Articles

When Backyard Chickens Become Pets: The growing geriatric chicken population

October 15, 2010

story by Kasandra Griffin
photo by Jessica Niello
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

JAMIE REA HAS HAD A ROUGH CHICKEN YEAR. First, the 40-something Portland native found one of her hens disemboweled by marauding raccoons. Then a replacement hen died in a heat wave, and a second replacement “hen” had to be renamed and relocated to a nearby farm when he started crowing. Then Rea’s remaining chicken stopped laying eggs. It may have been a stress reaction to the traumatic events around her, or it could simply have been old age. Lucky (who earned her name after surviving the bloody raccoon attack) is almost six years old, a good four years older than the oldest hens in commercial egg production. “It was sad,” says Rea. “I had to go buy eggs for the first time in five years.”

Rea was an early adopter in the now-booming trend of urban chicken raising. Her ranch-style home in Portland’s Madison South neighborhood sits on the front of a 5,000-square-foot lot. She removed most of the back lawn as soon as she moved in, to make room for a large vegetable garden, and a homemade coop populated with three fuzzy little chicks. “It always made sense to me to grow your own food, and chickens seem like the next step in that. As soon as I found out it was legal, I thought I would get some.”
She got tips from her boss at Kobos Coffee, David Kobos, who keeps a large flock at his rural home in nearby Molalla and gives public lectures on the joys of raising chickens. Unlike Kobos, however, Rea doesn’t have a flock of 50 and the ability to expand it further. Like most urban dwellers, she is constrained by a city code that allows only a few chickens. In Portland, three is the maximum allowed without a special permit.

When Lucky stopped laying eggs, Rea couldn’t bring herself to butcher her, even though that would have made room for another productive chicken. “They’ve been very easy pets to have,” she says. “It’s just heartbreaking when they get killed. I can’t imagine killing one myself, especially not to eat.” In that, she illustrates a new urban problem: People want to get closer to their food, but often that means getting closer to eggs, but not to meat — few want to eat an animal they know by name. When older hens stop laying, the owner runs out of eggs, which were the presumed point of having chickens in the first place.

Her use of the word “pet” is telling. She has a cat and partial custody of a dog, and she acknowledges that those are different kinds of pets, but she doesn’t shy away from using the word to describe her chickens. She named her first flock after characters in Fried Green Tomatoes and gave several others punny names referencing singers, such as Emmy Lou Hennis and Dolly Part-hen. She talks about which breeds are particularly friendly, just like someone discussing poodles versus retrievers: The buff orpington was so snuggly and sweet that he used to sit on her shoulder, whereas the araucanas are always skittish. Asked about the cost of raising chickens, she persists with the “pet” idea. “I see ads for chicken coops on Craigslist for $500, so they do cost a lot, but you spend that much on your dog or cat and they never lay eggs.”

People want to get closer to their food, but often that means getting closer to eggs, but not to meat.

Rea eats meat, and she acknowledges the paradox. “What right do I have to eat meat, if I’m not willing to butcher and process an animal? We’re so removed from what we eat.” But with packaged meat easily available at the grocery store, who would want to eat an animal they know by name?

Chickens in production egg facilities rarely live to their second birthday, because their egg production slows beyond profitability before then. They begin laying eggs at approximately 20 weeks. Their production peaks six to ten weeks later, at which point they lay an egg almost every day. Production then declines for the rest of the hen’s life, with particular drops during winter and the annual molt. Precise production quantity and timing details vary by breed and, more important, by nutrition and living conditions.

When commercial chickens are no longer profitable, they are slaughtered and replaced in the laying houses. Although chickens raised for eggs are different breeds than those raised for the breast and thigh meat found in your local grocery store, their meat does make it to market. They may end up in the chicken pot pie you grab from the freezer case, or in the food you buy for your (other) pets.

Not all urban chicken keepers resist butchering their hens, though. Laura Dalton, the art studio manager at Reed college, tends a large, productive garden on her 7,000-square-foot lot in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood. She grows asparagus, apples, blueberries, and a range of year-round vegetables. Similar to Rea, she wanted to be closer to her food, so she added chickens to the mix in 2007. Unlike many other chicken owners, she got really close. In the fall of 2009, egg production from her first hens declined significantly. Her husband, David Renner, asked and received her permission to butcher them while she was at work. He beheaded the first one with a hatchet, and the second one with a pair of garden loppers, which he reports are easier to handle for a one-person slaughter job.

That was all perfectly legal, according to the Multnomah County Health Department. Code Enforcement Officer Dave Thompson is responsible for issuing permits to raise chickens and other animals within the city of Portland, and says there are no restrictions on backyard slaughter, “as long as it’s done in a humane manner. If it’s abusive or cruel, then it becomes an animal control matter.” The only complaints
he has received so far regarding backyard slaughter have been about larger animals, such as goats and pigs, which make a lot more noise than a chicken.

Regarding the actual meat, Dalton says, “They were tough, but deliciously flavored and made great stew.” Adds Renner, “They actually taste better when you butcher them yourself.”

The couple is happy to go into a lengthy narrative about how Americans have become accustomed to the plain taste of young chicken. Older chicken has a more complex flavor because of all the things it has eaten. “Chickens eat anything,” says Dalton. “And you are what you eat. If you are a two-month-old bird raised on grain in confinement, you’re going to taste pretty bland and boring, with very soft meat, and that’s what people are used to. But if you get out and run around in my yard, you’re going to accumulate flavor from grass, blueberries, bugs, tomatoes, and all the other things a chicken eats, when given the chance. At that point, the meat doesn’t taste like what you buy in the grocery store. It’s good, but it’s different.”

Like Rea, Dalton gave her first flock names from a novel — Ricketts, Pequod, and Grog, all characters in Moby Dick. Also like Rea, she notices the personalities, and talks about them fondly. “I felt kind of sad about the chickens but not sad enough to not eat them. I got attached to my first batch, but I think I will get less attached in the future. The original intention was to raise eggs and meat, and I feel good that it has worked out.”

