Last month Michael Ruhlman opined that “one of five things you should eat before you die is the meat of a freshly slaughtered animal, preferably having witnessed the slaughter,” linking to a New York Times op-ed by Verlyn Klinkenborg.
“Because we do watch,” wrote Klinkenborg. “That’s part of the job. It’s how we come to understand what the meat itself means. And to me, the word ‘meat’ is at the root of the contradictory feelings the pig-killing raises. You can add all the extra value you want—raising heritage breed pigs on pasture with organic grain, all of which we do—and yet somehow the fact that we are doing this for meat, some of which we keep, most of which we trade or sell, makes the whole thing sound like a bad bargain. And yet compared with the bargain most Americans make when they buy pork in the supermarket, this is beauty itself.”
To get an idea of just how crazy that makes people, take the case of Efrain Cuevas, a former Ghetto Gourmet chef who’s now fronting his own outfit, 24 Below. Right around the time readers of the above statements were mulling them over he was putting out word about his latest shindig, a birria dinner made from a goat he slaughtered and butchered himself. Cuevas says he’s done the deed before–when he was growing up in Aurora his father used to kill and prepare goats for Mexican weddings. Cuevas bought a goat named Tony from a farmer near Joliet, and was planning to transport the beast to the city and dispatch it the day before Sunday’s dinner. He posted notices of the event on LTHForum, the Reader site, and his own, inviting people to witness the slaughter.
Then he got an e-mail from a concerned functionary at the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Meat and Poultry Compliance asking some very pointed questions about his plans and referring him to the state Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, which forbids the sale of meat that doesn’t come from a USDA-licensed slaughterhouse. Cuevas told the woman the dinner had been cancelled, but planned to go ahead with it anyway.
Then someone turned on the Heat. Cuevas got an e-mail from an officer with the Chicago Police Department’s Animal Crimes Unit, saying that the Humane Society (and apparently many others) had complained. Cuevas was warned that if he went ahead with the dinner he and his guests would be subject to arrest for animal cruelty, and the restaurant he planned to hold it in risked being shut down. Over the phone the cops told him activists were planning to walk up and down 18th Street attempting to catch him in the act. I’d have to check with Alan Dershowitz on the legality of arresting dinner guests, but that was enough for Cuevas, who scotched the slaughter and used federally approved meat instead.
As for Tony, it was only a brief reprieve–this week he’ll join the unhappy queue at a USDA-licensed slaughterhouse.