Honoring the Protein

topchef-logo1I’m not much of a TV watcher, especially when it’s reality TV.  But one show that I’ve found myself making a point to watch ever since I discovered it two seasons ago is Top Chef.  It’s like any other reality show, with contestants competing and being voted off by the judges, but I find it really entertaining and I actually learn a lot about cooking by just watching professional chefs do their thing.

But I saw a rerun a couple weeks ago that’s really been bothering me.  In the episode, the contestants go to a farm and cook a lot of really delicious-looking food, picking fresh fruits and vegetables to use in their dishes alongside some high-quality cuts of meat.  Yes, meat still looks good to me (sometimes).  The contestants have to “break down” some dead farm animals, which has always been a litte off-putting for me to watch, but that’s not what I didn’t like.  What really chapped my ass when I saw this rerun was when Tom Colicchio, one of the judges, berated one of the contestants for failing to “honor the protein” when he cooked a lamb dish.  His point was that if you’re going to kill an animal to eat it, then at least honor it by doing a nice job of butchering it and making it into a decent meal.

Honor it by the way you butcher it.  Something about that sentence just doesn’t jive.  Is this the new way to rationalize eating meat?  Kill animals, just don’t make anything lousy from them, because that would be disrespectful.  After all, it’s every lamb’s dream to be perfectly seared on the outside and served medium rare with mint sauce and a Chianti Classico Riserva.  To do any less would be to dishonor it.

Come on.

I’m not going to tell you never to eat meat.  That would be a little hypocritical, since just two months ago I was still eating chicken with hardly a second thought.  And though I haven’t had any fish since writing No More Fishing?, I’ve decided that I’m still willing to eat some fish or shellfish on very rare occassions.  But make no mistake: when I eventually have some fish again, I won’t be pretending that I’ve done it some tremendous honor in the way I’ve prepared it.

If cannibals were to kidnap me and have me for dinner, you can bet that my last thought wouldn’t be about whether they were going to grind me up for burgers or do me the great honor of cutting off a few juicy fillets and serving me with a Brunello di Montalcino to stand up to all that big flavor.  No, I’d be pissed that they were going to kill me and eat me.

Eat a little meat now and then if you must, but don’t lie to yourself.  Once you’re calling an animal “the protein,” there’s nothing you can do to honor it.



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  1. Very interesting point from a different point of view. Sometimes those shows do cloud the origins of meat products, but at the same time, it isn’t Tom Colicchio’s job on being right or wrong, it’s judging whether the food is good or not. Not saying that he wasn’t hypocritical, but he isn’t getting paid to be right.

    • Yeah you’re right about this. My point isn’t that I wish Tom Colicchio were a little less ignorant. His job on the show is to rate the food, not be a champion of vegetarianism, and I get that. I guess I wish that the whole show, food culture, and the world were less ignorant. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 🙂

  2. Here here! I actually once heard a person say that eating an animal gives meaning to that animal’s life. I can’t even wrap my head around that one. I’m all about people making their own decisions about what to eat and what not to eat, but the delusion that an animal is honored by the way it’s cooked and eaten is positively lame.

  3. I have to disagree with you on this one Matt. When Tom C says “honor the meat,” he means to treat it with respect by making a great meal out of it. I know the process of butchering is off putting, but there is a big difference between the meat found in Grocery stores or Fast food joints and the meat that is processed by a trained professional butcher or a chef. While the slaughter of animals is a process that is not easy to digest, a trained butcher (Did you know I come from a butchering family – my grandparents owned “Baldwin’s Meats” in Palmyra Pa) treats the process with much more respect.

    • I’m not sure how that is disagreeing with me. I wrote “His point was that if you’re going to kill an animal to eat it, then at least honor it by doing a nice job of butchering it and making it into a decent meal.” Isn’t that what you said, except replacing “decent” with “great”? And the reason I include butchering is I think in the show one of his complaints was that they cut the meat up into small pieces rather than leaving the large cuts intact.

      I didn’t know that you come from a butchering family. I definitely believe that small-farm style butchering is much preferable to supermarket or mechanical butchering/slaughtering. But I still don’t think “honor” is the right word.

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