As for what’s going on in other backyards, Dalton has this to say: “I will be highly amused to see how this pans out. I’m not in a position to judge others on whether they decide to keep their chickens or not. But I think it’s so American to get chickens for eggs and then keep them as pets, because you don’t have the chutzpah to eat them for dinner.”

Rea maintains a different view. “I won’t ever be killing mine. They bring so much to the garden whether or not they’re laying eggs. And I enjoy them so much. They make little noises, they scratch around, they eat table scraps, and they make great compost. They do put you in contact with your food, even when they stop producing it.”

Yes, they do. But they don’t necessarily become your food. They might just become your pets.

“I think it’s so American to get chickens for eggs and then keep them as pets, because you don’t have the chutzpah to eat them for dinner,” Dalton says.


KASANDRA GRIFFIN’s attempts to raise chickens were thwarted by marauding raccoons and neighborhood dogs, but she remains obsessed with building a better coop and trying again. She has worked on environmental policy in Portland, Oregon since 1997, and is currently finishing a master’s in public policy at UC Berkeley with a focus on sustainable agriculture.


JESSICA NIELLO is a painter and photographer living in Oakland, California. As a lover of chickens both as pets and as sandwiches, she is especially optimistic about contributing to this issue.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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The Bunnies of Wartime: A World War II-era DIY meat manual resurfaces

October 15, 2010

book review by Novella Carpenter
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

KEEPING POULTRY AND RABBITS ON SCRAPS is a small, conveniently pocket-sized paperback, with thick bands of green running along the top and bottom, and a single illustration of a dancing penguin. The penguin is dancing, one surmises, because there are no instructions for how to raise and kill its species — unlike the chickens, ducks, and rabbits mentioned inside.

The handbook was first published in the UK in 1941. Bombs were being dropped on England, soldiers were fighting Fascists in far-off lands, and rationing of food was being enforced in most households. I like to think that, while the bombs were hailing down from the sky, some little lady was in the kitchen, crossing herself and stirring a batch of home-made chicken layer mash — a copy of Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps at her side.

The book tells how to raise hens on a mixture of government-issued “Balancer meal” combined with scraps like potatoes, fish waste, and stale bread, and how to keep them alive via coop building, chick rearing, and disease prevention. And then it explains the best way to dispatch them — though the description seems sparse compared with the description of how to kill a rabbit, which comes with photographs of the killing and cleaning process. That section’s author, Claude Goodchild, is an unabashed meat rabbit booster: “The production of rabbit flesh is the most economical means of bridging our present meat difficulty,” he writes. A meat difficulty. Well put, Claude.

Raising animals makes me think that all hell could break loose and I’d still have some eggs to fry, a stewing hen for the pot, or a rabbit stew.

Now, why would I want to know how to improvise livestock feed if I had to? Because lately I’ve been feeling a kinship with that WWII–era chicken lady. No literal bombs are falling over my apartment in Oakland, California — but everything is not entirely right either. There’s an oil spill. There’s massive unemployment. There’s the sense that the entire infrastructure of our government may crumble any day now.

And that’s where raising animals comes in. It makes me feel self-sufficient. It makes me think that all hell could break loose and I’d still have some eggs to fry, a stewing hen for the pot, or a rabbit stew. Assuming I still had electricity or a gas stove. But this is a quibble.

That Penguin rereleased this book in 2008 was prescient. I imagine they had it on the list as a novelty item, destined for the bathroom. But with the financial crisis still unfurling and so many more disasters brewing, I have a feeling the book will increasingly end up in our kitchens, earmarked and battered.


NOVELLA CARPENTER is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. She raises rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats, and bees near downtown Oakland, and blogs about it at novellacarpenter.net.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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Meat in America: Turning offal into energy, and other aspects of small-town butchery in northern Vermont

October 15, 2010

interview by Maria Gould
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

THIS IS THE FOURTH in an ongoing series of interviews about how Americans buy and consume meat. In this installment, Meatpaper checks in with Phil Brown, owner of Vermont Rabbitry and Custom Meat Processing in Glover, Vermont (pop. 966). Here, Phil discusses the pleasures and challenges of running a small business in a small town in a small state.

So, tell me about your business.
I started out raising rabbits and marketing to local supermarkets and restaurants, and started a customer base back in ’87, and have just grown a little bit. In the early stages, I was moving a lot of rabbits to large wholesale accounts, and not really liking the wholesale end of it, so I went back to dealing with my restaurants and my supermarkets and gourmet shops directly. You know, bigger wasn’t better. So we went back to the old “deal with your customers one-on-one and give them the best price you can with the best product you can.” We process on a Wednesday, deliver fresh on a Thursday, vac-packed or not — that’s a new option we offer, the vacuum packing to give them a little more shelf life, but everything is delivered fresh, whole carcass.

Are you still raising rabbits yourself?
No, now I have growers that grow for me. I have three growers that grow the rabbits for me, and I do the marketing for them.

And besides the rabbit growers in St. Albans, you also do custom meat processing?
Yes, for local farmers. Custom meat-cutting is for the farmers’ own use, not for resale. We process moose, bear — any type of great game — along with beef, pork, lamb. It’s something people in this part of the world are into: You grow vegetables all summer; you can them, freeze them, to put them up and get through the winter. It’s a survival thing.

And are the farmers doing the slaughtering themselves? Or are they using mobile slaughterhouses?
The state of Vermont has one of them, but it’s only for turkeys and chickens. They don’t have one for large animals. But I’ve got several good, qualified people that I use. They do a good clean job, a good clean kill. I set them up with a farmer, and they take care of it, and then we hang it up to four quarters, and it hangs for a week or better, and then we cut it off the rail…. Everything is slaughtered on the farm; then it comes to us and we do this end of it. We can only do stuff for the farmers’ own use, not for resale. We’re a State of Vermont–approved custom meat-cutting facility.

