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November 11, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Editor's note: Read Anthony Bourdain's response to Hannah's essay here.
Dear Mr. Bourdain,
My name is Hannah Hayes, and I consider myself a pretty big fan of yours. I have all of your books lined on top of my crappy, leaking refrigerator between two Martinelli’s Gold Medal apple juice jugs. I think your thoughts on vegetarians and hollandaise sauce are genius in its purest form. I even made sure that my college radio show wasn’t scheduled for Monday night this semester so I wouldn’t miss a second of your show, No Reservations.
So I think you could understand why I was taken aback to read in your latest novel Medium Raw that you would like to see my father’s nuts wired to a car battery while he’s fed the sweepings from the bottom of a monkey cage. I’m just quoting here.
You see, I’m a daughter of Cargill’s top management. My father is in charge of global operations for the “evil empire” of food.
I’m sure when you were writing this chapter, “Meat,” you didn’t picture the families of any of the people you want, let me get this right, “indicted, convicted and packed off to jail” for “criminal mediocrity.” Even if you did, you probably pictured my parents closer resembling Richard and Kathy Hilton than Clark and Ellen Griswold. So if I may, I’d like to take this chance to tell you all of the other things about my family you probably didn’t think about before you wrote such downright ornery things about my daddy.
My mother and I attend at least three farmers markets in the Twin Cities area regularly and enjoy nothing more than carrying out a cart full of purple kohlrabi, music garlic, basil from Yang family’s stand and a big watermelon with a good knock to it. My family has been eating Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes from our gardens for as long as I can remember. My friends are often in awe when they open my said crappy, leaking fridge to find goat cheese and bocconcini, leftover homemade ropa vieja and fried plantains, new jars of tomato jam that I made while I waited for my laundry to dry and a blueberry pie my mom sent with me to school. When my father was growing up, he would walk beans and detassel corn until he couldn’t see straight. In fact, the man who previously held my father’s job makes his own maple syrup from the trees on his property. You see, my family, my father and those around him aren’t disconnected from food by any means. It’s convenient to hope people like my dad are just trying to make a buck selling the edible equivalent of snake oil to the general public while they eat beluga sturgeon caviar imported from northwest Russia.
Oh yeah. When my dad grills us a steak or some hamburgers, provided by Cargill Meat Solutions, we don’t cook the crap out of them. In fact, when my dad pulls out the ribeyes, we like to have ours closer to cold and purple in the middle. The only time I’ve ever seen my father pull out a meat thermometer is when we boil hot dogs. But you understand that.
I know your job is to make the food world sound fantastic and dramatic and sometimes seedy or depressing. Believe me, I appreciate it. But the thing you forgot to mention in your book, but my father never does, is that there are more than 6 billion people on this planet who need to be fed. Many of those people are working class families with very little to spend on food. My father has worked with probably hundreds of people on meat safety, including Temple Grandin, Bill Niman and a whole list of other people who have the same concerns and view that you do. He isn’t just sitting in his office counting Cargill’s profits for the quarter. He and many of his coworkers are thinking about the effects of antibiotics on livestock, making anaerobic digesters so their plants can be sustainable, and how to use animals as humanely as possible.
I have problems about some of the ways our food is produced in this country, too. Things are far from perfect. But I also know how easy it is to judge those who are trying to literally feed the world, which is no small feat. What I’m trying to say is would you like to come over for a barbecue? If you’d like, you could have a beer with my dad and talk these things out. I hope to hear from you soon.