No Neutrality Allowed

This is am image of Kyle David Kipp

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The meat book is still about ten months away from publication, and already, thanks to Pink Slime, it’s another version of the beer book. Not that I’m surprised. Disheartened, but not surprised.

Let me explain: When the beer book came out, I was criticized by many in the craft beer community because I had not written an all-out attack on the “big” brewers. Critics assumed that I MUST be on the big brewers’ “side.” (As if there were sides to be taken….) And, worse, that I’d been paid by a big brewer to write the book. (Nothing could have been further from the truth.)

I didn’t write Ambitious Brew in order to “take sides.” I wrote the book because I thought the history of beer in America would enrich my understanding of what it means to be an American. Period. End of story. It never occurred to me to “take sides.”

So, too, the meat book: I wrote it because I didn’t know anything about meat, its place in American society, how it’s made or why. I spent researching the book, and, no surprise, I learned a great deal about meat and its place in American history and society.

When the Pink Slime uproar began, I thought that  knowledge could add to our understanding of Pink Slime. In my mind, the PS uproar smacked of conclusion-jumping and fear-mongering, and I hoped that if people had some facts, they might slow down and rethink the conclusions to which they’d jumped.

Silly me. (Stupid me?) The pro-PS crowd immediately concluded I was “one of them,” and the anti-PS crowd concluded that I was a shill for Big Ag and Corporate America.

Neither is true — but the food “debate” is so mired in hostility that neutrality is (apparently) not an option.

Live. Learn.

8 thoughts on “No Neutrality Allowed

  1. I (personally) think the irrational, short sighted and protectionist behavior on both sides is almost as interesting as the underlaying history itself. Or maybe a demonstration of how public opinon, and demand, are just as integral in sculpting the meat industry going forward from this point, as they have been in the past which got us here.

  2. Tim, you nailed it. Public opinion, and the public’s willingness to buy or not buy, have been the driving factor in the meat industry for more than a century. But as near as I can tell, this is the first time there’s been such a large, vocal “anti” faction. Usually what the public bitches about is cost and quality. So yes, these are interesting times for a historian. And to think I was worried, six years ago, that by the time I finished this book, no one would give a shit about meat one way or the other!

  3. It’s funny that I have been reading your blog since you started writing on Pink Slime and hadn’t until this post realized that you wrote THAT beer book. I hadn’t paid much attention to the Beer Book pick in the header, since I had to give up beer a couple of years ago. But I LOVED that book. I was running a bookshop at the time and, I think, probably received an advance copy. I read it and then proceeded to push it on likely customers. I’m surprised to hear it was controversial; I thought it was great! So I will most definitely buy the Meat book once it comes out.

    It’s almost inevitable in our current culture in the US that everything political is polarized into two warring camps and that everything is, in fact, political. But I have enjoyed reading your pink slime posts, even if I haven’t entirely agreed with the conclusions to which they have led you.

    It might have got you a bit off to the wrong start to go into the pink slime debate with this thought: “the PS uproar smacked of conclusion-jumping and fear-mongering.” That might have been the result of paying too much attention to Jamie Oliver and not enough to more thoughtful folks who are trying to move our industrialized food production system in the direction of telling us more and more about what they are selling us.

    But, if you bill yourself as both a historian and a “ranter,” the impressions some folks derive from the ranting is bound to color their perceptions of the historical analysis.

    As a working local reporter and newspaper publisher, I’m all too familiar with the careful line one has to walk in the minefield of our highly-politicized, highly-divided culture.

    But your stuff is excellent, your contribution to the debate is meaningful, and I still believe cream rises to the top. I glad to have found you a few years after having so thoroughly enjoying your beer book. What I loved most about that book, frankly, was learning all about beer gardens; made me wish we still had them.

  4. Greg, what a GREAT comment! I hadn’t even thought about how the “ranter” part might put people off. When I started blogging (reluctantly), it took me a long time to figure out what a blog should do/be. Finally I realized that it was a place where I could be another kind of writer than I am in my books (where my tone is MUCH more measured and “professional.”)

    But I bet you’re right: probably people can’t figure out whether they should take me seriously or not, or whether I’m a “real” historian. Great insight. THANK YOU.

    Not, cough cough, that I plan to change the tone around here. But I will be more wary. Wierdly, re. your Jamie Oliver example, when I wrote the first PS entry I didn’t even know about Oliver’s infamous washing machine segment. (In fact, I couldn’t figure out why he was weighing in on the matter.) I was responding instead to what felt, to me, like a tone of hysteria from the pro-food camp.

    And you’re right about that, too: There are, indeed, lots of thoughtful critics of the food system. Unfortunately, they tend to be drowned out by the whackadoodles — as in the PS uproar.

    As for the beer book: THANKS for those kind words. You pretty much made my day all ’round. Beer gardens: not sure where you live, but there has been a kind of resurgence of them in recent years. I gave a talk at one on Long Island last summer.

  5. Maureen, Neat to hear about the Long Island beer garden. There’s a very small gravel paved one that I have visited with my daughter in Queens. I’m going up in May; maybe we’ll try to find that Long Island spot.

    I’ve only recently begun following pro-foodies on Twitter, so I’m probably not as plugged into the polarities in that flock. I’ll be careful to take what I read with a grain of salt (which pretty much comes with the pork pie hat and press card they give you as a reporter).

    I do think your meat book, once it’s out, is likely to be very useful, assuming you can get a hearing. One of the questions I always want to know, when looking at some current state of affairs, is: How the hell did we get here?

  6. Is the garden in Queens the one in Astoria? Old, Czech, been there a zillion years? Our kids go there all the time because it’s close to their place and it’s so kid friendly. Somehow we’ve never managed to get there, but they go often.

    Re. “current state of affairs”: That is PRECISELY the question the book answers. Precisely. That very question was my guiding light the entire time I worked on the project.

  7. I won’t be able to read the meat book for at least ten months and I’m already looking forward to your next book topic where you take both sides.

    And a comment on the beer garden. Having moved to Oregon 2 years ago we find the beer culture fascinating. While Oregon has one of the most diverse beer cultures in the US and is near the top in number of breweries, the state alcohol laws do a lot to demonize alcohol in general. For the most part if an establishment does not serve food, then no one under 21 is allowed. So if you want a beer garden where people could bring their own food to enjoy, then no kids allowed. It’s not family friendly in any way. The only way for a place to be family friendly is to serve lots of food so that it comprises a large percentage of gross sales–only then are kids allowed.

  8. Hey, Larry! Hi.

    Somehow, I would have expected Oregon to have more sensible laws. We may get legal pot before we get sensible drinking laws. Sad to day.


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