Why did you want to write a book about meat?
Actually, I didn’t want to write about meat. When my friend first suggested the book I laughed and said no thanks. Meat is a topic I’ve always felt ambivalent about—it can be gross and foreboding, if you’ve grown up vegetarian, yet it’s a huge part of our culture and the culture of food. Luckily, when you feel ambivalent about a topic, it means you have lots to write about.
Why do you call yourself a vegetarian if you’ve eaten small amounts of meat most of your life?
I don’t actually call myself a vegetarian—I refer to myself as “raised vegetarian.” I think you need to make the commitment, as an adult, to be a vegetarian. At the same time, I have the unique experience of growing up meat free, which is not the case for most vegetarians, so I bring a different perspective to the table. Meat really is a foreign culture to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it completely.
Have you really never eaten corned beef?
It is true. I still have never eaten corned beef. I’m sure some St. Patrick’s Day someone will take me under their wing and feed me corned beef. At least by now I have figured out that there is no actual corn involved.
I’m still trying to figure out why chicken fried steak has no chicken in it.
If people want to find sources of sustainably raised meat, where should they look?
My first stop would be a farmers’ market, if you have one near you. Talk to the farmers, find out how they raise their animals. Every sustainable farmer or rancher I’ve ever met has been happy to talk about their work. Show some interest and they will likely be glad to share the specifics of their operation. What do they feed their animals? Where are they raised? Where do they slaughter? If someone isn’t interested in telling you the answers to these questions, that might be a sign to keep on looking.
If there is no nearby farmers’ market, take a look at Local Harvest. This website contains a database of small farms, searchable by area. It’s a fantastic resource.
What was the best part of working on this book?
Hands down the best part was getting to know the very cool people in the world of sustainable meat. They are passionate and working hard for what they believe. I am grateful for everyone who took me under their wing and shared their passion—be it ranchers, barbeque masters, or my friends who love carnivorous cooking. I feel lucky for getting to experience all of that.
And as a writer, I got the challenge of trying to translate it all to the page. That was a great thing as well. I learned a lot, and am a better writer for the experience.
What was the hardest part of working on this book?
Bone marrow, probably. And fear of food poisoning. I really don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to meat.
Writing it was a huge challenge as well. There were more revisions, more moments of panic, and more 3am bedtimes than I’d like to admit.
Is that you on the book cover?
Only if I weighted 60 pounds and wore entirely impractical footwear!
No, it’s not me—the artist didn’t even know what I look like. But I do have a thing for headbands. I’m fairly certain that is sheer coincidence.
Do you eat meat now?
I’m taking bets on how many people will ask me that question in 2010, care to place a wager?
I don’t have an easy answer to that question. I was raised with a lot of dogma—things that were off-limits or considered bad. As a result I don’t like limits or labels. I make my food decisions as I go along, considering taste, health, comfort, ethics, and environment. And things constantly change. Whatever answer I give to that question may not be true in six months—or even tomorrow.
Is that vague enough for you? If you want the full story, you’ll have to read the book. It’s a 220 page attempt at answering that question.
What are you doing now?
I’m working on two books. One is about food, the other is about family. We’ll see which fights hardest and wants to be finished first.
How do you feel about bacon?
The barbequed bacon that Biggles—the BBQ master in the book—made for me still haunts my dreams. I’m sure that it always will. There should be an addiction warning on things like that. Seriously dangerous stuff.