I want to be Anthony Bourdain in my old age. Hell, I wouldn’t mind doing it right after graduation. Traveling the world, eating some of the greatest culinary delicacies and not giving a damn about anything seems likes a pretty fantastic way to spend my time. It would be just like in the movies. I want to have food directly from the source. I want to learn to make mole from scratch in Oaxaca, Mexico. I want to go to Turkey and have coffee made in a cezve. I want to go to Tokyo and have the freshest sushi of my life. I want to go to Carnaval in Brazil and buy espetinhos from a street vendor. I want to go to Naples, Italy and share a Margherita pizza with me, myself, and I.
Before I go any further I would like to address the fact that I know Anthony Bourdain is not the best role model. This is especially relevant for a student at a Jesuit school like Santa Clara University, where you are encouraged to care and think about decisions much more critically. Keep in mind that my impression of him is from his TV shows (Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown) and a handful of YouTube videos. I realize it was extremely naïve of me to form such an opinion with such little background, but a girl can dream of becoming a grey-haired, punk, food connoisseur.
Bourdain was once the executive chef at Brassaerie Les Halles in New York (“Anthony Bourdain”). After he left Les Halles, continued publishing bestsellers such as Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, A Cook’s Tour, The Nasty Bits, and Medium Raw: A bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. In his show – and in many of his published works – Bourdain advocates for so called “peasant foods”. In other words, street foods and the classic home cooked meals from around the world, especially those including the cuts of meat that are underrepresented in western, affluent culture.
I also want to have an encyclopedic knowledge of food, beyond what Bourdain has. However, I realized I was ignoring – perhaps on purpose – one of the more controversial aspects of food; the sustainability of meat. Throughout the two quarters that I took Nicholas Leither’s Critical Thinking and Writing (CTW) class we covered topics such as the morality and sustainability of eating meat and factory farming. Nicholas Leither had definitely put a damper on my plans of becoming Anthony Bourdain. I say this in the best possible way. I’m not bothered by the fact that it has changed my perspective. My CTW class was packed with information that definitely reduced the amount of meat that I consumed, but did not cut it out completely.
When Thanksgiving rolled around, I hadn’t changed nor did I push my family to adjust the meal. I still ate the turkey. Was I bothered? A little. But not by the fact that it was an animal. As morbid as it might sound, I knew that meat was flesh. I grew up knowing that chicken was a chicken, beef was once a cow, and that the sizzling bacon Saturday morning was once a pig. That doesn’t bother me. My problem wasn’t the fact that it was meat. But rather the sustainability and the way the animal was treated or raised. At this point some of you may be thinking, “Oh my gosh! You heartless wench!” and I’m sorry but I will not stop eating meat.
Let me clarify the previous statement. My family’s background is deeply rooted in agriculture in Mexico. My maternal grandfather is a fisherman and also raises cattle. My maternal grandmother has several chickens, pigs, goats, and fields of corn that she cares for. My paternal great grandfather grew up in Tequila, a city in the state of Jalisco, Mexico (just in case you thought he grew up in a pool of alcohol), harvesting agave for nearly 90 years to make nectar or tequila, the alcoholic beverage. Many of my uncles are also butchers. Additionally, my family grows everything with a minimal carbon footprint. That being said, my family grew up with the idea that the meat on our plates was raised and cared for by another family member or a neighbor. That ideal was passed on to me, even though the source of our meat had changed. And, pardon my profanity here, but HOLY SHIT did the source matter!
What shocked me the most was the sustainability and side effects that industrialized animal agriculture had on everything. “Everything” is definitely not an exaggeration here either. Species extinction, produce contamination, water contamination, ocean dead zones, and deforestation are some of the world’s leading problems, and animal agriculture is the leading cause of it (“The Facts”). I had considered myself a very proud “tree hugger” back home, but I felt like a fraud after what I learned in my Critical Thinking and Writing class. While watching Cowspiracy, I learned that one hamburger takes 660 gallons of water to produce. Let me repeat this with more emphasis. A SINGLE BEEF PATTY TAKES ROUGHLY 660 GALLONS OF WATER TO MAKE! Only 5% of the USA’s water use is domestic, while a whopping 55% of it is from animal agriculture. I had cut my showers short and had even made my parents change the shower head to a more efficient one at the age of 10! Had all my efforts gone to waste?
Apart from sustainability, changing the source of my meat had also changed the animal’s life completely. Instead of being raised carefully by my grandpa or neighbor, it was being grown in less than ideal conditions and treated like a lifeless object.
As the class continued, we read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and I learned more of the atrocious realities of industrial animal agriculture. However, Eating Animals also explored the more ethical versions of meat production. Foer’s journey to understand why we eating meat led him to Bill and Nicolette Niman, a cattle rancher couple that operates with animal welfare in mind. Nicolette’s view on raising animals for food parallels what my view has grown into. The following excerpt of Foer’s interview with Nicolette explains her opinion of what animal agriculture should be.
“I believe we owe our animals the highest level of existence. Because we’re taking their lives for food, I think they’re entitled to experience the basic pleasures of life – things like lying in the sun, mating, and rearing their young… As I see it, animals have entered into an arrangement with humans, an exchange of sorts. When animal husbandry is done as it should be, humans can provide animals a better life than they could hope for in the wild and almost certainly a better death. That’s quite significant… I believe it’s a noble thing to be raising animals for wholesome food – to provide an animal a life with joy and freedom from suffering. Their lives are taken for a purpose. And I think that’s essentially what all of us hope for: a good life and an easy death.” (Foer 206-207)
In an interview with Larry King, Foer discussed the moral aspects of meat alongside, you guessed it, Anthony Bourdain (UMakeTheConnection). Foer echoed Bourdain’s opinion on meat but was much more elaborate. Foer responds to Bourdain in the interview by saying, “There’s a certain kind of meat, which is produced in factory farms, that is in every single way unconscionable. It is unconscionable to feed to our children because of health. It’s unconscionable because it’s the single worst thing we could do to the environment by a longshot, and it’s unconscionable because of what we’re doing to animals who are raised on factory farms.” According to Foer, more than 99% of the meat in animal agriculture comes from factory farms. (UMakeTheConnection) So, it is extremely difficult to find ideal sustainable and ethical meat.
I guess the overarching message is to be informed and make educated decisions. You never know what you don’t know. So educate yourself. Ask questions! Don’t worry about how people might perceive you. Didn’t get the answer you were looking for? Keep asking questions! Information is out there; you just have to dig it out. Your answers will lead to understanding and will open up conversations rather than blindly walking this world and annihilating everything in your path.
As for my plans to embody Anthony Bourdain? They still exist after taking my Critical Thinking and Writing class. The only difference now is that I’ll be a more conscientious and, perhaps, more socially acceptable Anthony Bourdain.
“Anthony Bourdain.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 07 June 2016.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Dir. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. Perf. Kip Anderson. Netflix. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 June 2016.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Holloway, David S. Anthony Bourdain in Beirut, Lebanon. N.d. Entrepreneur. Web. 5 June 2016.
“The Facts.” Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. A.U.M. Films and Media, n.d. Web. 06 June 2016.
UMakeTheConnection. “Meat: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Larry King Live-2/3.” YouTube. YouTube, 15 Oct. 2009. Web. 07 June 2016.