Meatpaper SEVEN

The Pork Provacateur
One person’s reverence is another’s revulsion when it comes to the source of a meal

story by Kelly Stewart
photo by Alicia Rose

MARCH, 2009

Naomi Pomeroy by Alicia Rose

IT'S NOT OFTEN that a restaurant advertisement sparks indignation, but that’s what happened recently when Naomi Pomeroy — chef at the meat-focused bistro Beast in Portland, Oregon — posed for a photograph with an eviscerated 30-pound suckling pig slung over her shoulder. Pomeroy fielded angry calls and e-mails from people across the country in response to the image. In a recent conversation with Meatpaper, Pomeroy said her experience shows that many of us are still uneasy about the provenance of our protein.

You caused quite a stir recently by being photographed cradling a dead pig to your chest for an advertisement for your restaurant, Beast. How did the idea for this image come about?
We were going to get live pigs [for the shoot], but it sounded like it would be hard to get in a picture with live pigs. Everyone knows from Charlotte’s Web, it’s hard to rustle a pig. I thought, what about an image of me with baby pigs? Then I thought, that’s really kind of harsh — little, tiny baby pigs, and a chef? I realized that I could get a pig from my main purveyor, Carlton Farms, that comes eviscerated. I just started to do the shoot [with me] stuffing it and making some sausage. And so we did a bunch of different shots with the pig. For me, it started out differently than it ended up. I didn’t go into it thinking I wanted to cause people to feel a certain way about this image. It was spontaneous.

Why did you choose this particular image to represent Beast?
Using it was representative of who I am. I care so much about what I do because I know the people who source this product in the first place. It’s the same with meeting your food — the idea that if you eat meat, your food had a face. And if you do eat meat, you should be presented with the idea that in order to eat that product,you took a life.

What reactions did you get from people who saw the image?
A woman called and left several messages about how we were brutal murderers and we were the real beasts. I saved the messages because it’s so interesting to hear how distraught [she was]. It was so strange, the idea that somebody would have the right to suggest that somebody else’s ideas about food were wrong, because [food] is what sustains us. And I had another person recently who got really angry on the phone: What message am I trying to get across, and what am I trying to say with that dead pig? I just said, “Do you eat meat?” He said yeah, and I said, “It’s meat, and it was all living once.” He [said], “I don’t know why you have to throw that in people’s faces.”

But then I’ve had people write and say that they were moved to tears by [the photograph], that it was a striking and beautiful image, and that obviously I cared about what I did. For me, it keeps coming back to this idea that people want to believe that their meat comes in a little package at the supermarket. I think that’s really sad. I mean, [slaughtering an animal] is a hard thing to justify. But in the end, if you can’t bring yourself
to look at [a dead animal], then I think it would be pertinent to decide whether you really should be eating meat or not.

What did you learn from the feedback that you got from the image?
I learned that people don’t want to know. I learned that there are people that have already gotten to that level — they shop at farmers’ markets and they maybe will gethalf a steer with their friend and put it in their freezer. Those kinds of people, they’re cool with it. But people who are so enmeshed in this culture of prepackaged and convenience food, they are not ready. It hasn’t been that long since everybody had chickens in the back and had to kill them. It’s strange how fast it’s evolving, and it’s important to me to slow the process down.

Can you tell me more about the pig?
We ended up naming her Petunia. We made a porchetta out of her, and she was delicious. How cool is it for this pig to have died to teach people about their food? If it caused people some suffering, I’m sorry. If it caused people some knowledge and interest in finding out the sources of the things that they eat every day, then that’s the message.

The subject of meat, in general, is saturated with testosterone. Hunting and grilling are associated with men. But two women run the kitchen at Beast. Do you think being a woman gives you a unique perspective on the subject of meat?
Interestingly enough, one of the reasons why we decided to make it a meat-driven restaurant is that we found the irony in that weird juxtaposition. [Sous-chef Mika Paredes and I] are small and feminine, and it’s just odd seeing us slinging all this meat around. It’s totally a masculine thing, but we just set out to change that. I feel like women have a tenderness, a delicate touch, a palate that’s different.

Have you ever slaughtered an animal yourself?
No, I haven’t. You know, I have challenges with it, just like anybody. My heart suffers a little bit with the idea of going and slaughtering that pig myself. I’m comfortable seeing it and working with it, and thanking it for giving me its life. But looking it in the eyes and then running a knife across its throat, I don’t know. I think I’ll get there because I’ve made a goal for myself. I need to be able to take down an animal and feel OK with it, because I work
with them so much.

You said earlier that you were a vegetarian for seven years. Why did you decide to become a vegetarian?
I was 18, and I was environmentally driven. I wasn’t ever the kind of vegetarian who thought that eating meat was really wrong. I was just uncomfortable with the ethics of it. I have friends who don’t eat meat because they feel it’s consuming something that has died, and what does that do to the inside of your spirit? I can still see why people feel that way. However, I feel that it’s part of the cycle of life and death. There’s a system in the way thatthings have worked for a long time. And Ithink that it’s OK to consume animals. But thereason I’ve been able to come around to it is the reverencethat I have for it, in terms of just appreciating that pig. Honestly, I actually thanked the pig.

What made you return to eating meat again?
It happened for a practical reason. A woman hired me to be her personal chef. She wanted meat, and I knew, as a cook, you can’t ever cook something that you haven’t tasted. It was little strange at first. It wasn’t offensive to me. I was ready.

I’m omnivorous and I think that most cooks are. I want to try everything, and I just realized that my hedonistic, passionate side is really the more true side of me than the ascetic, quiet [side]. I have both of those qualities, but for eating purposes and drinking purposes I prefer to delve into everything.

KELLY STEWART is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. She has contributed to The Christian Science Monitor,, Seattle magazine, Portland Monthly, and Zagat Survey guidebooks.

ALICIA J. ROSE is a photographer, accordionist and music promoter living in Portland, Oregon. Formerly a 20+ year fisheating vegetarian, she will now eat ANYTHING. Well, almost.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Seven.