An Offer I Couldn’t–or Could–Refuse (Part II)

The Godfather, Paramount Pictures, 1972

The Godfather, Paramount Pictures, 1972

As recounted in the previous post, there was before me the offer to purchase some really good beef  from a Red Poll-Hereford mixed breed animal that, despite being raised on grass-alone and according to the strictest standards, could not be sold as “heritage meat.” This forced, for the first time, the issue of what Duba & Company’s relationship would be with non-heritage meats, being “merchants of heritage meats”. Perhaps it was that scene in The Godfather: Part I where movie mogul Jack Woltz, after refusing Don Corleone’s godson a part in one of his films, wakes up the next morning with a severed horse’s head beneath his bed sheets–his prized, $250,000 horse–and how that horse’s head bears an uncanny resemblance to that of  the Red Poll steer (spoiler alert: his godson ends up getting the part). You’ll forgive me if  the intertwining of those two images couldn’t easily be put out of mind (click here for the set-up to that scene). Then there’s how the offer for said beef came on the day of my grandmother’s funeral and burial. Now, I had just listened to my cousin Julie deliver the quintessential eulogy (a mix of humor, wit, and sentimentality) in which mention was made of how Grandma Rose who, though she didn’t even drive a vehicle, nevertheless championed a woman going out there and making her mark in professions traditionally populated by men. She would, I thought, have liked the two farmers offering this beef, both of them women, both who had to navigate the “old boys’ club” of the farming community. Now, while I’m not reading into any of these happenstances as some diviner would search the entrails for a sign from the gods, they certainly do make for interesting anecdotes: they help to tell the story and to set the scene for the decision-making process that was about to unfold.

Lately, I’ve been learning that making decisions (especially if it’s going to be a good decision) takes work: mental energy gets expended. For me, journaling (putting pen to paper) has proved an invaluable tool in helping to facilitate the decision-making process. And so, leather-bound-journal in hand, I went to Starbucks to do some thinking. I’ve also learned that asking the right question (or questions) at the on-set of the decision making process gives one a certain footing or fixed point: it helps clarify and focus the issue. Instead of the question being, “Should Duba & Company sell non-heritage meats?” the question was, “What relationship will Duba & Company have–if any–with meat which cannot be considered ‘heritage meat’?” I can’t explain why, but asking the question that way seemed to bring clarity and set me out on firm footing. What follows are the thoughts penned that snowy Sunday in January over a cup of coffee, thoughts which–I fear–may be of little to no interest to some (or most) of you:

“There is, first, something in the mission statement [of Duba & Company] which may make allowance for [meat] that is not heritage, per se: ‘to communicate an experience of The Shire and of the way of life of which it is indicative: living (and, by extension, raising animals) in harmony with the seasons and with nature’s laws/rhythms.’ An allowance is already being made that we will carry buffalo meat, this for the following reasons: it seems to be a meat that could be considered a heritage meat by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy [the organization that defines what can be considered heritage meats] for it, like all other heritage meats, is characterized by a long history in the United States (it’s part of our heritage, identity, and is emblematic) and was an endangered species. Buffalo meat, like heritage meats, carries with it a mystique–a mystique of the West, of the Great Plains: cowboys and Indians [sic] and all that…If an allowance is made for an animal that is 75% Red Poll [a heritage breed] and 25% Hereford [a non-heritage breed], it might be done on the grounds that it captures the essence of The Shire and the way of life of which it is indicative [here’s the reference back to the mission statement], for this animal…was raised in such a way that most closely conforms with uncompromising Shire practices: all grass-fed and animal welfare approved. It was raised in such a way, in fact, that allows the terroir to have its greatest impact.

“[Second]…I am willing to sell non-heritage duck for heritage duck meat isn’t, reputedly, very good tasting. This is not to say we’re just about the flavor of something: it’s flavor plus romance, or–maybe better put–romance plus uncompromising flavor (and a variety of flavors). But, if we were to carry a product that couldn’t be marketed as a heritage product, where would our identity be compromised? Starbucks’ identity was not compromised by [allowing customers to choose between skim milk or traditional whole milk] or by offering Frappucinos–though they resisted both [moves] for fear of doing so. And yet, it’s as clear as day to me that [Starbucks’] integrity (i.e. identity) was compromised when it decided to sell a product akin to smoothies (what in the world does a fruit smoothie have to do with coffee, especially the Italian coffee experience?)”

After putting down my pen, what had become clear was that we would be buying that beef. There was a certain peace about the decision that resulted from “trying on for size” both options: when I imagined passing on the offer, there was a certain unsettledness; when I imagined accepting the offer, there was a certain sense of fittingness, that–yes–this was in harmony with who we were. I slept soundly that night, knowing that when I awoke the disembodied head of a Red Poll steer would not be under the covers.

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