Temple Grandin, Pork, and the Vegetarian

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin helped revolutionize the commercial beef industry when she engineered more humane methods for the slaughter of cattle. An autistic women, this very condition is credited in helping her to understand bovine behavior patterns that inspired her designs. She came to mind this week after we placed our first order for heritage pork. In Mark Schatzker’s book on steak, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef, he writes about the time he spent with Temple Grandin. Two excerpts from the book are particularly relevant as we ready ourselves to introduce a line of heritage pork in the coming weeks leading up to Easter.

The first excerpt concerns the time when Grandin became aware of the declining quality of American meat, a realization that was made by an experience with heritage pork:

“She first noticed there was a problem with meat when she attended a banquet some years ago and was served pork from a heritage breed of pig. ‘The hotel tried very hard to ruin it,’ she said, ‘by keeping it under a heat lamp all day and letting it get all dried out. But it was still absolutely delicious…’ Not long after, she visited a client who was raising genetically modern pigs with giant, fast-growing loin. ‘Though as hockey pucks,’ she said…’Quantity and quality are two opposing goals,’ Grandin pronounced, neatly diagnosing the central problem of today’s meat industry. It didn’t matter how quantity was cranked up—hormones, genetics, drugs—there was always a price to be paid in quality,” (249).

The other excerpt deals with contrasting human responses to the slaughtering of animals and highlights a most stunning paradox:

“Grandin has written that in large slaughterhouses, it’s important to rotate jobs so that the same person doesn’t end up doing all the killing. It can be unhealthy, she explained, to be around death all the time. ‘These people get warped,’ she told me. ‘They get nasty to the cattle and they have to be removed.’ As we stared at the grazing cows, I was reminded of Fleurance and the happy hours we spent together on the pasture. I thought about her death and remembered how unexpectedly reassuring and positive it was, for me at least. It still pleased me to think how stress free her beer-and-apple-filled last day was, and that surprised me. I mentioned the experience to Grandin. ‘That happens all the time,’ she said. When people raise an animal and kill it responsibly, they find it uplifting, apparently. ‘I think you can also get too far away from death,’ she observed. What people are getting too far from is nature, she believes, explaining that people in big cities are particularly susceptible. They have no connection to the meat that sits on Styrofoam trays on supermarket shelves. The mistake that vegetarians and vegans make, she told me, is that they confuse death with suffering,” (251 – 52).

When in two to three weeks’ time we receive our first shipment of heritage pork, I will be assisting in the butchering of one of them. This experience will be a first and, I’m sure, represent another step closer toward a deeper connection with nature and the food we eat. In addition, the heritage pork that we will be selling through our virtual storefront will boast a week of dry aging before it’s butchered. I’m very interested to see to what degree this will affect the already wholly pleasant flavor of heritage pork, a flavor that was the topic of last week’s post.

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