, edible power], its moral qualities fall by the wayside… aesthetic judgements are deemed  sufficient grounds for action… when explaining their own actions [people] don’t plead ignorance or irrationality, but instead claim to have been overcome by some form of emotion, and go on to express surprise at just how strong these compulsions can be…
When I contacted Whole Foods, asking why they sponsored an event that seems to contradict their own values in featuring things like Foie Gras,  their Facebook user said this, completely ignoring the Foie Gras: you… for sharing these concerns with us. I want to assure you that we chose to work with the team at Meatopia to discuss with the masses the work we do to ensure that the issue of animal welfare is brought to the forefront. With us at Meatopia were representatives from the Global Animal Partnership, who we’ve closely with to implement a 5-step animal welfare rating system into all of our stores. From our butchers to our buyers, we care deeply about animal compassion. More info about this can be found on our website here: http://www.wholefoodsmarke​ Our activation at the event was highlighted by a variety of on-stage speeches and promotions about supporting local, sustainable and 5-step rated farms across the country by both reps from the Global Animal Partnership, Josh Ozersky, and a variety of farmers and sustainable meat purveyors.
Some are calling for a boycott until Whole Foods agrees to never sponsor an event like “Meatopia” again.