Gourmet magazine gets kudos for its treatment of animal welfare issues
Did you know that Gourmet, that old stalwart of foodie periodical publishing, has just pioneered a new section called “Politics of the Plate”? I’m flabbergasted…and overjoyed.
I’ve been buying this magazine steadily since 1986.Though my subscription has lapsed (for budget-crunching purposes), I still pick up the occasional copy while in line at the supermarket. I even bought two of this June's issue—one to share and one to keep. That’s personally unprecedented—for almost any publication.
The article explains in detail how chickens are typically slaughtered, then delves into other [purportedly more humane] measures now being introduced in Europe. The unflinching treatment of this incendiary subject matter is unprecedented in an American magazine of this caliber and mass-market appeal.
Titled “A View to a Kill,” the article displays not only Daniel Zwerdling’s insightful and indefatigable talent as an investigative reporter (he’s done great stuff for NPR, as well) its cleverly cheeky introductory photograph of Peeps on meat hooks sets just the right tone for what’s to follow, without the visual nastiness that’s sure to come—and does.
Now I’ve seen “chicken processing” done right (according to the faculty at the University of Florida where I spent a semester delving into Animal Science department coursework)—and it’s horrible. Ain’t no other way to see it. I didn’t eat chicken for months as a result of the visuals that wouldn’t disabuse themselves of my psyche. (And re-exposure to this material has done nothing for the Moroccan chicken dish I was planning for my weekend dining pleasure.)
Zwerdling’s research detailed a more modern, larger scale facility than I was exposed to (in 1989). And, though the method varies somewhat, the animal reactions are much the same as he describes: after being carted in (by the overcrowded truckload) and humanly (not “humanely”) handled (four to a hand) in an upside-down power grip, the chickens’ heads are dipped into an electrified bath, essentially rendering them unconscious. They are then hung upside down and necks sliced to bleed them to death. And that’s just the beginning. Because sometimes, it’s admitted, they’re not always fully dead.
Gas chambers used in novel European plants are the solution. Instead of the stressed flapping of hundreds of thousands of wings, chickens arrive in crates which are conveyed into a gas chamber where a vapor replaces oxygen with other breathable elements, effectively suffocating them (but quickly and without all the fright and struggle).
Gourmet’s tack is to warn readers of the info they’re about to consume, but unapologetically launches into Zwerdling’s almost-gory rendition of the bare facts, nonetheless.
I’m gratified to see that even mainstream—nay, old-guard—publications are cognizant of the importance of these issues to the food-driven public. It’s a bellwether of our times and, what’s more, reflects a teeming interest in the reality of how our food gets to us. It’s not just food safety that grabs us, it’s animal cruelty that matters…to a growing percentage of American consumers.
Gourmet got it right. In return, I’ll be spending more of my hard-earned cash on their publication. Aside from sourcing great recipes and interesting food factoids, I’ll be looking forward to more of the same responsible—if unexpected—reporting. Kudos, Gourmet.