Thursday, December 20, 2007
Meat to Wrap the Mind Around
By OLIVER SCHWANER-ALBRIGHT
IN September, when Sasha Wizansky and Amy Standen published the inaugural issue of Meatpaper, a slender magazine that is, according to the cover, "Your Journal of Meat Culture," they weren't entirely surprised that both omnivores and vegetarians responded enthusiastically.
"Responsible meat eating could hold its own as a philosophical position with people who are vegetarian," Ms. Standen said. "Meatpaper is about every way of looking at meat. I think of it as a magazine that's just as intended for vegetarians as it is for meat eaters."
"It's about their response to meat," Ms. Wizansky added. "And there are so many ways of responding to meat."
This week the second issue of Meatpaper, a quarterly based in San Francisco, hits newsstands. Its responses to meat are unflinching, and often humorous: a deliberation as to whether the Bible bans blood sausage, a photo essay on found meat, a married couple discussing cannibalism. (Not to give anything away, the husband both offers himself up and resigns himself to eating his companion, while the wife dodges the question.)
The magazine names the present moment, when braised pork belly is comfort food and savvy diners know their Charolais from their Chianina, the "fleischgeist," or spirit of meat.
"We get e-mails from people who say, 'We're trying to get more in touch with our animal ethic - my friends and I are going in on a whole pig, and we're going to learn all the traditional ways to process it,'"Ms. Wizansky said last week over a platter of house-cured salumi at Perbacco, a busy California Street restaurant in San Francisco.
"It's amazing how often we hear that," Ms. Standen said, taking a sip of lambrusco. "I don't know why, but our version of back-to-the-land is culinary."
Ms. Wizansky and Ms. Standen met while working at Salon, the online magazine. Last year Ms. Wizansky, now an independent graphic designer, asked Ms. Standen, a reporter for KQED public radio, to join with her in editing Meatpaper. Both are in their early 30s, and both were once committed vegetarians. ("We find over and over again that bacon is the conversion meat," Ms. Standen said. "Bacon is how vegetarians change their minds.") But having spent some time eating abroad - beef in England, foal in Slovenia - they devoured Perbacco's ramekin of ciccioli, a rich pâté of shredded pork.
"Sasha is an incredibly brave eater, and by far the braver of the two of us," Ms. Standen said. "She will eat anything, and it's a source of my undying admiration."
"So far I haven't met the meat I wouldn't eat," Ms. Wizansky said. "But maybe I haven't traveled enough to meet that meat."
"What could it be?" Ms. Standen asked. "Some organ? We ate duck testicles a few weeks ago at Incanto. They were very tasty."
"They were mild," Ms. Wizansky said. "Like unassuming little sausages."
Chris Cosentino, the Incanto chef, contributed to the second issue with "Captain Beef Heart," an article about his favorite offal. But if his recipe (for grilled beef heart salad) is the only one that appears in the magazine, it's because Meatpaper, which has a circulation of 3,200, sees itself less a food magazine than an interdisciplinary art journal, more Esopus than Cook's Illustrated. It explains why it's available in New York not only at Marlow & Sons, the general store and pub in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but at Project No. 8, the chic clothing boutique on the edge of Chinatown.
But Ms. Wizansky and Ms. Standen have no interest in turning Meatpaper into an elitist polemic: they celebrate the fleischgeist and so far have held two publication parties, with loose plans for a third. "Meat makes a better party," Ms. Standen said, explaining that at the second party even vegans enjoyed themselves around a table of cured meat. "It's a little bit raunchy, kind of gross - it's salty and savory."
"It riles people up, but in a good way," Ms. Wizansky added. "People get very enthusiastic."
"Because they're daring each other to taste these things," Ms. Standen said. "There's a certain daredevil aspect to it."
"Even the American barbecue is like that," Ms. Wizansky said. "Meat is one of the only foods that can be the centerpiece of a gathering." And, as they have shown, an entire magazine.