What kinds of methods are the farmers using to slaughter the animals?
I would say no different than anybody else. Shoot them, hang them, stick them. Get it done according to humane ways.

Is it state policy that you can’t slaughter and butcher at the same place, or do you just prefer to have the animals slaughtered on the farm?
We’re not state-inspected for the slaughtering end of it. I have been planning on expanding in that direction to put in an on-site slaughterhouse, but there’s a lot more involved than just the slaughtering. I want to compost, and do that end of it, but it all takes a lot of money, and being in a wheelchair, physically I can’t do a lot of that stuff — at least I haven’t figured out how. Because when you compost, you need to move your compost; there’s a lot more involved than just saying you’re gonna compost. If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

But as it is right now, we just butcher for the farmers. They slaughter it on the farm and we process it, do their cut-ups here. The animals have it better. They’re a lot calmer, you’re not getting them aggravated, when they’re killed on the farm. It’s better meat. It’s done immediately, it’s not getting abused to get in the trailer, not all wound up about going into some place where it can smell blood. It’s killed in a pretty relaxed atmosphere when it’s done on the farm. That’s the nice part about it.

But the rabbits are an exception?
Yes. That’s different. We’re able to slaughter them on the premises. There are no restrictions in the state as of yet for rabbits, except that they need to be processed in a state-approved facility, and I’m state-approved. When I started the business, that’s how we started, with the rabbits. And I knew that I needed to use the building a little bit more than just for the rabbits, to at least pay for it. So then I expanded on, and expanded on, and expanded on, and started cutting meat.We cut deer to start with, during the rifle season and the bow season and the muzzle-loader season. And then I got my state inspection for butcherhouse, and just kept moving on and on, trying to survive. Survive and pay the bills.

Has the current growth of the local food movement and interest in local food systems affected your business?
Yeah. We used to move quite a few rabbits to different ethnic groups; now it’s getting more universal. People are getting more educated about what they put in their bodies. And rabbit is one of the best meats on the market. Clean, healthy. A rabbit can’t live in dirty conditions; they can’t survive on dirty water; they have to have the best of the best; they have to be catered to, so to speak. Whereas a chicken can live in any nasty condition you can imagine, and a lot of other animals can, rabbits just don’t — if they’re not taken care of, they don’t do well. And my growers require certain requirements for what they have to do to keep me happy. One is to keep them in all-steel cages, with automatic water systems, and when they come through this door, they have to have white hair on them — they need to be white, not covered with any feces. Good, clean, in and out.

What do you do with the skins and the offal? For the rabbits as well as the other animals?
The [rabbit] hides go right into the dumpster and they go to the landfill, and they’re actually making power with it. I pay to get rid of it. And it goes to Casella’s Waste up in Coventry, and it goes into the landfill. But that stuff has got to be fairly important in making power — the bones, the scraps, the garbage, and all that stuff, once it’s broken down, that must create some gasses.

Same with the organs?
Yes. The heart and liver and kidneys go with the rabbit. The beef is slaughtered on the farm; everything we cut up here is slaughtered on the farm. So I don’t see any of the hides. During the moose season, we skin the moose here, and any of that stuff, they take the heads and hides; they’re required to take them. And usually they’ll tan them, or sometimes they go to the landfill too, or out on the back 40 and feed the coyotes!

Do you do the cutting yourself?
No, I have a guy who’s been cutting meat for 42 years, my main butcher. And I’m, so to speak, his assistant. But he does the main breakdown. Of course, you know, I’m in a wheelchair, so I don’t stand too tall! [Laughs.] But he does the breakdown off the rail. He started in his dad’s store at 15 years old, breaking down his old beef and cutting meat. It’s kind of a funny story: His dad was a meat cutter; he taught my grandmother how to cut meat, and my grandmother, in turn, taught my meat-cutter how to cut meat, and now he pretty much has taught me. It’s been a pretty wild and crazy cycle, how it’s come back around.

So who is next in line?
I don’t have any children, and I don’t have any nieces and nephews that are knocking on the door to come to work. They’re here, and they come to help once in a while, but at this point they’re all young, so I don’t think that they have the interest in it, but one never knows. It’s a tough living. It’s hard on your body parts, your hands. You’re always working in the cold. Arthritis is a common thing. If you look at a meat cutter’s hands, you’ll tell how good they are by the looks of their hands. Because if they haven’t been a meat cutter for very long, their hands are fine.

Do you think that this art and trade is dying out in Vermont, or is there a lot of potential for it to persist?
Oh it is. There’s fly-by-nighters showing up every so often, but how long they last, I don’t know. There are only a few of the old boys left; they’re thinning out rapidly. And all of the meat that comes into the supermarkets now, it’s broken down at the big processing plants. It comes already in the groups, so the people that have any experience in breaking down off the rail are pretty limited. They have no experience in the old style of breaking down off the track.

Any final words or thoughts?
We’re a small company trying to stay small. Bigger isn’t better. That small shop that can take care of your needs, that whole farmers’ market thing, is nice to get back to. The bartering system, dealing with your neighbors, everybody working together to try to get through it. Here in Vermont, we’ve been in such a survival mode for so long, people are like, “God, how is the recession affecting you?” And we’ve never  come out of it! We’ve always been in survival mode.


