The Meat We Eat

The Meat We Eat

I’ve talked before about the River Cottage Meat Book being the the end all be all of meat-related books – and I stand by that.  But as my groaning bookshelves can attest, the world is absolutely full of great books covering all aspects of the meat business – raising animals, sourcing, cutting, marketing, whatever.  One of my favorites is The Meat We Eat, a four pound tome of a reference book that has been a constant companion to many flashier books in the butcher’s library.  It’s dry – you’d be more apt to confuse this for a textbook than for the River Cottage Meat Book (can we start saying RCMB?  I mean, I won’t but maybe let’s think about it).  The Meat We Eat makes up for in sheer depth of knowledge what it lacks in polish; you come away from it’s 1112 pages with information that spans just about every aspect of the business from harvesting methods to HACCP plans and microbial safety.


Yup, it’s technical.

An interesting note about this book is that the first edition was published in 1943.  Over 14 subsequent editions, it’s evolved with the changing state of the meat industry in this country.  It’s still very commodity-centric – if you’re looking for info on grassfed, pasture raised meat, look elsewhere.  The benefit of stark “best practice” type info is that you can see how things are done on a large scale, and integrate that in a way that best suits your current situation.  This book is clearly aimed at professionals in the business.  At home enthusiasts might find the information fascinating (assuming you’re a giant meat dork, which is totally cool with me), but there is probably very little you can actually DO with the knowledge you’d gain from reading it.

As it’s written by meat scientists, The Meat We Eat is very heavy on the scientific aspect of meat production.  There’s more info than you probably ever wanted to know about growth of Staphylococcus Aureus, or depilating hog carcasses.  Unlike almost any other book on the market, this one has footnotes that direct you to studies relevant to what’s being discussed.  It’s one thing to discuss the use of emulsifiers in sausage production, it’s another thing altogether to point readers to Mitraki, et al.’s relevant paper on protein folding defects in commercially available polypeptide binders. Yeah, have a dictionary handy.

At the end of the day, my recommendation isn’t for anyone to read The Meat We Eat straight through.  There’s just a ton more important things you could be doing with your time.  The beauty of this book is that it’s such a broadly focused reference that just about any meat related question you may have can be answered with a quick trip to the index.  From there, you have enough information to move on to more specialized sources – the Marinanski’s books on sausages or Adam Danforth’s great books on slaughter and breakdown.  If my last post inspired you to go out and pick up the River Cottage Meat Book (and it should have), then you could do much worse than putting The Meat We Eat right next to it on the shelf.

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