Alex James Having a Butcher’s
Blur bassist Alex James recently wrote an article for the UK’s Daily Mail, Why I Gave Vegetarianism the Chop after 17 Years. The teen idol turned farmer, his lips practically smacking, starts with an account of butchering one of his own lambs, then goes on to tell of his decision to eliminate his “rook” problem via shotgun. (In this case rook is a bird, not a card cheat…) But that’s as messy as he gets. In the true spirit of a gentleman farmer, the butchering – as well as the sheep farming and slaughtering – is done by a hired hand, with James mostly observing. Nonetheless, it’s enough for him to claim a strong connection to his land and to pontificate about his responsibility as a farmer – a veritable steward of nature.
The Alex James article comes on the heels of a slew of articles, best characterized as “I’m upper middle class but I keep it real by slaughtering my own meat,” that have been sweeping the press recently. In May, The New Yorker published Bill Buford’s account of apprenticing with a Tuscan butcher, including his decision to buy a whole pig from the Union Square Greenmarket and butcher it in his apartment. In November, Heidi Julavits wrote in The New York Times about her purchase of a quarter of a slaughtered cow, and her quest to eat every last bit of it.
The theme running through all three is that intimately knowing where your meat comes from is a good thing. In a way this is progress. Animal rights activists have been harping on this very point for years, usually in reference to factory farms, and all three authors take pains to point out that their slaughtered animals were raised humanely, constructing narratives that conjure images of cows frolicking in pastures; Heidi Julavits even suggests that her cow has it better than her “sweltering” friends in New York. (She also later refers to “pale and shaken Manhattan escapees,” nicely invoking the stereotype of a vegetarian, so maybe she just has a dim view of the city.) If we are to believe the cliched descriptions of happy cows, then there’s not a lot to object to. The authors aren’t endorsing factory farms – in fact they’re doing quite the opposite – and they are under no delusions about how their animals have made it to the plate.
In the end, though, it’s the tone of the articles, a hybrid of Alice Waters’ culinary dogma and Ted Nugent‘s bloodlust, that’s grating. All three, who abstain from any actual slaughtering, take an almost reverent approach to their food, going into great detail about cuts of meat and how each is prepared. These are people of discerning taste, but theirs are not pleasures for the little people, who invariably have to pick buckshot out of their free-range spoils. Not everyone can own a house in the country, complete with a staff to run it. It’s the gourmand’s equivalent of, “You simply must visit Provence in the Fall.”
Interestingly, Paul McCartney, had a much different take on his own country house experiences. “…we just looked at the lamb on our plate and looked at them outside again and thought ‘we’re eating one of those little things that is gaily running around outside.’ It just struck us, and we said ‘Wait a minute maybe we don’t want to do this.’” In Alex James’s case, he ends with a pledge to visit a slaughterhouse, “if only to buy some chump chops.”