Nobody likes to watch sausage being made

An article in today’s NYT about artisanal sausage-making starts off innocuously enough, seemingly about the difficulty of preserving this centuries-old skill of turning slowly rotting, moldy meat into tasty, savory snack material. And then the meat inspectors arrive.

shreek! shreek! shreek!

Turns out most sausage makers aren’t giving up the craft because they’re tired of smelling like bad bacon, but because they’re being driven mad by USDA meat inspectors who only understand “under 40 degrees and under 140 degrees,” as one charcuterie chef bemoans. There’s a heartbreaking aside about how all the cured meats at Il Buco restaurant in New York were destroyed last week simply because the temperature in the curing room was six degrees higher than regulation. Not because of there was any proof or indication they were contaminated.

Il Buco owner Donna Lennard said, “These are pigs that were raised for us. We knew their names. We were trying to do something sustainable and traditional, and this is what happens.”

The blindness of these inspectors is sickening. They’re intent on protecting the public health, which is admirable, but the main reason the public needs their help is because the meat 90% of this country eats has passed through the industrial gullet, and on its way picked up a nice posse of pathogens like E. coli. And therefore it has to be irradiated and cooked within an inch of its life. Michael Pollan* writes that the cost of having meat processed at a USDA-approved facility — which, among other corporation-friendly requirements demands a separate bathroom for use only by USDA inspectors — adds $1/lb to the end price of non-industrial meat. That’s a lot to a farmer trying to keep his meat competitive with animals raised in feedlots on GMO corn and chicken “litter.”

Will the government wake up and realize that artisanal farmers, butchers, and makers of raw cheese are not the enemy? That it’s large corporations that are most likely to poison the public? Sheesh.

It’s rainy here again, and I was thinking I might skip the farmers market in Berkeley tomorrow. But now I *have* to go, just to get some salumi** from the Fatted Calf. Who knows how much longer we’ll be able to.

*OK OK, I know Pollan is omnipresent on these posts so far, but dammit, we’re just starting out here.

**I just learned that salumi is the equivalent of the French charcuterie — refers to meats that are salt-cured, smoked, or fermented as well as meats that are preserved in fat (confit), cooked sausages and pates.

5 Responsesto “Nobody likes to watch sausage being made”

  1. Man of La Muncha says:

    Are you arguing that we should not have meat inspectors for artisanal products, or that meat inspectors are not living up to the added $1/lb? I would agree with the latter argument but not the former.

    Eric Schlosser documents problems with current U.S. meat inspection in _Fast Food Nation_. Ground meats are not tested for microbial infection, even when contaminated meat ends up part of larger batches. Funding for inspection has been cut back, increasing reliance on cookie-cutter methods and reducing effectiveness.

  2. Dairy Queen says:

    I think that non-industrial meat producers get screwed: they can’t compete with the scale of industrial operations, and therefore they come in for more scrutiny perhaps. I think that the inspectors should understand both the letter and the intent of the law. The letter may specify temperatures and curing times, but the intent is to prevent sickness from mishandling meat. If there is no evidence or even indication of microbrial contamination, destroying an entire batch of artisanal salami seems obscenely punitary. If correcting this means more and better-trained meat inspectors, I’m all for it.

    On a side note, today at the market I heard a very upsetting story about the terrible position small farmers are in when it comes to processing their meat in a USDA-licensed facility. I asked if I could blog what I overheard, and Farmer A said no, “I have to work with these guys. I have no choice.” So I won’t, but it seemed to me further evidence that the system is biased in favor of large industrial operations like Harris and Purdue — and we pay the price.

  3. derf says:

    The irony is that more then 50 percent of the meat fed to school children across Amerika comes from one factory meat processor in Texas that has been cited hundreds of times for severe violations of the USDA laws, yet it has never been closed or forced to destroy its rancid, vile, putrescent product. Frontline did a nice piece on our so-called professional and safe meat processing, it was called ‘Modern Meat’ (you can order it from PBS). It was enough to make an avowed carnivore like myself temporarily give up flesh.

  4. Man of La Muncha says:

    Schlosser (again) notes that after the Jack-in-the-Box and other fast food scares the meats used by fast food chains are of higher quality than the meats served in school lunches.

  5. Tatiana says:

    You mention that Farmer A said he has to work with factory meat processors so don’t blog his story; Can’t you just keep his name out of it? Farmer Anonymous can relate any story he wants in the name of educating the public, and if someone wants to fact check they can ask any farmer of their choice for their story. It’s important to inform people of the real deal, so spread the word!

    Love the site by the way, some of the highest quality of writing I have come across, and I read dozens of blogs. You should have a Canadian contributor. The state of affairs here is both better and worse than in the US, and the majority of the people is only marginally aware of the larger issues of what we eat, how and why.