MARIA GOULD is a freelance editor, full-time graduate student, and part-time vegetable seller.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Cut

October 15, 2010

An excerpt from Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers

interview by Marissa Guggiana
photo by Julio Duffoo
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

 

Sonoma Direct is a USDA-inspected meat plant in Petaluma, California. My family purchased it in 2005, and I have been running it since then. Slowly, I developed relationships with local food producers. A farmer here, a chef there. Along the way, I began to revisit my past life as a writer. Writing about food had always seemed to me like stealing from a moment. What more is there to describe beyond the wordless satisfaction of nourishment and pleasure? But discovering the complications of actually providing local meat brought me to a deeper understanding of the importance of intellectual generosity. To create community through food, we must share our wisdom and our discouragement and solutions. So I wrote a book called Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers (Welcome Books, 2010). As much as providing recipes and cooking techniques, I am sharing the stories of people who have
passionately plodded through the process of providing protein.

Gerrit van den Noord, born in Holland, is the butcher at my meat-processing plant. He had worked for the previous owner and agreed to come on board when we bought the business. I can’t imagine a universe where there is a Sonoma Direct without Gerrit. He is an adventurer and incredibly skilled,
in a way that is both macho and humble. Gerrit has a sense of pride in his work that is almost daunting. In his world, butchering means taking care of his meat cutters and taking care of the building, as well as taking care of the carcass. His masterful knowledge of meat has made it possible for Sonoma Direct to become a resource for local ranchers who want to sell their meat, teaching them about the cuts and their applications. Plus, he is endlessly full of good stories.

I WAS AN ORPHAN AT 16,  and they wanted to put me in a camp. I knew a butcher and his wife, and they wanted me  to live with them instead. They had two kids of their own, a butcher shop downstairs, and they lived upstairs. They paid me under the table. I always had money then. The lady of the house would come down every night and take whatever was left for dinner. I never had a bad meal. There’s no such thing as a bad cut; it’s all about how you cook it.

Then I went to school for butchering, two days a week for three years. I joined the service, and when I came back, I went into carpentry for a while. When I got back to butchering, I worked for a company from Australia. They bought up cattle from all over Europe, and they would call me up and say, Gerrit, we’ve got 500 head in Italy or Austria or France, go take care of it. I did everything. I had 35 butchers working for me. That was a lot of fun. We all stayed in a hotel. Paris was a lot of problems because the people there would take a four-hour lunch break and drink wine. When I brought my guys, if they drank wine, they wouldn’t come back. A lot of the meat came from France; they raised them so the front was small and the back was really big because that’s where the money is.

Then, in Antwerp, we took the meat outside to cut —there were no regulations. Wherever the meat hall was in town, that’s where all the bars and the prostitutes were. In the slaughterhouses there was always a bottle of brandy in every corner; they said it was to keep the flies away. People could drink as much as they wanted and no one said anything. Insurance changed all that. Now people get cut and forget about it.

For several years, I had my own union. We didn’t have unions in Europe then. I knew all the butchers from Holland and Belgium, so the big grocery companies would call me when they were short. I would call my people up and send them out. I got bigger and bigger. I got so tired of it because of taxes. I told Jack, my first hire, that he could have the company and I moved to the United States.

I didn’t know any of the American names for the cuts, but that was easy to learn. Then I went to Tambolinis [a meat processing plant in San Mateo, now closed], and in three months I was running the place. There were two young kids doing all the ground, making $4 an hour. I gave them both a dollar-an-hour raise and Tambolini got so pissed. He said you run the place, but no raises.

I came to this plant to look for work when Simon Samson owned it. I walked in and couldn’t believe it was him. I’d seen Simon around in Holland, but I had no idea he had moved here.

My first boss would pick up every little scrap I missed —It’s all pennies and nickels, Gerrit, pennies and nickels. Of course, then I was making $20 a week. So meat was much more expensive then, relatively. That’s how I learned.

HUNGARIAN GOULASH

Contrary to popular belief, true gulyas does not include sour cream or tomato. What it does require, however, is genuine paprika, imported from Hungary. You can find it at specialty food stores, as well as many supermarkets. Some recipes recommend the addition of sauerkraut, which you can add at the very end, if desired. Serve with egg noodles.

2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 pounds beef or pork for stew,
cut into 1½- to 2-inch cubes
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon fresh or dried marjoram leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons imported Hungarian paprika
2 cups beef stock
1 cup water
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent. Add the beef and brown it on all sides.

Add the caraway seeds, marjoram, garlic, and paprika. Cook for a minute or two to soften the garlic and release the flavor of the paprika. Add the stock and water, and cover.

Simmer the beef over very low heat for 2 hours. (Alternatively, use an ovenproof casserole and cook the
goulash in a 300°F oven.)

Add the potatoes and cook until they are tender, about an hour. season to taste and serve.

Serves 6.


MARISSA GUGGIANA is the author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers. She has also recently established the Butcher’s Guild, in support of a meat industry with integrity and fraternity.


Photographer JULIO DUFFOO was born in Peru and raised in Brooklyn, and is now based in San Francisco. He has photographed people who spend their lives engaged with meat for every issue of Meatpaper since Issue One.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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Holy Sandwich! Edible architecture and the Renaissance section

October 15, 2010

by Nicholas de Monchaux
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

 Fig.1

IN HIS SURVEY of Renaissance architecture, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Rudolf Wittkower uses the buildings of Leon Batista Alberti and Andrea Palladio to advance what has become an enormously influential argument about the relationship between a building’s plan, section, and proportion. As it happens, it is also yet another argument for the enduring appeal of sandwiches.

The argument goes something like this: in their celebrated religious buildings, and in divinely proportioned private commissions such as Palladio’s Villa Rotonda of 1567 (Fig. 1), Renaissance architects developed an idealized vision of architectural proportion. When experiencing such a perfect space first-hand, we are only dimly aware of its true qualities. In order to reveal such a building’s mysteries, we need to look at a very particular kind of architectural drawing, extensively deployed by Wittkower himself: the section.

