The Celebration of Suffering: Cutting through the Fatback

Below is an announcement that I received via e-mail, followed by my interpretation of it. I have sent my thoughts to the organizers. 
On February 29 — on the eve of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival and the Southern Foodways Alliance, along with Fatback Collective members, will pitch their tent in Marion Square Park. The SFA documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The Fatback Collective is a cadre of the region’s civic-minded food folk. Together, they will serve up: Honest food. Hip films. Good company. Porgy Tosses.
Here’s half the menu. The other half is a secret:
Potlikker, perfumed with Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham
Rappahannock River Oysters, bathed in barbecue sauce
Fatback Pig Project Berkshires, cooked Alabama Asado style
Border Springs Lambs, cooked Williamsburg (County) style
To drink:
Brown whiskey drinks, shaken to a froth by LeNell Camacho Santa Ana, mistress of cocktails for Little Donkey, straight outta Birmingham, Alabama
On the screen:
Joe York-directed SFA-produced films:
Cured, a hymn to Tennessee ham and bacon man Allan Benton
Dori, a profile of South Carolina peach farmer and novelist Dori Sanders
Eggers, a tale of harvesting paddlefish for their roe on the Mississippi River
Deadliest Throw, a glimpse at the Interstate Mullet Toss on the Alabama-Florida border
Pride & Joy, a prequel to the hour-long SFA opus on Southern food culture
Tickets, priced at $75 per person, include food, drink, and films, and are ON SALE NOW. A generous percentage of the proceeds will be benefit local nonprofit Charleston Chefs Feed the NeedTickets are available by advance purchase only. Snap them up quickly; last year, they sold out in 4 days. Click here to buy. Email here with questions.
——————————————–
In fact, I do have questions. To what lengths will foodies not go to obscure the suffering of sentient animals in the rationalizations of history, feasting, gluttony, and self-promotion? The advertisement claims that “honest” food will be served, but wouldn’t an honest approach to the meals served at this event reveal that they’re ultimately rooted in the  slaughter of innocent animals that, in some cases, are as intelligent and emotionally aware as the dogs we keep as pets?  Sure, that might take the fun out of the affair, but somebody needs to burst this bubble of cruelty masquerading as cultural exploration. Plus, it might also encourage us to look at the ways foodie culture employs language and stereotypical notions of history to distract consumers from the hard realities of food production, all the while promoting the interests of those who profit from our distraction. Terms such as “fatback collective,” “ham and bacon man,” and “porgy tosses” have a cute ring to them. But only a moment’s reflection brings to mind the phrase, “the banality of evil.” And is it really necessary to glorify a stupid “cultural” expression known as the “mullet toss”? Grown adults throwing fish across the Alabama-Florida border? For real? Might it not make more sense to explore how the global fish supply is in increasing trouble, and suggest that people who think it’s okay to engage in a “mullet toss” are either clueless, idiots, or both? Finally, the ad mentions that this event will explore “the food cultures of the changing American south.” As far as I can tell, though, what’s highlighted is a traditional regional diet that has made the American south one of the unhealthiest places in the world.
–James McWilliams
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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

5 Responses to The Celebration of Suffering: Cutting through the Fatback

  1. jotyler says:

    Love.

  2. ruthhawe says:

    Well written James – Sadly I should imagine their response, should you receive one at all, will be along the lines of :
    !) Don’t foist your extremist views on others
    2) we are supporting local food producers, locally sourced blah blah
    3) who provide employment for…….families who would otherwise be homeless
    4)Don’t rain on our parade, you killjoy
    5)Don’t you have anything better to do?
    6)Go pick on someone else

    It is disheartening when we put our energy, time, and focus into writing like this, only to get silence or antagonists. Personally I have never received a response which says anything like:
    “Dear Mr.McWilliams,
    Wow, what an eye and heart-opener your letter was! Thank you so much for showing me what my food choices are costing the earth and other species. I am only sorry that someone did not draw my attention to these sad truths decades ago. You have inspired me to spend what lifetime remains to me in spreading the word to everyone around me. On behalf of the animals saved by your words, I want to send you blessings and gratitude.

    Yours Sincerely,

    a former Fat Back Collective member.
    In fact I might just write myself one of these, to cheer myself up the next time I get flamed by angry carnos! Meanwhile, we just keep doing what we feel we must, for the suffering innocents.

    Love and Joy,
    Ruth

  3. BlessUsAll says:

    Dear James,

    If I were an honest person who happened to be a member of the Fatback Collective out of ignorance, family tradition, cultural indoctrination and other understandable reasons, I would tear up my membership card upon reading your response.

    I would also toss out all the products I have in my house that are made from animals.

    And I would visit the nearest farmed animal sanctuary, get to know the residents as intelligent, emotion-laden individuals, and then make a sizable donation for their care.

    I have a feeling, though, that what masquerades as honesty is simply a cover for unadulterated gluttony and for cowardly reluctance to face DIShonesty in the mirror.

    As to the repentant response from “Love and Joy, Ruth” — well, we can hope and pray that there exists one such member who is ready to be enlightened.

    And if any Fatback is reading this, I say: “You don’t know what true freedom and happiness feels like until you’ve chosen to leave behind a thought process and lifestyle that kills the freedom and happiness of your beautiful creature kin.”

  4. Priscilla says:

    While I agree with all you have written about this atrocious event, I have to add a thing or two about the mention of Rappahannock River oysters. As a native of the Chesapeake Bay area, I am particularly attune to the terrible problems that factory farming has caused our nation’s largest estuary. Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center unveiled its Top 10 Endangered Places list for 2012. Included on the list was the Chesapeake Bay (http://www.southernenvironment.org/about/top_10_2012/chesapeake_bay/)
    Why is the Bay endangered? Because of the fertilizer, animal waste, and silt running off from factory farms and the millions of acres of grains grown to feed these farmed animals. (As illustrated by this short quiz: http://www.bayactionplan.com/2011/04/chesapeake-bay-pollution-quiz-2/)

    But getting back to the oysters… I find it laughable that this event advertises Rappahannock River oysters as if that were a point of pride. The Rappahannock River is heavily polluted. It was given a C- in the most recent Chesapeake Bay ecosystem health report card (http://ian.umces.edu/ecocheck/report-cards/chesapeake-bay/2010) . As oysters are filter feeders, they accumulate the myriad of toxins that are being dumped into the watershed every day, much of it from agricultural operations. Why is it a delicacy to eat, quite literally, crap?

    I am a Southerner through and through but I want no part of a culture that has destroyed the pristine waters of the Chesapeake Bay through the torture and killing of millions of farm animals.

  5. Provoked says:

    In some ways though – I wonder if even acknowledging their backward, cruel “customs” doesn’t fuel the fire? I’ve met far too many people who wallow in the notion that they come from “trash”. Their words – Not mine.

    Specifically in the instance of picking up a cookbook called “White Trash BBQ” – I thumbed through the pages and each image reinforced that title… Especially the down-home instructions on butchering a pig. To use the words of one of their own rabble: You can’t fix stupid.

    Let’s hope we can influence those who can think for themselves… And who will in the end make the differences that really count! 😉

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