PETA, for one, is taking resolution season by the horns: Not only will they be outside Bagatelle tonight to protest the use of penguins at a party, but they've also infiltrated Chicago's much-more-functional meatpacking district with a new, anti-meat billboard campaign. When one of the signs, in which a wistful-looking pig entreats the viewer, "You can live without those ribs. I can't ... Try Vegan," was placed across the street from Publican Quality Meats, the butcher shop, an offshoot of Publican Restaurant and proud purveyor of ethically raised meat, rose classily to its own defense.
In a measured, respectful response, entitled, "Notes on Humanely Raised, Ethically Slaughtered Heritage Breed Animals," PQM's manager and head butcher address questions on sourcing and raising meat, describes an experience slaughtering a lamb, and explains why being carnivores doesn't stop them from also being "people who are for the ethical treatment of animals."
At Publican's request, there will be no making fun of PETA. Though head butcher Cosmo Goss expressed to DNAinfo that the sign was "an insult," the writers of the butcher shop's response were careful not to attack the animal-rights group, and in fact insisted that the post, already in the works, "was only slightly prompted by the appearance of the billboard."
The message is as much an invitation for debate as it is a defense, but a PETA spokesperson did not back down from the group's stance when explaining the choice of location: "If you're trying to reach people who are eating pigs, what better place than Chicago's meat-packing district?" The more industrial meatpacking plants in the neighborhood could certainly stand to have their practices examined, but what PQM is expressing in their humble manifesto is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing: There is a possible alternative.
Here's the response in full, a valid counterargument to PETA's billboard and a nice tribute to conscientious carnivorism on its own.
Notes on Humanely Raised, Ethically Slaughtered Heritage Breed Animals
At Publican Quality Meats, We eat meat. This means, no matter how you finesse it, there must be a moment when a living animal is killed. Before the linquica, ribeyes, 'nduja, chops, mica and harissa pate can fill our bountiful butcher cases, a death must occur.
We choose to eat meat but acknowledge that death as respectfully as possible. We deal with farms and purveyors where animals are free range, uncaged, fed natural diets, are given no antibiotics or steroids and are slaughtered as humanely and painlessly as possible. But they ARE slaughtered. There is a death.
This is why we do not waste a molecule of these beautiful animals. We process them into headcheese, marrow bones, cured meats, cooked meats, ham hocks, regular cuts, blood sausage. We feel this honors the life of the animal and is the right way to do this kind of work.
The Animal Rights Activist group PETA put up a billboard (pictured) across the street from PQM and Publican. It features a picture of a suckling pig and the slogan "You can live without those ribs. I can't" and the proviso 'Try Vegan'.
Anyone who has read this far and thinks we're going to mock or belittle PETA or their mission will have to go shopping somewhere else. We respect any serious and intelligent personal philosophy and admire PETA's knack for provocation and creative chutzpah. We are, and this might seem odd to say unless you really think about it, also people who are for the ethical treatment of animals with one gigantic difference; We do choose to eat animal flesh. We also choose not to ignore the reality of the choice.
About a month ago PQM organized a trip for our staff to one of our farmer/purveyors. The trip entailed an overview of the whole operation but included witnessing the slaughter. Our staff, our butchers in particular, are serious about their craft and sincerly idealistic about how they execute it. They were, to a person, profoundly moved by the experience. This post was already in the works and was only slightly prompted by the appearance of the billboard; a dialogue with Cosmo, Publican Sous-Chef and PQM Butcher and D, PQM manager about that trip, our philosophy and that undeniable death.
D: Why did we do the farm trip?
Cos: It's important to see it. It's important not to...put it in parentheses. It's a hard job that someone does, even in the best of circumstances.
D: Have you ever slaughtered an animal?
Cos: Yes. Lambs. At a very small farm. It becomes...it's hard to say...ritualistic, kind of religious. You calm the animal. We actually said a prayer to each one.
D: How did you kill it?
Cos: We slit their throats. It's about making it as quick and painless as possible. That may not sound quick or painless but it is very quick, especially if the animal isn't being herded into a chute and can smell and hear what's happening.
D: When I saw the billboard I thought, perversely, that we actually kinda line up with these guys in most regards ... with, you know, one glaring exception.
Cos: Yeah, what I thought was that cute suckling pig ... people need to realize ... that pig is older than any chicken you've ever eaten. Commodity chickens that you buy in the grocery store ... they're about 9 days old, socked full of steroids and fed completely gross shit to plump them up. Ours are 21 days old at least, live on a natural light cycle, no cages ... there are pens where the chickens can hide from the other chickens. In chicken terms that's Quality of Life.
D: We did a bit about the American Livestock Conservancy a few weeks back. They're salvaging disappearing heritage breeds of animals and are addressing the seeming contradiction — if we don't eat these breeds they'll cease to exist. It's pretty much 'Eat the Pig, Save the Breed', and I thought about that when I saw the billboard too. The suckling pig petitioning to keep his ribs wouldn't exist if it wasn't produced for food. On the other hand, if it's Commodity Meat production, that's probably not a bad thing. He'd be better off not existing.
Cos: A lot of people will just never care but if you give me Commodity Meat next to any of our farmer's meat I will know which is which 100% of the time. Ours is natural and delicious and real and the other stuff is ... stuff.
D: Why? How do you quantify and explain it to people?
Cos: We're, pretty much, a venue for the farmers. They raise the animals the right way and we just try to get out of the way in presenting them to our guests. They do all the work. We're the forum. Some people buck at the price but I say ... you buy an organic apple, it costs twice as much as a regular apple. You buy pork that's being fed organic apples ... it is a choice, but it's worth it. You can Taste the Difference.
D: I don't know if it's the timing of my commute or it's just there all the time but I frequently pass the rendering truck at the packing plant around the corner coming off the Green Line. The rendering truck does not have to visit PQM
Cos: We waste NOTHING. We use 100% of the animal. With pigs we use the skin, we make head cheese, we make stock from the bones, the tails end up in the Bolognese at Publican. We waste Nothing. That's how we honor the animal. We don't throw any of its Life away. Here's something to take away. If you go to the freezer at PQM and buy some of our packaged Publican hamburger patties ... those are from ONE COW. If you get a burger at McDonald's there is meat from over 1000 cows in it. Dramatize that in your head.
Thanks for reading through this long piece. Don't make fun of PETA. Support the Livestock Conservancy.