The current rage in sustainable agriculture circles is to avoid food waste. But it’s a qualified kind of advocacy. Proponents don’t suggest avoiding the most wasteful forms of agriculture—by eliminating animal products—but instead simply ask us to consume our way out of the problem by eating the whole animal rather than limiting ourselves to the traditional cuts.
This is a troublesome approach for at least two reasons. First, as suggested, it obscures the underlying source of food waste. Eating a pig’s face (or its other end) might seem to be a virtuous example of reducing food waste, but it’s an irrelevant ecological gesture compared to not raising that pig to eat in the first place. In this respect, the current whole-hog ethic is yet another case of wishfully thinking we can eat our way out of a dire environmental predicament. It’s the kind of logic that will take us to our global grave.
Second, and more problematically, this approach to reducing food waste mimics the efficiency of industrial animal agriculture that foodies are so quick to condemn. To a significant degree, the industrial slaughterhouse is the epitome of food waste avoidance—all blood, offal, bone matter is commodified and consumed. Pink slime—lamented by foodies as a sickening outcome of industrial agriculture—is in fact a supremely efficient example of using the whole animal. So is harvesting pig anus as a calamari substitute. And dehydrating blood for dog food. And . . . you get the picture.
There’s an inconvenient underlying fact about environmental virtue. It requires rules and it requires sacrifices. But these often severely infringe on our freedom—in this case, our culinary freedom. Eating rabbit guts, or goat testicles, or the face of a swine might make for an edgy Facebook post, the kind that rock-ribbed devotees of waste reduction like to wave about. But these options are little more than stunts that hide the dark reality of unnecessary and immeasurably wasteful animal slaughter.