When Walt Whitman began what would ultimately become his masterpiece “Song of Myself,” this was one of the first lines he wrote: “And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue.” The nobility of the grazing cow, changing grass into protein, jolts the poet into an impassioned announcement of his own identity and an instant awareness of himself thatched in the expansive web of the world. Thus Whitman, in some small way, may be America’s first Meat Writer. The recognition and immediate reconciliation of digestive dissonance—the linking of himself to his food and beyond—is a catalyzing moment in his ecstatic celebration of life. No lesser a figure than Mohandas Gandhi drew this same conclusion, claiming “To me, the cow is the embodiment of the whole infra-human world; she enables the believer to grasp his unity with all that lives…. The cow is a poem of compassion.”
Popular Meat Writing is about making connections, tying the ubiquitous to the sensational, restoring a place and face to the rootless and indistinct. It puts our Christmas ham back in a cramped pen at Smithfield and plops the Iraq War squarely on our plates. Horrifying as these connections may be, they’re also reassuring. For the details may foster in us, as they did in Whitman, self-awareness—a greater sensitivity to our responsibilities, whether we can ultimately live up to them or not. After all, Meat Writing ties us to something, and no one likes to dine alone.
more meat writing from The Believer here.