From the latin secare, or “to cut,” the section is a slice through a building or landscape. While such a slice can technically be in any direction, the word is most often used to refer to a vertical cut, allowing the building’s interior to be viewed from the side. When applied to a building like the Pantheon (a model for much of renaissance architecture,) or Villa Rotonda, the section reveals a precisely perfected layering of space and substance that was contained by what might seem to have been an overwhelming or inscrutable façade.

The effect of the well-proportioned renaissance interior recalls the philosophical musings of Mircea Eliade, Romanian philosopher and author of The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion.(1) In this influential text, Eliade argues the architectural quality of these two spiritual conditions. (Profane, not incidentally, comes from the latin pro-fane, or “outside the temple.”) Eliade contrasts our daily movements around the world in plan (from planum, or the bottom of the foot) with the sectional quality of sacred space, in which we are taken out of this mundane reality into a vertical realm of divine harmony — not incidentally the sectional harmony of sacred space found from temple to mosque to chapel.

And what does this have to do with the sandwich? Atypically, we can find the truth in marketing.

Fig. 2.

When you enter any latter-day temple of the sandwich — from a Venetian sandwich bar to the upmarket Pret A Manger in London or New York — you gaze on a revealing prospect. That is to say, an array of sandwiches (tramezzini in Venice, Fig 2), laboriously assembled from a variety of everyday ingredients, centered on bread, and then sliced, diagonally, to best reveal these contents in all their enticing proportions.

As Alberti wrote of the perfect church, the perfect sandwich is “the noblest ornament of a city and its beauty … surpasses imagination.”(2) The more holy the temple of the sandwich — at Katz’s Deli in New York or Louis’ Lunch in New Haven — the more likely these interior proportions will depart from the humdrum plan-based rectangle of their supporting bread to present a rounded, divine section. That the secret truth of the sandwich is revealed on its sectioning would surprise nobody less than a sandwich gourmet. Alberti’s reflection on perfect proportion in building equally applies to the perfect sandwich, which will “awaken sublime sensations … in such a way that every part has its absolutely fixed size … and nothing could be added or taken away without destroying the harmony of  the whole.” (3) And it is only through the cut that this mystery is revealed.

While the sandwich is thought to be at least a century younger than the Renaissance church, its combination of flavor and economy has ensured that it survives into modern life in a way that sectionally proportioned sacred spaces have not. Recent architectural examples reveal, however, that elegant sectional maneuvers are not lost on contemporary practitioners — especially those that derive their inspiration from the sandwich itself.

Fig 3, Fig 4.

Several notable buildings of the past decade — such as MVRDV’s dutch Pavilion at the Hannover Expo 2000 (Fig. 3) and Kengo Kuma’s Asakusa Tourist Information Center of 2009 (Fig. 4) — provide their architectural delight through a series of maneuvers that would be as anathema to Alberti as they are second nature to a short-order chef. Rather than the precise intersection of spheres, the architecture of such buildings instead relies on the stacking of everyday, even profane, elements  — in the case of the Dutch Pavilion, a polder, forest, and windfarm; in the case of Kuma’s Asakusa Center, a vernacular shed  — and their deliberate elevation through stacking, sandwiching, and then cutting. So revealed, as in the most elegant sandwich, is a nonchalant, overlapping grace. ♥

FIGURES

Fig. 1: Andrea Palladio, (1508-1580) I quattro libri dell’architettura. Volume 1, book 2, plate xv: (London edition, 1715) Villa Rotonda.

Fig. 2: Venetian Tramezzini. (Creative Commons image “La Dolce Vita” by Flickr user Lud Wing.)

Fig. 3: Mvrdv, Dutch Pavilion, Hannover Expo 2000.

Fig. 4: Kengo Kuma, Asakusa Tourist Information Center, Tokyo, 2009.

NOTES

1. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane; The Nature of Religion (New York: harcourt, Brace, 1959).

2. Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Studies of the Warburg institute, v. 19 (London: Warburg institute, University of London, 1949), 6.

3. Ibid., 8.


NICHOLAS DE MONCHAUX is assistant professor of architecture and urban design at UC Berkeley. His work has been published in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Architectural Design (AD), and Meatpaper. He is the author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, from MIT Press.


This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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Saigon Sandwich: Vietnam’s crunchy cross-cultural creation

October 15, 2010

Story by Julie Wan
Photos by Chloe Aftel
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

IT WAS SIX YEARS AGO, but I still clearly remember the first time I tasted banh mi, the internationally popular Vietnamese sandwich. My cousin and I had bought the pork-liver pâté filling from a market in Ho Chi Minh City. When she handed me the little plastic bag filled with brownish paste, I was surprised at how warm it was as I held it in the cup of my hand. At home, we slathered the thick, fatty spread onto fresh bread, and voilà — it was the best breakfast i had ever bitten into.

This was banh mi (pronounced “bun may”) in its original form — a sandwich derived from French- influenced ingredients, a relic from colonial times in Vietnam. Its simplicity recalls skinny Parisian sandwiches with nothing but butter and sometimes ham. But unlike its denser French counterpart, banh mi — which refers to both the bread and the sandwich — is about half the length and usually made with a mixture of wheat and rice flours, giving it a light, crackly crust and an airy crumb.

To the basic bread and pâté, mayonnaise was added, another French-inspired touch. At our home, making mayo was a family affair, with one person slowly dripping oil over a bowl while the rest of us took turns frantically stirring the egg yolk with a pair of chopsticks, beating the orange goo slowly into a creamy lemon-yellow spread that my sister and I licked up with our fingers. Banh mi shops must have a more efficient process, but the best ones still make their mayo in-house with fresh eggs.

In Saigon, the basic sandwich got jazzed up, with a variety of fillings ranging from eggs fried sunny-side up (op la) for breakfast to heartier Vietnamese meats, including grilled pork (thit nuong), grilled chicken (ga nuong), meatballs (xiu mai), and shredded pork skin (bi). The version that’s become most popular is “the special” (banh mi dac biet, also known as banh mi thit nguoi), layered with thinly sliced Vietnamese cold cuts such as pork roll, ham, and headcheese encased in pig skin.

