Scott Gold loves meat and isn't afraid to admit it. This New Orleans native is so passionate about meat that he took on the daunting yet often delicious task of attempting to eat 31 different types of meat in 31 days and to eat his way through various parts of a cow (which he lovingly calls the tour de boeuf), all for the sake of his heartfelt and often hilarious tribute to meat, The Shameless Carnivore. We caught up with Scott over some barbecue to get his thoughts on all things meaty.
You have a book out called The Shameless Carnivore. Yes, A Manifesto for Meat Lovers.
Does this mean that there are shameful carnivores out there? What would you say makes someone a shameful carnivore? A shameful carnivore is someone who only consumes meat and refuses to acknowledge where it comes from, and they view meat as a product. You go to the grocery store and you buy meat, and then you buy peanuts and diapers and Coke. It’s completely disassociated from the animal. When confronted with the very important issue that meat comes from dead animals, shameful carnivores are the ones who literally refuse to acknowledge that fact. They don’t want to think about it, they don’t want to acknowledge it, and part of being a shameless carnivore – in order not to be ashamed about eating meat – you have to reconcile that fact with yourself. So shameful carnivores are the ones who just don’t want to think about the animal: “I love bacon, but it’s a cute pig. I don’t want to think about that, I just want bacon.”
So what would you recommend to get someone to cross the line, or is it just not possible? It’s possible for everybody. Visit a family farm or any small producer that really conscientious about how they raise their animals. This is in and of itself very important, not just for the animals’ welfare, but for our welfare and the welfare of the planet. And obviously, for flavor, which is what it ultimately boils down to, the happiest animals make the best meat. I would recommend that they go to one of these farms that’s producing grass-fed beef or lamb, or Berkshire pork, or a goat farm. Especially in the Northeast, there are a lot of independent producers that really care about their animals. You can go up there, and these people are shameless in the most wonderful fundamental way because they treat their animals well, they make sure that they are slaughtered humanely, which is extraordinarily important. There’s no cognitive dissonance.
You recently took on PETA on the BBC. How did that go? It was really interesting. It was a show called World Have Your Say, which is an international BBC world radio show where they have people weighing in from all four corners of the world. They had Bruce from PETA, discussing the recent U.N. summit on the global food crisis. And so PETA came on and said that the easiest way to solve the global food crisis is for everybody to be a vegetarian.
And what were your thoughts on that? I said that’s a beautiful pipe dream, but it will never fucking happen. I can’t speak from a global perspective, but people were calling in from South Africa, who have relatives who are Masai who were saying that meat is just an important part of their culture, so it’s not going to happen. In most parts of the world, if you can get meat in your diet, you’re fortunate. The problem is that Americans are gluttonous, and we overconsume, and eat way too much meat. You don’t need a lot. It’s very good for you but eating too much bad meat that’s made from poorly raised animals pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics is bad. Telling American meat consumers to go vegetarian – that if you don’t go vegetarian you’re basically stealing food from the mouths of starving children in Africa – that’s not going to do anything for them. It’s an either or -- well, I don’t like the thought of starving children in Africa but I do like my pulled pork sandwich, so I’m just not going to think about it. So the more realistic thing is not to say, “go vegetarian,” but to say, “all right, you love meat, and that’s great. But start thinking about where your meat comes from, start taking it seriously and not just shovel it into your head. Start paying attention to your diet.”
This is something that happened to me as I was researching and writing the book; I eat less meat now than I ever have in my life because when I do eat meat, I want to make sure it’s from a good source, and it’s a product of having gone hunting and having been on a farm, participating in the slaughtering and butchering of a cow. Being part of that farm process makes you respect your food so much more. Americans are so disassociated from that. My suggestion was to say to try to try to eat better meat because it’s better for you, the animal, and the environment, and eat it less often. You may have to pay a bit more for it, but it’s a win-win-win situation.
Do you think that’s really possible with agribusiness the way it is? It’s definitely possible, it’s just difficult. It’s an uphill battle, but I think it takes a carnivore to convince carnivores to be responsible about their carnivorism. A 25 year vegan telling red-blooded, meat-loving carnivores to go vegetarian doesn’t do any good. If you have one of your own saying, “I love exactly what you love, but you could be doing it so much better.” That is I think what needs to happen and it would make a very positive difference on a lot of different levels.
In terms of getting the quality meat, are there certain places in New York that you like to go to shop for meat? I’m a huge advocate of the butcher shop, and I’m very fortunate to be in New York City because we still have butcher shops, which in many American towns, as heartbreaking as it is, don’t exist. We’re now in the strip mall, chain restaurant portion of American history, which is really sad. So when I shop for ingredients I go to the Greenmarkets. I will go to Whole Foods even though it’s really expensive, because it’s better than going to the Associated, but if I have to go to a supermarket I’ll go and blow a paycheck. The Greenmarkets are great because they have the local producers, and you know you’re getting a really fine product. Ottomanelli’s butcher shop is my butcher of choice. I live in Greenpoint and there are a lot of great butcher shops near there. Especially if you love sausage, there are magnificent smoked meat and sausages, but for more specialty products – dry aged steaks, offal meats, exotic game, things like that – Ottomanelli’s is a great place. They have been around for over 70 years, it’s a family business, a classic Italian butcher shop. The Ottomanelli brothers are behind the counter every day. It’s not just that they provide wonderful products, but it’s also a repository of culinary knowledge. When you buy something from their shop, you can ask them not just to trim it in a certain way or to grind it or prepare it to your specifications, but you can ask them about internal temperatures, cooking times, suggested recipes. You’re not going to get that at WalMart.
As far as eating meat, are there certain dishes that you absolutely love in the city? I love the Shackburger (at the Shake Shack). I’m on my own, I’m an author, I don’t have an expense account. I’m not a corporate lawyer or a wall street guy, so there are a lot of places I haven’t been. Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches on the Lower East Side. The three-meat banh mi is a wonderful thing and it’s only $4.50 or $5. It’s a lunch of such glorious pleasure, especially combined with the Vietnamese iced coffee with that condensed milk, super-sweet. Other dishes I like – the steak and eggs at Diner in Brooklyn. First and foremost because of the quality of the meat. I can’t remember the provider, but they started to sell only in hanging weight, which is why Tom Mylan (at Diner) became a butcher. They’ll get a side of grass-fed, grass-finished beef and Tom will go to town. Momofuku. The offal menu at Ssam Bar, particularly the grilled sweetbreads. Also the pork buns and the banh mi are great. I went there three or four times during my research and I think the think that makes his banh mi so good is the veal head terrine. That is the keystone, the lynchpin. That one little slice of unctuous deliciousness just, in the words of The Big Lebowski, “tied the room together.” It ties the sandwich together.