There's something almost apocalyptic about watching Adam Richman, presenter of Man v. Food, shovel mounds of beef rib, brisket and pounds and pounds of bacon into his greasy, gaping mouth. Not because any society which classes a man eating himself to death mainstream entertainment is one sure to be on the brink of extinction, but more because this image may be our lasting meat eating legacy. We've been told countless times, based on a variety of factors, that meat is unsustainable - the price likely to be driven to stratospheric heights due to farming and feeding costs, while the environmental strain it places on the planet is to become increasingly severe. We've been told the future of meat eating lies in synthetically grown steaks and eating insects. We've essentially been told that our meat eating days are numbered.
But if our response to this news has been anything other than feigned shock, it's the opposite of what it should be. In fact, you could say we're in our meat eating heyday. Surrounded by meat-centric dining, flesh is the ingredient upon which entire restaurants are now built: it's as if we've come to terms with our free-for-all meat eating days being limited, so we've decided to get our fill of it while we can.
A similar thing happened in July this year, when Arnold Schwarzenegger's ban on foie gras - perhaps in a move to leave a legacy that didn't just include bankruptcy, infidelity and sexism -came into effect in California; the only US state to do so. Rather than take the decision gracefully, accepting that it is at least a little inhumane to pump the critters to bursting point (although it's not inhumane when we watch Richman to do it, it's a cultural touchstone for a generation, apparently), Californian residents embarked on a final scurry of foie gras eating, organising foie gras festivals and foie gras 'crawls' - like a pub crawl, but with less vomiti... actually probably more vomiting - stuffing themselves to oversaturation with the fatty organ, much like their unlucky dinner.
Like that last tango with foie gras, it appears that we've embarked on a similar, perhaps unconscious splurge of meat eating. Over the past few years the most prominent food trends and popular restaurants have been those focused on meat. Arguably started by the MEATliquor/market/wagon team, the burger is no longer a dish relegated to kid's menus and fast food outlets. Instead restaurants painstakingly perfect the ratio of meat to fat, the choice of fillings and the sourcing of the best possible bakers and butchers, while the quest for customers to find 'that perfect burger' is now a pilgrimage for anyone who eats out in London.
A lot of our meat obsession comes from our current love affair with stateside cuisine. Once a greasy, guilty junk food associated with nationwide obesity, we're only just coming around to the idea that there's actually some merit in slow cooking a hunk of beef to tender flakes, flame grilling a burger, or deep frying a drumstick. The American BBQ especially has been taken upon with enthusiasm, celebrating the pig in various forms, smoking it for hours - days even - until it flops about, dropping off bones and into mouths. Pitt Cue, Duke's Brew and Que and The Ribman are so incredibly popular it's unlikely you meet anyone in London who hasn't tried at least one of their porky plates.
It's an ingredient that's lost its stigma. It's become okay to really like meat, to gorge on it. The meat sweats is no longer a term used only to describe Unilad's shimmering complexion after eating a 2kg bag of chicken nuggets, it's a common ailment suffered by discerning restaurant diners having feasted on bone marrow, ribs, T-bone, egg and beef dripping chips. Likewise, steak isn't a dish eaten purely by city bankers' on lunch breaks in between bankrupting lesser known nations and leering at secretaries, it's eaten by everyone, pitting the Hawksmoor outposts and Goodman's against each other in the battle for 'best steakhouse in London' title.
But there are positives to being so meat-centric, desperate to get our fill before it runs out. We've developed a taste for quality meat and so we've become more astute customers. No one wants to be eating X-Factor endorsed turkey ham wrapped pig balls anymore. Instead we want to know our animals got to eat well, roam and watch whatever TV show they wanted when they were living. In doing so we might actually be saving sustainable, responsible farmers and for the time being - before we are inundated with opportunist, no-choice, meat-centric restaurants cashing in on a trend - it makes for interesting eating. While Adam Richman may be repulsive, sweaty and promoting dangerous eating habits, he might also be in part responsible - by eating far too much of it - for saving meat for future generations. By both popularising it, and by disgusting people enough into becoming vegetarian.
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