Every day is a food holiday. There are calendars that compile lists of foods to celebrate and not one day is left out. Some of the holidays are real and recognized by the government, and some are purely fictional, but they always give us an excuse to to consume, write and talk about food.
So I wasn't surprised when I received a news release alerting me that January was National Meat Month. What did surprise me was how offensive the email was.
"January is known as National Meat Month," the release started, before offering statistics on meat consumption to illustrate how much Americans love to eat meat. According to the release, we consumed 52 billion pounds of meat last year for an average of 270.7 pounds consumed per person.
Compare that to the worldwide average of 102.5 pounds per person consumed yearly and it's easy to see where America stacks up.
Supposing 52 billion pounds of meat is an accurate figure, and using 315,000,000 for a national population I get something closer to 165 pounds per person, but let's ignore the bad math. Let's ignore the crass display of gluttony in comparing American meat consumption with other countries, many of which have large populations who can't even afford meat. Let's also ignore that the statistics in the release gloss over the fact that Americans actually consumed 12 percent less meat as a country in 2012 compared with 2007 -- and those numbers are still dropping. The biggest bummer in this release are the suggestions offered for celebrating meat day.
Google "5 Ways to Celebrate National Meat Month" and you'll see this release starting to work its way around the Internet. It suggests we should try something new by indulging buffalo or ostrich burgers and host a meat-themed potluck that focuses on our friend's favorite meat dishes. We're also encouraged to exchange meat recipes, dine out a little more this month (and eat meat of course) and make a family recipe book.
I'm still trying to get my head around exactly how excited my friends would be for a no-holds-barred recipe exchange party, but this list strikes me as pretty lazy. Almost anyone could easily come up with five better ways to celebrate Meat Month. And imagine if those ideas actually left you with a better appropriation of meat.
How about these?
1. Visit a farm Take the time to learn a little bit about where your meat comes from. Tour a farm that practices free-range and organic techniques. Consider it a history lesson, too. Most farms in America used to operate this way.
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2.Visit a farmers market If a drive out the the country is too daunting, hit up your local farmers market and at least talk to the guy who raised your hamburger. You could learn about all the hard work it takes to raise animals humanely and perhaps gain a new appreciation for conscientious meat consumption.
3. Learn about labeling Be sure you read the labels on your products and know what they mean so you can make informed decisions about your purchases. The Humane Society has compiled a list of labeling terms and practical definitions. It's a great place to start.
4. Visit a butcher For the entire month of January I'm referring to my butcher as the meat man, and I'm celebrating him too. Small, local butchers are more likely to work with small local farms, and high quality products. They'll also introduce you to new proteins and cuts that are far more creative than buffalo burgers.
5. Find recipes that use meat efficiently You don't have to buy an entire rib roast for a hearty, meaty meal. Those same countries that consume less meat than we do are also great at stretching small, humble cuts into big family meals. Indian curries can turn a single pound of meat into a dinner that will feed a whole family. The French can turn a fatty, gristly rib bone into an amazing stew with potatoes and carrots and other vegetables that are infused with the flavor of beef. Throw in a fancy bottle of wine and you've got an occasion that feels like a real celebration of meat. You'll be celebrating food in general, too.