To offset all the rich spreads and salty meats, cooks add julienned strips of carrot and daikon radish pickled to a tangy sour-sweet perfection. and what is Vietnamese food without fresh herbs and vegetables? The meats are topped with a couple of sprigs of cilantro, along with a spear of cucumber and a few slices of chili pepper or jalapeño. The finishing touch is a dash of the Swiss seasoning sauce known as Maggi, though in a pinch, soy sauce can also work.

In the United States, banh mi has long been popular in Vietnamese enclaves in southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, as well as Houston, Texas. At the chain Banh Mi Che Cali, the sandwich is sold at an ongoing buy-two-get-one-free deal. Old-timers who recall when banh mi used to cost $1 still gripe about the whopping $2.50 price tag now attached to the sandwich.

During recent years, the banh mi craze has spread to the rest of the United States, and the sandwich has attracted a cult following from coast to coast. Because who wouldn’t love the banh mi’s mash-up of Eastern and Western influences; its melding of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy flavors; its satisfyingly creamy, crunchy, and crispy textures, all packed into one bite?

 In New Orleans it’s been affectionately dubbed the “Vietnamese po boy”; in Philly, the “Vietnamese hoagie”; and in other places, the “Saigon sub.” Food trucks like Nom Nom in Los Angeles and Rebel Heroes in Northern Virginia bring the sandwich to the people, announcing their locations each day via twitter.

In New York City, where everything gets a makeover, the banh mi has been reinvented into a hip urban sandwich. Though down-to-earth favorites like Banh Mi Saigon Bakery in Chinatown are still popular, trendy delis and cafés with catchy slogans and clever designs have popped up all over the city. Xie Xie in Hell’s Kitchen sells a sandwich inspired by cha ca Hanoi, a dish of turmeric fish and dill. Baogette, which has three locations in Manhattan, serves a Sloppy Bao that includes spicy curry beef and green mango. Williamsburg is a hive of hip banh mi joints in itself, home to Nha Toi, where you can get a banh mi pho inspired by Vietnam’s classic beef noodle soup, and Northeast Kingdom, where the Bushwick banh mi includes pig’s head and foie gras mousse.

A product of cross-cultural exchange to begin with, perhaps banh mi is a natural vehicle for continuing innovation. But for many Vietnam natives, including me, nothing satisfies like a good ol’ banh mi dac biet — that no-fail, on-the-go lunch companion, that road-trip meal of choice, that perfect late-night snack. ♥


JULIE WAN is a DC-based freelance writer who is not afraid to travel far for a good meal. She writes a food blog at meatlovessalt.com, which archives recipes and stories from her Chinese-Vietnamese family.


CHLOE AFTEL splits her time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. You can see more of her work at chloeaftel.com.


This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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He’s Got the Whole World In His Bread: The Earth Sandwich

October 15, 2010

story by Marissa Guggiana
illustration by Emily l. Eibel
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

THE CONCEPT IS SIMPLE: locate the spot directly across the planet from you, find someone there, and then both place a piece of bread down on the ground, sandwiching the world.

It’s the execution that’s difficult. A little investigation quickly told me what my recollections of elementary school geography did not: my exact opposite is in the Indian Ocean, southeast of Madagascar. Without the aid of a very earnest seaman, this was going to prove an unlikely effort.

The earth sandwich was created by Ze Frank, a man whose blog is a clutter of ideas that invite action and collaboration. Frank believes that an act of heroism, even silly heroism, can elevate. and what could be more heroically silly than turning this whole mess of a world into cosmic, symbolic lunch?

“The fact that the earth has never been a sandwich,” says Frank, “is probably why everything is so fucked up.” Surely there are other reasons. But symbols are powerful, and there is a messy charm in Frank’s thought processes that is found in many great sandwiches.

So far, there have been only a few completed earth sandwiches, due to complications of politics as well as geography. The first was a diplomatic collaboration between Spain and Australia. One Fijian attempted to complete his sandwich by contacting an embassy in Mali. He was told that certainly it could be done, but it would cost him.

Though there is, perhaps a way, to bypass all that. Doc Searls took a single slice of bread and made an open-faced earth sandwich. This poses philosophical problems but is probably just as delicious. ♥


 MARISSA GUGGIANA is the author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers. She has recently established the Butcher’s Guild, in support of a meat industry with integrity and fraternity.


 EMILY L. EIBEL works as an artist and illustrator in Brooklyn, New York, but hails from Ohio. Her work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally. Visit her website at emilyeibel.com.


This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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A Noble Snack: How the sandwich got its name

October 15, 2010

interview by Malia Wollan
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

JOHN MONTAGU IS LORD SANDWICH. The 67-year-old is the 11th Earl of Sandwich and a member of the British House of Lords. Sandwiches as we know them were named after his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, also named John Montagu. 

The Sandwiches are now in the business of selling sandwiches. 

Lord Sandwich opened the first Earl of Sandwich franchise in 2004 at Disneyland in Florida together with his second son, Orlando Montagu (whose older brother will eventually become the 12th Earl of Sandwich), and Hard Dock Cafe and Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl. 

There are 13 sandwich shops open and 10 more under construction across the United States and Europe selling Earl of Sandwich–themed vittles like “The Full Montagu” (roasted beef, turkey, Swiss and cheddar cheese, lettuce, Roma tomato, and “Earl’s Mustard”) and “The Earl’s Grey Lemonade” (lemonade and Earl Grey tea). 

First, sir, would you please describe for me your version of the story of the origin of the sandwich? 

The term was first used in 1762 after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, was seen among men and women eating meat between bread. My interpretation is that like everyone, he was a busy man; he was someone who had to use the other hand for reading, writing, and other purposes. He was seen having it, and then people started saying, “I’d like one like Sandwich.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica calls him a “profligate gambler” and says the term was coined after he spent 24 hours at a gambling table eating only sandwiches. 

