Meat expert Marissa Guggiana researched her new book, Primal Cuts: Cooking With America’s Best Butchers, by driving clear across the country and talking to every single top meat purveyor she found along the way. During a recent stop in NYC for National Butchers’ Week, the Bay Area native and locavore activist found some time to talk with Fork in the Road about her work. Yesterday, she shared her thoughts on the industrial meat system. Today, she talks about bonding with butchers, her love of $70 motel rooms, and how, despite her background, she wants you to eat less meat.
Was there anything tricky about putting the project together?
Getting it finished sometime. I really wanted there to be recipes from every single part of the animal, from all the different species. It was a little bit of a logistical puzzle to get the right recipes from the right people and represent every cooking style, every animal, so that when people buy the book, they could figure out how to cook any piece of meat they find at the store. Also, some people are really shy, and not used to being interviewed and talking about what they do in such a self-conscious way. With some people, it took a while to draw out and really get to the heart of who they are, and get them to relax for a photo and stuff. That’s a really fun challenge for me. I love interviewing people and hanging out. That was something I got better at as I went along.
Do vegetarians ever kvetch about your work? How do they react?
I really don’t eat that much meat, and I think people should eat less meat. I think they should eat better meat, and I think part of the affordability problem would be solved by just eating less meat, eating beans instead. Most of us eat meat at every meal and that’s sort of unsustainable.
And I do get flack sometimes from vegetarians. I was a vegetarian for a long time. I was vegan for a long time, actually. But I think that everyone’s body chemistry is different. I think that some people should eat meat. The Dalai Lama eats meat. He was vegetarian for a long time, and he has health problems. The first person you should take care of is yourself, so that you can take care of other people. I know it’s kind of “woo-woo,” but I think that people should just not follow some diet or some philosophy that’s so strict. You should just eat with your whole heart and take care of yourself. I think we’d all eat less meat if we did that.
What about flack from carnivores?
I haven’t been beat up in a back alley or anything, but I really think that the industrial meat system is threatened by the sustainable food movement. It’s kind of silly because they control so much. Sustainable, local meet is less than 5 percent of the meat we eat. It’s just a tiny, tiny percentage. In northern California, it’s really hard to get your chickens slaughtered somewhere. Poultry is a huge industry. In places where the small farmers have gone to get their chickens slaughtered, so they can sell them to restaurants or farmers’ markets, the big guys have just shut them down or kicked them out. They have to drive many miles to get them slaughtered, so there’s no local chicken, really, left in my area. In some ways, though, I feel like if they feel threatened, then the small farmers are really making an impact.
What’s your favorite recipe in the book?
It’s like picking my favorite child. I don’t have a favorite recipe. I won’t say that, but I really love braised meat. I just love the complexity of the flavors, and I love that it’s really hard to screw up, and also that you can use cheaper cuts of meats. There’s a Chinese char siu, and there are some braised lamb shanks that are amazing. There’s a beef stew that’s really excellent. Also, I get sort of intimidated by the grill. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a girl thing. Any non-flesh favorites?
The first thing that pops up is kale. I love kale. I like it raw, with lemon juice, or it’s really good braised, cooked really slowly. I love lentils. I eat a lot of vegetables. I love yams. Anything leafy and green, pretty much.
Care to share any other important, non-food wisdom?
I sort of got to be sort of a connoisseur of motels. I learned that you should always spend at least $70, and it doesn’t seem like that much of a difference from $60, but it’s like a completely different realm of motel. If you don’t want to get skeeved out in the shower, just spring for the $70 motel.
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