Veal Piccata vs. Chicken Marsala

The table stiffened with quiet horror as I addressed the server’s question.  “I’ll have the Veal Piccata, please.”

After a period of quiet, the gentleman across the table, a new but friendly acquaintance just made since sitting down to dine, squinted toward me and loudly inquired what I’d ordered.  “Good choice,” he bravely boomed back to me.  “I was going to order that myself.”

No.  No he wasn’t.  Ordering veal is tantamount to ordering a plate of cruelly tortured flesh from the bones of a sweet, loving baby cow.  Ordering veal is an easy way to convey to your table mates that you are a diabolical fiend.  (I would never see them again; I didn’t care.)

However, ordering chicken, pork or beef off of a non-local non-sustainably-farmed menu, while brushing teardrops away as you think of veal, is an easy way to convey that you are delusional.

But, they are correct.  Eating meat raised in dank, tight, dirty places IS pretty disgusting.

Modern-day production of animal meat is ugly.  I hesitate to call it modern, actually.  Confinement farming where animals are kept in giant dark facilities with no room to move, standing butt cheek to eyeball, contaminated air to breathe, and no access to the outside seem like they will soon become part of the ‘dark ages’ of farming. Demands for ‘progressive’ farms that raise animals the old –fashioned way, i.e., with the luxury to walk around outside in fresh air and not live locked in a crate, unable to stand or turn around until death, is rising.

But the overwhelming majority of all meat sold – chicken, pork and beef – comes from these miserable, cruel places.  Read this great article from the Washington Post:  “Your pig almost certainly came from a factory farm, no matter what anyone tells you.”

And chickens!  Foodsafteynews has a great article here.  Revolting, nasty birds, the white broiler chicken is a bird bred for self-destruction. They are Jerry Springer Show freaks.  These poor birds grow breast meat that weighs so much they can eventually not walk to sustain their weight.  Their little bird brains live only to eat, eat, eat, eat.  I know; we used to raise them for our own freezer.  Our birds were allowed outside and they did get fresh air and grass and clean dirt and good feed and plenty of room, so they were basically very healthy versions of what everyone else eats. But, the truth is, they really did not want to go outside and could care less about anything besides never-ending supplies of grain.

I can almost sympathize with the Chicken Factory Farms who keep them inside, crowded so close together they can’t walk, living in a stench so great humans pass out, and feed them for five miserable weeks of life before whacking their heads off, washing off the poop and blood, and sending them to the grocery store.  This breed of chickens actually may not care.  But, you still should.

The spotlight is on these confinement farms; people know and word is spreading.  Change is in the air, but it has not come.

The Veal Industry, in comparison, has had the spotlight on them for the past 25 years.  Everyone hates them.  Our previous barn was a reclaimed Industrial Veal Barn.  I tore down the tiny stalls that were so small the animal couldn’t move; I stacked up the buckets that held their daily formula and cleaned out the trenches that ran beneath them to take their feces away.  (The feces was always liquid as they only consumed liquid.) I did all of this in the dark windowless confines of the barn where they used to live.

Being universally despised can be a really good thing.  Veal farmers had to close up shop and read self-help books for a while on how to make friends with their consumers again.   They puzzled over the break-up.  What was it?  What was the problem?

Was it the innocent youth of the cow that turned people away?  Babies of all sorts were being eaten across the country, from tiny baby bird ‘drummies’ to fancy restaurants boasting about their ‘suckling pig.’ They knew there was a market for the lean, tender, delicious meat that a baby cow provides.

No, babies are delicious; it must be the process of keeping the baby so milk-tender that got everyone’s dander up.  I’d like to note here that from what I have read, the best flavor, marbling and texture of baby beef comes from cows that have been kept with its mother in a natural pasture environment.  But, in their defense, I’m sure depriving an animal of movement, digestible food and other natural variables works, too.

So, the Veal Industry began to change.  It is still changing.  Here is a story from Lancaster Farming that tells their story of change.  

Until factory farms move out of the ‘dark ages’ of industrial scale animal mis-management, ordering the Chicken Marsala is every bit as hard to swallow morally as the Veal Piccata.  Although, next time confronted with no happily raised meat alternatives on the menu, I might just make the better choice and order vegetarian.