Rettland Farm

Rettland Farm

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Ethics of Eating Meat

I don't usually feel the need to rebut those who rail against the consumption of meat on grounds of animal cruelty. My general feeling is that we all have our preferences, and if you don't preach to me about yours, I won't preach to you about mine.

This case is really no exception, but last weekend the NY Times carried an Op-Ed (well written, I must admit) by a "strict ethical vegan," and I decided I had a few things to say, after all.

The standard argument against whether or not eating animals is ethical is the co-evolution argument. This says that domesticated animals, as species, found it beneficial to sacrifice individuals over time for the benefit of humans. Humans provided them with shelter, food, protection against (other) predators, etc.

I agree pretty strongly with this justification. While we're on the subject of evolution, though, let's take it a step further. (Aside: Happy Birthday, On the Origin of Species!)

As Homo Sapiens, we have clambered to the top of, and sit defiantly astride, the food chain due to our ability to adapt to a multitude of environmental scenarios. A significant evolutionary adaptation is that which makes us omnivorous, able to eat and survive on a wide variety of foods from both plant an animal sources.

One need look no further than the teeth in our mouths to see that we are predestined, by force of evolution, to eat meat as well as plants--sharp teeth in front for biting and tearing (gasp!) flesh, large grinding teeth in the back for...well, grinding.

Our forward facing eyes are more similar to other predator species than they are to the wall- eyed prey species. That didn't happen just so we'd look groovy in sunglasses.

Finally, consider both the anatomy and physiology of our digestive tracts. Our bodies need fats, amino acids, and vitamins that we are physiologically unable to synthesize, and therefore must consume from sources outside the body. Guess what? Some of those nutrients are only found in other animals.

The other issue that the author of the Op-Ed touches on is that a justification used by meat eaters is that animals aren't capable of abstract thought, and so therefore aren't able to predict or comprehend what is going to happen to them. Probably true. But what I think what the gift of abstract thought really gets humans is moral quandaries like the morality of eating.

Do you think that any other meat eating species on the planet refuses to eat meat because of the suffering of its prey? Does the bear let the salmon go, because the salmon shouldn't be made to suffer? How about the fox in the henhouse? Does he consider the terror he's causing the chickens by chasing them around and then killing them?

No. Both these predators kill, eat, and survive. In the struggle to survive and reproduce, they don't have the luxury of ethical eating. It's only through the abundance and availability of food that we do.

So go ahead and refuse meat on ethical grounds. I certainly admire your self sacrifice, though the air of moral superiority tarnishes it a bit.

As for me, I'll be over here, munching on a pork chop, fulfilling my predetermined biological destiny.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Sign of the Times

Recently, Rettland Farm was paid a visit by a member of the editorial staff of a regional newspaper. The subject of the piece was my good friend and loyal customer, Chef Andrew Little, and the relationship that he has with those of us who produce food for The Sheppard Mansion, where he is the Executive Chef. (As an aside folks, remember Chef Andy Little's name--you are going to hear it in some really cool places very soon!)

This wasn't the first such visit from a writer interested in the somewhat unique relationship that exists between Andy and his suppliers. We've been lucky enough to have been a part of several such interviews and visits this year.

What IS remarkable, though, is the type of publication this story was published in. You see, this publication isn't a "foodie" magazine, or a tourist feature, or any other periodical that you would expect to carry a story like this.

No, this was a FARM NEWSPAPER! The Lancaster Farming newspaper is a weekly newspaper with a huge (as a percentage of the target demographic) distribution in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Almost every farmer in the region, big or small, subscribes to this newspaper.

So why is our presence in these pages so remarkable?

Because five years ago, this article would have never been published in this newspaper.

Because it demonstrates the shift that is occurring in American agriculture, at least on the east coast, towards more sustainable, locally focused food production. Farmers in the region have apparently reached the point where these types of production and marketing are interesting to them.


Thanks to the author, Tracy Sutton, for a great article, and to Lancaster Farming newspaper for a fantastic publication.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hail to the Lion! (Part 2)

So, apparently my presence in Happy Valley for the first time in 10 years wasn't the good luck charm that I expected it to be.

I'm no sports analyst, so I won't even try to break down the game for you. All I can say is that a mediocre performance (at best) by one team was beaten by a mediocre performance by another. I'm not sure where they stand right now, but I'm pulling for Iowa to go to the Rose Bowl. They are hands down the best team in the Big 10 this year. Sorry State, but the truth hurts.

Before I move on to other topics, though, I have to throw out a big "Thank You!" to B.B. for her incredible generosity. Even though the performance on the field was disappointing, we had a fantastic view of it!