That is an absurd explanation.

The 4th Earl of Sandwich had a distinguished public service career. He ran the British Navy. He funded the explorations of Captain James Cook. Do you ever find it strange that his legacy, and the legacy of your family title, is as the originator of the sandwich? 

You mean something so very trite as the sandwich? 

Not trite exactly, just that he had this full life but that the world remembers him for this peculiar detail about his preference for meat squeezed between bread. 

I think he would have been rather amused. He was that sort of person. He was a bon viveur. He had many different interests. apart from the fact that he enjoyed going out in the company of ladies and had two large families himself, he would have been amused that this is the tradition that survived all the others.

He sponsored Captain James Cook’s exploration of the Hawaiian Islands, which were subsequently called the Sandwich Islands. Have you ever been to Hawaii? 

I’ve never been, though my father used to go often. There were a lot of different places named for the family. In Australia, there is an island off the Great Barrier Reef which carries one of the three family names, Hinchingbrooke. There’s the Montagu state in Tasmania, and there are the South Sandwich islands, as well as Hawaii. In Canada you find the name as well.  It was the age of discovery, and they were using the names of the prominent men of the time.

When your son Orlando first approached you about the idea of an Earl of Sandwich franchise, what was your reaction? Did you have any hesitation about capitalizing on the Sandwich family lore? 

The family joke has always been that if we could have  a royalty on every sandwich in the world, then we’d rescue the family fortunes. We’ve got a good story. It’s pretty unique in the world. Every single small town has a sign saying sandwich. I don’t know of any other name of any family that is in that position. I think the world would expect us to have a bit of fun as a family. If it is an investment, it may also help  to restore some of the valuable things that have remained in the family historically. When it was mentioned that he wanted to start a family company himself, I was very excited. It has proved to be very successful in the United States.

When you see the word sandwich, which you likely see multiple times a day, do you feel a sense of ownership of the name, or have you become blind to it? 

I’m mostly blind to it, really. Sandwich is a title, not a name. Montagu is the family name. We think of ourselves as the Montagu family.

How would you characterize the differences between American sandwiches and British sandwiches? 

I congratulate America for the quality of food and especially bread that I found when I went to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The idea in England that the Americans can’t make a good sandwich is simply not the case. Here we have a tradition of railway sandwiches. When I was much younger, there was only a triangular sandwich which was served up in British railways. The bread was plastic. The ingredients were dull, and we just knew that England was not the home of sandwiches at that time. Since then, the influences have come in from France and the United States. Now you can get as good a sandwich here as you can hope to have. For the record, the House of Lords now serves a very good sandwich. I’m glad to say we can do it even in Parliament.

What’s your favorite sandwich? 

I tend to eat the sort of sandwiches that hold together. They’re quite simple sandwiches, unlike the multistoried ones that you can get now. I’m still quite attached to the traditional beef sandwich with salad, but I eat chicken sandwiches.

What’s your least favorite sandwich? Something you will never order or eat? 

When it becomes mixtures of fruit and cheese and meats, these are the things I’ve occasionally had to taste. Anything that is more than two or three ingredients I reject.

Many of the Earl of Sandwich shops are opening in airports. Airports are notorious for bad food. Are you at all worried that their negative reputation might sully the business? 

The quality of our sandwich is going to bring people away from all those other terrible places. ♥


MALIA WOLLAN is a Meatpaper editor and contributor to the New York Times.


This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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Gun, with Sandwich: The Internet horde decodes Radiohead

July 15, 2010

story by Toby Warner
illustration by Katherine Streeter
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

“YOU WANT ME?” WAILS THOM YORKE. “Fucking well come  and find me / I’ll be waiting / With a gun and a pack of sandwiches.”

And then the question that comes to everyone’s mind: Sandwiches?

The Radiohead song “Talk Show Host” was released as a B-side for “Street Spirit: Fade Out” in 1996. It never appeared on a proper album but garnered a huge cult following when its haunting minor chord melody became Romeo’s theme in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. 

Like any genre, music journalism has its conventions and taboos. For me, learning to write about music for money meant forgetting how I heard pop music as a teenager. The first three cassettes I bought, at age 12, were NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, Ace of Base’s The Sign, and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II. I learned never to admit this. I learned to bracket my enthusiasm, flaunt specialized knowledge, and, above all, not appear to obsess over the lyrics.

Radiohead has never spoken publicly about the sandwiches in “Talk Show Host.” They declined to talk to us about it, on the grounds that they don’t talk to hardly anyone anymore. But if Radiohead doesn’t have any theories to share, the Internet hive mind has them in abundance.

Alongside all the professional chatter about pop music online, there is another, much larger conversation going on. It’s a conversation taking place in the comments sections of all those lyrics sites that pop up whenever you search for a song. There, people are talking about what songs mean. And in the case of “Talk Show Host,” what those sandwiches mean.

Here (in brief and verbatim) is what the internet  has to say:

1. The “gun and sandwiches” is, in my opinion, referring to the preparation one must undergo in order to be in the position of celebrity status. 

2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination — the death that triggered WW1, could be referenced in this song by the line: ‘With a gun and a pack of sandwiches’  

Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Ferdinand missed on the first go so he wandered off to buy a sandwich. When he came out, with his GUN AND HIS SANDWICH it just so happened Ferdinand was passing by and he shot him. 

3. the want has driven him so mad that he has an attitude where if someone rejects him, he’ll be completely angered. “a gun and a pack of sandwiches” — if the person he’s with likes him, he’ll eat a pack of sandwiches with them — but if they don’t like him he’ll hurt them

4. i cant really avoid seeing the song in an erotic way… cant get past the “you want me? fuckin come on and break the door down” yeah its hottt  

as for “waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches”… you’re waiting for that person to come on a wild journey with you… like PLEASE IM WAITING 

5. Sandwiches are casual. If you were shaking-in-your-boots scared of facing something/someone, would you be eating a sandwich? No. You couldn’t stomach it because of nerves. Maybe the guy is either fearless or hardened. Just musing. 

