Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Food Politics: NYC vs. Cured Meats Edition

If I really am dedicated to cooking by the seasons and supporting local agriculture, I thought, now would be the obvious time to buy a whole pig. Ideally, I would break it down into primal cuts, put the hams in salt for the next month, and then hang them at room temperature for two years, allowing them to slowly dry into prosciutto. And why not grind up the dark, fatty shoulders with salt, pepper and juniper, stuff the mixture into casings, and then leave the sausages in a cool room for six weeks to naturally ferment, developing delicious, tangy porcine flavors?

I can’t, because the United States Department of Agriculture and the local health departments do not allow commercial processing of meat without refrigeration.
What we need is to invert the logic now applied to meat safety. Rather than apply refrigeration standards to an ancient and safe method of preservation, we need an alternative set of standards that take into account what salting and drying can do to discourage the growth of bacteria. Federal and local health officials should recognize artisanal methods as an alternative to refrigeration.
That's Chef Peter Hoffman of Savoy in NYC, writing in the New York Times.

Authorities treat food safety like it is a positive problem, with an answer determinable through science. But food safety is a normative problem, with an answer determinable only through value judgments. What does it mean for a food to be safe enough to eat? Safe enough for an infant? For the elderly? One way out of this conundrum is to leave food safety decisions to individuals themselves.

I quote Bourdain: "Food that’s too safe, too pasteurised, too healthy – it’s bad! There should be some risk, like unpasteurised cheese." So say we all.

For those interested in one approach towards rulemaking in a free society, read Virginia Postrel's book, The Future and Its Enemies. From an excerpt in Reason Magazine:

There are many dynamic systems in the world, many areas of life that evolve and improve through trial-and-error learning, from "digital organisms" that evolve better computer programs to global financial markets, from adaptable architecture to international science. Looking across these various processes, we can find patterns in their fundamental rules, though we can fully apply those patterns to a specific case only when we understand that particular system. Here we can only begin the exploration by laying out some general principles. As an overview, dynamist rules:

  • allow individuals (including groups of individuals) to act on their own knowledge;

  • apply to simple, generic units and allow them to combine in many different ways;

  • permit credible, understandable, enduring, and enforceable commitments;

  • protect criticism, competition, and feedback;

  • establish a framework within which people can create nested, competing frameworks of more-specific rules.
Hat tip to Michael Ruhlman.

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