In my previous post, I had a whole laundry list of things that I wanted to do while in the State College/University Park area. To make a long story short, we were late getting up there (surprise!) so we had to shorten up the tour. A few notes:

1. The Meats Lab is still there, miraculously. I don't know how it hasn't been consumed for some athletic project or another, but it's still there.

2. The new Creamery/Food Science Building is absolutely gigantic. We walked there after the game to get some ice cream, but the line was probably about 2 hours long. We skipped the ice cream. (And also the moral dilemma I would have had about eating Peachy Paterno in November. Truth be told, I would have found some way to rationalize it--it was probably MADE in June, right?)

3. The highlight of the trip was lunch.

I had been tipped off that this place called Otto's Pub had "my kind of food", which I'll leave for you to define. We found Otto's and gave it a try.

I am also not a food critic, so I won't try to be that either. But I was pleasantly surprised at the menu, and impressed at the dedication to local farms. They even list the names of their producers on the menu! It takes a very dedicated restaurant and chef to do that...

My wife is a fan of Mexican food, so we started with nachos (a restaurant cannot exist in a college town without nachos on the menu, no matter how inspired it is). They were served with black beans that were delicious, in addition to all the regular "nacho" goodies. We ate it all.

Then came the main course. I thought about the "drunken free range chicken," or the Smoked Brisket sandwich, but when I saw the words "Pulled Pork Sandwich", I knew my search was over.

The sandwich was completely, utterly, shamelessly good.

It came with cole slaw on top of the sandwich, and a smoky barbecue sauce on the side for dipping, but it really wasn't needed--the meat was moist enough by itself. Through the moans of ecstasy I was making while eating it, I asked the server if the pork was local. She told me that it was, grown about 20 minutes west of State College, but I already knew that. There is no way commodity pork can be made to taste like this pork did.

We enjoyed ourselves so much there that time slipped away. We had to hurry out (which is hard to do with what seemed like 5 lbs of pulled pork in your stomach) and fight our way through at least 25,000 pedestrians (I am not joking) to get to our parking space. I was only called an asshole once (that I heard.)

If you are ever in the State College area, I highly recommend Otto's. It may even be worth a special trip. I promise you won't be disappointed.

I can't make the same promise for the football team.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hail to the Lion!

I. Am. Stoked.

Tomorrow, my little co-ed and I are venturing to University Park, PA, going back to my old stomping grounds for the first time in about 10 years. No, it's not a romantic getaway for two, considering the 110 THOUSAND other people who are going with us!

That's right. Penn State vs. Ohio State. At home. 60 degree temp and sunny skies forecast. 300th game in Beaver Stadium. The air absolutely humming, almost electrically, almost audibly with excitement. How can it possibly get any better....?

Can you say "LUXURY BOX??!" Thought so. I knew I could.

Yes, thanks to the generosity displayed only between members of the Blue and White Tribe, we are going to watch this game in style. No more ass frozen to an aluminum bench, so damn high that the birds are flying below you and you feel like you are going to start bleeding from the eyes and ears from the lack of atmospheric pressure. No sir. Just this once, we're gonna see how the other half lives.

We're going to head up a little early, though, and take a stroll through town and the campus. Things I'm thinking about doing...

1. Eat: Surprise here. I'm not sure where we'll go, but I hear a few of the old haunts are still open. And also a few new ones.

2. Drink: Yeah, Yuengling Lager tastes better in Centre County, for some reason. (I think they send the best stuff there.)

3. Maybe head out to the Finest Fraternity and say "Hi" to the current crop of Beta Boys. Maybe see if Room 3 still smells like cow manure.

4. Maybe I'll try to get a picture at the PSU Meat Sciences Lab (or the 'Slab, if you're in the know) before it gets deep sixed for some parking lot, or something. It's just a little nondescript cinder block building in the literal shadow of Beaver Stadium, but that little building probably has something to do with where I am in my profession right now.

5. While I'm thinking about places that had a lasting affect, maybe we'll run out to Haller Farm (PSU's permanent rotational grazing farm). If you ever happen to fly into University Park airport, you can see Haller if you...well...look down and left.

6. Although we'll be long gone before the bar scene gets hoppin', it might be nice to see the Shandygaff again. For those of you who aren't familiar, the entrance to the Gaff is on a back alley. 'Nuff said.

7. It would be nice to see some of the Ag School, since it has apparently changed a lot since I was there. A new creamery? Say it ain't so! And on that topic, would I be a hypocrite if I ate Peachy Paterno or Cherry Quist ice cream in November?

8. Oh yeah. Maybe we'll actually watch a little football, too. It would be nice to see the Lions beat the snot out of the Buckeyes, but you know what? I really don't care who wins right now.

I'll report back with the postgame.