The Meat of the Matter

Justine Sterling

These days, the politics of the plate have grown passionate and partisan, soy-loving vegans on one side of the aisle and blood-stained disciples of the butcher on the other. Out of this fray and spoiling for a fight comes Scott Gold, blogger and author of the new memoir and meat lover's manifesto The Shameless Carnivore.

His nom de plume may conjure images of a burly brute of a man with a cleaver in one hand and a porterhouse in the other, but Gold is a modern carnivore. During his childhood in New Orleans, a city infamous for its extreme appetites (culinary and otherwise), his mania for meat was fostered by hearty po'boys and critter dinners, a collaboration between local hunters and chefs in which diners feast on a variety of just-caught "critters." In August 2005, Gold was in New York City working in publishing when he hatched the idea for Shamelesscarnivore.com, a website dedicated to promoting pride among meat eaters everywhere. "I'm certain that there's a veritable army of carnivores out there just like me," the website reads, "ready and waiting for someone to come forth waving that blood-red banner high, unabashed, in true carnivorous splendor."

Now, in The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, Gold has expanded the mission of his blog, journeying beyond the burger to follow his hunger to the extremes. Determined to eat 31 different animals in 31 days, he travels deep into Brooklyn to partake of whole guinea pig at an Ecuadoran restaurant, experiments with rattlesnake chili, and strolls the sidewalks of his neighborhood toting a bag of brains. Gold's desire to connect with the source of his dinner even takes him to a remote farm in upstate New York, where he helps slaughter one steer, Ernie, and then eats the animal's brother, Bert, for lunch. In the end, his journeys, feasts, and follies add up to a guide that covers everything from the ethics of meat eating to the benefits of a good butcher and, of course, the marvel of a well-marbled, juicy, perfectly aged steak.

Recently, over a meal of grass-fed beef, Gold spoke with SAVEUR about wild turkey sandwiches, eating spleen, and his search for a good, giant, greasy New York po'boy.

One part of your book details your attempt to eat 30 different meats in 31 days—a list that includes frog, kangaroo, and buffalo. Which, if any, do you think you'll come back to?

Llama was wonderful. I'd love to try a recipe actually using a rib section or roast rather than just the ground meat. It tastes very animal-y, like mature goat or mutton. People either really dig that taste or just think, Oh, this is terrible; it tastes kind of spoiled.

Was there anything on your list that you didn't get to?

I didn't get to calf's spleen.

I've never even heard of eating spleen.

Anthony Bourdain beats me to everything, God bless him. He might be taller and more handsome than I am, more accomplished, a better writer, and a more talented cook—but I can play guitar in circles around that guy, I guarantee you. That's the one thing that lets me salvage my pride. Bourdain went to Sicily on the first or second season of No Reservations and met a guy on a corner who ran this sort of hot dog cart, except he had a big metal box filled with mysterious organ meats that he threw into sandwiches. Now there's a focaccaria in Brooklyn that serves it. That is definitely on my list.

Looking back, is there anything you'd be hesitant to eat again?

Well, I'm probably not going back to the bull pizzle. That chapter was fun, though, because it gave me license, as a writer, to use every single euphemism for "penis" I could come up with.

You also describe taking part in the slaughter of a ten-month-old steer. Do you think it is important for people to see where meat comes from?

Well, yes, mostly because that connection just isn't made in our modern culture. People go out of their way to avoid it. They may say they love meat and they may order it bloody and rare, but if someone mentions the animal, they don't want to know about it. In my case, [the butchering] was an opportunity that came out of nowhere. Actually, a friend saw the ad on Craigslist and pointed it out to me.

I can't say that I would have jumped immediately at the chance.

I had no reservations whatsoever until I got to the farm. After Ernie, the steer, had been killed, we hooked him up from a tree, skinned him, and had lunch. I had a slight freak-out during lunch because we were having his brother, Bert, for lunch.

That's about as connected as you can get.

It was an interesting process. The sadness and anxiety lingered until the steer was sectioned. Then we were just trimming, trimming, grinding, grinding. It was just meat. It wasn't Ernie. Well, it was Ernie but also meat.

We may be disconnected from the source, but it does seem as though culturally we're in the middle of a resurgence of meat appreciation. What's your take on the carnivore craze?

I never anticipated it or even really noticed what was going on until I was a year into my project, but I'm definitely riding the wave. I think it's a good thing that people are starting to pay more attention to the source of their food. For a long time people have been concerned about their diet, but I think Michael Pollan was completely instrumental in getting people to look at food as something more than a product that you shove into your face.

The politics of food are definitely getting more play these days, but they also seem extremely partisan: either you're a vegan or you worship meat. Are you expecting any backlash to your book?

Hey, I always say there's no such thing as bad publicity. But honestly, much as I have fun with vegetarians, I try to be fair. I don't mean anything to come across as blustery and macho. Generally, I don't argue with vegans, because to me it's not even an argument. When one person has a certain worldview and system of ethics and another person has a different one, how do you argue who is right and who is wrong? You get lost in a labyrinth. And if you get bear-baited into one of those discussions, you just end up yelling at each other. As far as I'm concerned, I live my way, you live your way, and let's just be friends.

How did you become interested in food writing?

I didn't realize how much I cared about food until I left my home in New Orleans and went to college in St. Louis. Food happens to be something that New Orleanians talk about a lot.

What do you miss about Louisiana, and what do you appreciate about New York?

Well, the benefit of being in New York is that you can get almost anything you want. Still, you can't really get true New Orleans cuisine up here. I miss cracklins and the roast beef po'boys. It's not for a lack of culinary know-how, but there are things, peasant food, that no one in New York thinks to make. Like boudin sausage, for example.

What's the first meal you have when you go home?

I always go straight to R&O's restaurant in Bucktown or to Acme Oyster House. I'll have an oysterpallooza, with a whole bunch of raw oysters and a fried oyster po'boy or an oyster plate or a big old roast beef po'boy drowning in gravy and lettuce tomato and mayonnaise, lots of mayonnaise. It's a heart attack on a plate. It's beautiful.

In The Shameless Carnivore, you also wax poetic about turkey sandwiches. How often do you have one?

At least five times a week.

Always the same kind?

Oh, no, I'll vary it up. Sometimes pepper turkey, sometimes honey turkey, or sometimes a turkey club. There's a beautiful simplicity to a humble turkey sandwich.

What would be your fantasy meat travel destination?

There are so many. I would love to go to Japan because they put a premium on really good meat, like Kobe and Wagyu. I also love the yakitori and the fish. But if I had to pick one fantasy destination, it would be Scandinavia. They eat reindeer and puffin up there. I also love Russian food.

And vodka?

Absolutely. I love going to the Russian Vodka Room [in New York]. They have huge tankards of infused vodkas in flavors like pepper and horseradish and garlic, all of which go really well in a bloody mary.

I've even heard of bacon vodka. Have you tried that?

I haven't. I have bacon toothpicks and bacon breath mints—I get the weirdest gifts. No one ever actually gives me meat, though. Well, except for Leroy Nuckolls [a hunter in Louisiana]. He and his brother, Vernon Crawford, saved everything that they killed. Once they sent me home with a shopping bag full of wild turkey.

How was it?

The best meat I've had in my entire life. I made it with my mom; we brined it and then cooked it with a little liquid in the pan, covered, to make sure it didn't dry out. In the end, it was moist and tender and really, really, really turkey-y. Take a turkey sandwich or even regular roast turkey and magnify that by ten. The meat was also a darker color, slightly more gray, not bright white like that of a bird that obviously hasn't been running around, flapping its wings. We kept going back into the refrigerator for it the whole weekend.