Does that title sound like a contradiction? Well I wouldn’t blame you if it did. Meat eating has become a bit taboo in recent years. You don’t have to look very hard to find environmentalists, doctors, politicians, and celebrities encouraging vegetarianism and veganism. And although there is plenty of evidence on both sides of the argument, I think raising animals and enjoying the meat they provide have gotten an unnecessary bad wrap in the last few decades, especially when it comes to meat’s impact on old Mother Earth.
As an eco-friendly butcher (can I say eco-butcher with a straight face) I’ve become fascinated with discovering and unpacking the assumptions, beliefs, emotions, and economics in support of and in opposition to meat eating (there are so many that I thought I could even write a blog about it). You’ve got food-defender, Michael Pollan , celebrity hunter Steven Rinella, and then there’s the environmentalist lawyer-turned grass-fed beef rancher, Nicollette Hahn Niman. These are all accomplished people who have revisited and re-defined what it means for humans to be at the top of the food chain. I hope to explore a sliver of their insights, and to share a few of my own.
I’m also looking forward to debunking some of the myths around meat. I’ve learned a bit in my short career as a meat seller, and I think I can help shed a little light on the passions and politics that have led us to seeing meat eating as a guilty pleasure, or an environmental catch-22. It’s a fascinating subject, full of contradictions, so maybe we can have a laugh or two together as well, otherwise you might just cry in frustration. Ultimately, I want this to be a conversation about how a healthy and environmentally conscious lifestyle can–and should–include meat. Comments and suggestions encouraged!
So a little about me. Sure, I’m a butcher, so obviously I’m pro meat. But first and foremost I consider myself an environmentalist. I even did a short stint as executive director of a small environmental non-profit. As a kid, I grew up hooked on nature documentaries like Wild America (anyone remember Marty Stouffer?) As a teen, I lived in California’s Central Valley where animal husbandry and agriculture are celebrated. I mean, our high school had a farm. I even worked in a dairy and a hatchery to make a few extra bucks. I’ve backpacked much of California’s wilderness, traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, and lived a short while with political guerillas in the mountains of Guatemala. I took a 10-year detour into the cubicles and corner offices of healthcare public relations, and then I read Omnivore’s Dilemma.
That book sparked an insatiable interest in learning more about where my meat came from. Within months, I was apprenticing at Electric City Butcher. Within a year, I became a partner in the shop. That decision parachuted me into the wacky and exhilarating culinary world. Almost three years in, I’ve met some pretty famous chefs, eaten a lot of amazing food, and most importantly, been introduced to some of the world’s most responsible farmers and ranchers setting new standards for sustainable animal husbandry, like Stemple Creek, Pasturebird, and Llano Seco.
So what’s with the blog name, Top Carnivore? Well, the term is another word for apex predator, the highest rung on the food chain. It’s a sweet position to occupy but it comes with its own responsibilities. Top carnivores have a huge impact on their environment for better or for worse. They have the power to set off what’s called a trophic cascade, which is probably one of the coolest phrases I’ve come across in a long while. Basically it means predators have a greater impact on the ecosystem than just the animals they eat. Not only can animals be affected, but the actions of top carnivores can impact soil and streams, and even climate change. Just watch this excellent YouTube video How Wolves Change Rivers. (40+ million views to date), and you’ll get the point.
Humans, of course, are the ultimate top carnivore. We have a unique and important responsibility to keep our environment healthy, and global food systems intact. Join me in learning how we can make the world healthier, safer, and hopefully, a little more delicious along the way.
In my next blog post, dispelling the myths of beef…taking the bull by the horns!