This week, Burger King announced that they would start buying eggs laid by cage free hens and pork from producers that do not use gestation cages for sows. It’s a step in the right direction, but at this moment, its more symbolic than a dramatic breakthrough. They’ve pledged to buy 2% of their eggs, and up to 10% of their pork from more humane and responsible suppliers. It’s probably not a big enough percentage to make suppliers rethink their methods. And for the conscientious consumer, how are they going to know which BK store is serving those cage free eggs?
But, it is a positive step forward in public awareness. It was all over the news: NY Times, ABC News, CNN Money, Yahoo News, even Gay Orbit. It’s illuminating to read the reader’s comments to the NY Times article, they range from ‘so what’ to “I’ll choose BK over McDonald’s”. I’m just happy to see some serious press attention being paid to the issue of mega-meat producers, and I’m happy that Burger King is at least attempting a step in the right direction.
Let’s take this a step further.
Mega-producers and polluters like Smithfield Ham are bad. That’s an ethical no-brainer.
But, what about Parmigiano Reggiano cheese? Italian parmigiano cheese is one of the pride and joys of Italy, and has fans in a whole lot of other places. If I was on a desert island (come on, you know this game), this is the cheese that I would bring with me. Parmigiano Reggiano has a DOP rating, which is a guarantee that is has been raised in accordance with very strict guidelines. There is a confined geographic area where the cheese can be produced, the cattle feed must be local, the production methods and aging time are carefully controlled and regulated. The cows that produce this cheese are loved, respected and revered. But. And here’s the ethical question: they don’t live in a bucolic field munching local grass; they live only in their barn and twice daily they make a trip to the milking barn.
When I was taken to a well-respected Slow Food honored Parmigiano Reggiano producer, I was confused. It was in a semi-suburban setting, and where was the cow pasture? There wasn’t even a surrounding field. However, as we watched the cheese making process, and listened to the producers, it was clear that they respected their animals and did not think that they were in any way deprived because they couldn’t roam free in a field. The cows seemed normal, I mean for cows. They aren’t exactly known for their high intelligence; these guys were more like pets, eager for a nuzzle, and a hand fed bunch of hay. So, I’m still wondering: are these cows being mis-treated? The Italians are all about happy, peaceful animals taste better than stressed animals, so would a free range cow produce better Parmigiano Reggiano? I don’t know, and I don’t have any answers. What do you think?