Loving animals, and eating them, generally are thought of as separate impulses. But sometimes I wonder. I went to a dinner last night at a restaurant called Northeast Kingdom in a bleak, barren, and remote section of Brooklyn. The occasion was the serving of a large Hereford / Gloucestershire Old Spots pig named King Arthur, who had been raised specifically for the occasion. Although Arthur was bound for a terminal rendezvous with 150 outer-borough gastronomes, in the form of a 24 course tasting menu, he seems to have lived well. I say “seems” but one need not surmise – the restaurant will show you how King Arthur lived on their blog, and diners were welcome to come up and meet him.
This reasonated for me as the founder of Meatopia. The older I get, and the more meat I eat, the more important animal welfare seems to me. Whole Foods Market, our presenting sponsor, rolled out a five-step animal welfare grading system two years ago, and I am proud to say that all the chicken, pork and beef served at Meatopia is at least a 2 on the system. (Just getting a “1″ means that you are treating animals humanely; Smithfield Pork or Tyson chicken would never even get rated.) Lamb, veal, and other meats aren’t rated but all come from similarly wholesome and humane conditions.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that my sudden conversion to animal-rating zeal might have to do with Whole Foods’ sponsorship. But in fact, my eagerness to attach my appetites with my conscience had everything to do with my seeking out Whole Foods as a partner. While it’s not reasonable to expect that every pork chop you buy at Whole Foods Market to have a public life like King Arthur’s, there’s no reason for you to think of its life as having been passed in unspeakable suffering.
I suppose I should say what the five-step program actually is. According to the Global Animal Partnership, which established the standards, defines them thus:
Step 1: prohibits cages and crates.
Step 2: requires environmental enrichment for indoor production systems
Step 3: outdoor access
Step 4: pasture-based production
Step 5: an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited
Step 5+: the entire life of the animal spent on an integrated farm.
I’ve never been to a 5+ farm, but there is one in North Carolina that Whole Foods works with, and I want to go there, meet the animals, and eat them. I know this sounds weird, but it is weird. If you’re going to eat other animals, especially ones that look and act sort of like people, you have to find a way to think about it that makes sense. You have to know how the animal lived, you have to eat all of it, pretty much, and – the hardest part – is that you have to find it in yourself to not eat commodity meat. Which, let’s face it, can and is often fabulously delicious. But whatever. I’m a work in progress.