6. I actually thought this song was about a talk show host in the 60’s who was losing his job and his wife left him and everything and he went nuts one night and locked himself in the stage room and held hostages and stuff. The only thing he had was the gun, sandwiches, and everything else had been taken away from him. The cops ran in and killed him, but this song is like a sympathy for the devil situation. 

7. i always think of the sandwiches as pb&j’s … specifically chunky peanut butter and black raspberry jam … and then i get hungry. 

8. A guy with some kind of sociophobia have nothing to offer but expects some girl starts to love him. He’s locked in his room, sad and introspective… He ain’t beautiful, rich or whatever… Females look for the strongest males in the animal world cause they want to feel safe and have access to food. This still a hidden instinctive characteristic of women. So the guy feels weak and all he can offer is the gun (security) and the pack of sandwiches (food). In other words, he is a complete freak and the only way he could gets into a relationship is to have a woman “breaking his door down”. 

9. “I’ll be waiting/ With a gun and a pack of sandwiches” All of us live in a world outside of nature through our own technological defenses such as a gun, and supplies to survive while waiting– sandwiches in this case. 

10. This song is about eating sandwiches sexily, obviously. 

* * *

It seems like every few weeks someone writes a new opinion piece bemoaning how dire, uncivil, and just plain nasty the anonymous online public has become. Sure, the Internet is full of trolls, but it’s also full of the strange, dreamy, absurd, and incredibly personal relationships that we can have with pop music. Even if we don’t always own up to it. ♥


TONY WARNER was the editor of Boldtype from 2005 to 2010. He has also written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Flavorpill, the Columbia Journalism Review, and ArtistDirect. He is a lifelong sandwich enthusiast;  guns, not so much.


KATHERINE STREETER lives in New York City, where she works on mixed-media collage painting and vintage-fabric-wrapped dolls. She has been published and exhibited internationally and is currently working on a book of collected pieces. You can see more of her work at katherinestreeter.com.


This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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The Sandwich That Changed My Life: True stories from Meatpaper readers

July 15, 2010

This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

Upon going through reader-submitted essays on the topic of “The Sandwich That Changed My Life,” we never expected that the most compelling would be so heavy on (a) love and (b) pastrami. In the same way that people say you never really know a person until you fight them, perhaps you never truly know a person until you see them confronted with an extremely messy, exuberant sandwich. And so: two stories. One about sandwiches and love lost, and another about sandwiches and love found.

— Heather Smith

SANDWICHES, AND LOVE LOST

I MET FRANCESCA WHILE LIVING IN ITALY. I called her Franky because I loved her. We traveled a lot together and ate sandwiches on the way. Like mile markers on a trail, they told us where we were going, who we had become. In Sicily: dry salame and caciocavallo on crusty loaves. Driving across Wyoming and Nebraska: turkey on rye. In France: baguettes and jambon fumé. The last we ate in a parked car in Chartres while the afternoon rain thumped on the hood. Between bites I suddenly told Franky that I wanted to marry her. I had no ring, no plan. It just came out, unexpectedly. The stained glass, the rain, and the sandwich had come together and flushed my secret out of hiding.

She wanted to come join me in New York. She visited, and often, but time passed and she lost her nerve. One day, Franky boarded the plane home, and we both silently knew it was her last.

Years after the breakup, we finally spoke on the phone. We spoke elliptically, in code, stepping around that wreck in the middle.

Francesca asked me if I remembered the roast beef on pumpernickel.

For her last flight back, I had built her a glorious sandwich. A teetering opus stacked with market tomatoes, onions, pickles, deli mustard, celery salt, and grated fresh horseradish. The thing was glamorous, loud, and delectable. New York on pump. But it was not built for travel. She said that on the airplane she unwrapped the sandwich to find it falling apart in her hands. The bread was soaked through. She ate the sandwich, piecemeal, with her fingers.

“Franky…,” I started. But there was nothing to add. It was all there, already, in the sandwich.

ZANE D. R. MACKIN

 

SANDWICHES, AND LOVE FOUND 

A MOTEL ROOM ON SUNSET, NEAR LA BREA. A fervid afternoon of lovemaking.

Sometime later, the curtains warm with the setting of the sun, he said, “What is it you desire?”

I looked up at him and gave a blissful sigh: “A hot pastrami sandwich.”

Not the answer he’d expected, but he took it well. He’d been mostly vegetarian until he got himself a Jewish girlfriend. He wrote a six-word memoir that went, “Vegetarian meets Jewish girl: eats pork.”

We got dressed and walked the mile and a half to Fairfax. I was very excited. Though I’d grown up here, I hadn’t been in L.A. for nearly a decade.

Canter’s deli serves the best damned pastrami. Ever. Formative pastrami. Pretentious media critic pastrami. Kosher punk rock pastrami. After crashing a party in the Hollywood Hills pastrami.

And now? Postcoital pastrami.

Quickly seated, we ordered the sandwich. The septuagenarian waitress said, “What do I get for customers a couple amateurs? Oy.” One, she said, was not enough to share. She’d bring an extra half.

It arrived. The bread was steamy warm. The caraway seeds were about to sprout. The crust was tough and chewy. Mustard? Russian dressing? Pshaw. The pastrami, its pellicle smoked to near black, melted on the tongue. The fat ran down your chin.

He took a bite. I watched. Bliss washed over his face.

He took a second bite. I sighed. Now he understood.

We ordered another.

TAYLOR THORNE, South Louisiana


HEATHER SMITH is an editor at Meatpaper.


This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
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