A few months ago, a friend of mine invited me to celebrate her birthday at an upscale restaurant. This particular restaurants was known for one dish in particular: pig cheeks. I agreed, mostly because I couldn’t imagine how they would serve this dish to our table. When the meal arrived, we all stared (along with most of the restaurant) at what amounted to half of a pig’s head staring back at us.
To some, reading this is enough to make you sick. But eaters, chefs, and butchers alike are starting to use meat from the entire animal, include parts you would usually discard. Like pig’s cheeks.
This practice, sometimes called ‘whole animal’ or ‘nose-to-tail,’ exists for a few different reasons. Some find creativity and adventure in cooking and eating unique cuts of meat from animals. Others do it for claimed health benefits. Many folks feel it is one approach to being sustainable in our production of animals, not letting any parts of it go to waste.
What are ‘nose-to-tail’ cuts?
If pig’s cheeks aren’t quite your thing, you still have a range of options to choose from. Some examples of muscle-cuts include lamb neck, tomahawk steak, tri-tips, or even short ribs. On the flip side there is offal, if you have the stomach for it! That includes an animal’s entrails and organs, such as liver, heart, kidney, tongue, and even tripe (stomach) and bone marrow.
Special health benefits?
Many claim that eating the whole animal comes with health benefits. Meats, especially red meats, can be high in protein, B-vitamins, vitamin D, iron, and zinc. Any of these unique cuts could provide sources for at least some these nutrients, but it’s important to keep in mind total saturated fat and calories. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends Americans select lean cuts of meat and to limit your portion sizes to three-to-four ounces per day.
Nose-to-tail and Sustainability
Chefs and eaters alike have started viewing their consumption through the lens of sustainability. As the global population grows and demand for food rises, people are looking for ways to grow more food and contribute less waste. Eating these typically unused parts of the animal may make sense from that point of view. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one-third of all food produced is wasted. They highlight that “food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs, increasing the green gas emissions in vain.”
It takes 441 gallons of water to produce one pound of boneless beef. It is important to get the most out of each animal, so the inputs needed to produce food, such as water and energy, are used to feed as many people as possible.
It’s official. Our foodie culture is here to stay. While I’ve never been an adventurous eater, I can see the appeal for people. Many chefs find their creative outlet through cooking. By using different parts of the animal, they get to test the waters and try new things. For eaters, there is a sense of adventure in eating unusual dishes. (For the record, the pig’s cheeks, tongue and ear were delicious.) And everyone can be satisfied that nothing is going to waste.