Adam Danforth and the Changing Meat Culture

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Adam Danforth is a recognized leader in the new thinking about meat and our food culture. Adam has authored two comprehensive books on butchering published by Storey Publishing: Butchering Beef and Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, Pork, which won the James Beard Award in 2015. His workshops are in high demand around the country and internationally.

We caught up with Adam a little while ago to talk specifically about goat meat and to learn a little more about his views on today’s food culture.

 Goat Meat, the Sweet Meat

“Goat meat,” Adam points out, “has such an unwarranted and surprising stigma. It is a very sweet meat and has a far subtler flavor than sheep meat.” Most of the world discovered goat meat a long time ago. Cuisines from North Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America (especially Mexico) all have high-end dishes that feature goat meat.

Adam laments Americans love of their “steakable cuts” of meat. “When you see goat in international cuisines you don’t see a large piece of meat in the center of your plate. Dishes usually feature whole roasts, stews, and shredded dishes with rich sauces,” Adam explains. “We can age goat meat as long as we need to get the texture we want and to create goat chops and steakable cuts that appeal to people in this country, but the parts of the animal that need to be cooked more slowly are absolutely delicious. Because it is a sweeter meat, it blends well with so many different kinds of sauces and flavors. It is far more versatile than sheep.”

From Marketing to Meat

Adam’s career path from the owner of a successful marketing firm in New York City to getting involved in butchering was “quite unorthodox.”

When Adam closed up his firm in 2008, he decided to focus on doing something with food. He has in his words, “a deep passion for feeding people, and a passion for contributing to the community.” But being a chef, while he respects the job, wasn’t going to give him the life balance he was looking for. “Meat,” he says, “just presented itself as an interest.”

When he learned about a crash course in butchery at SUNY Cobleskill in upstate New York, he jumped on it. “This was an eye-opener, to say the least,” he recalls. There he was at 7:00 AM standing in a slaughterhouse with a bunch of farmers and expected to process 14 sheep. “I was totally out of my element. You didn’t really ease into this business. We had a month to cover a lot of knowledge. We had some great instructors who really instilled a good value system about an animal-centered environment.”

After the SUNY course, he was able to secure a job at one of the only butcher shops in New York City that specializes in whole animal butchery.  While there, he was asked to do a demonstration at Kinderhook Farm in upstate New York. The demonstration was a hit and eventually lead to a publishing contract and requests for more workshops. He had found his niche. He knew now that his career was in education and building public awareness rather than production or retail cutting.

The workshops he conducts throughout the country and internationally are infused with a holistic philosophy about food production, sustainable agriculture, and the way we eat. He covers everything from the humane slaughter of animals to the flavor of different meats and cuts of meat. (You can watch him in action in this Washington Post video.)

In the workshops, Adam often does a blind tasting to challenge people’s attitudes about kinds and cuts of meat. “When I work with a goat,” he says, “I work with a 7-year-old goat.” He prepares each cut very simply with a little salt and neutral oil and then flash sears them at high heat. “People who have never had a goat, never had older animals always say, ‘Wow, I never knew it could taste like this!’”

People often ask Adam, “What is your favorite meat?” His response is “that is not the right question. If you know what do with it every part of the animal, it is delicious. What we revere in America is tenderness but what we’re losing is flavor.”

A View on Our Changing Food Culture

Americans are becoming more concerned about knowing where their food comes from. The growth of the Localvore movement, which promotes local food production, seems to support this. When the farmer who has raised the animal that gives you the meat lives nearby, you can know more about how the animal was raised, how it was slaughtered, and ultimately what you are eating.

Adam supports this close relationship between the farmer who raises the animals and the consumers who eat the meat. As someone who wants to teach people about meat and how it is produced, he is striving to change the industry and galvanize communities to fight for better conditions, more respect and better understanding of eating meat.

For example, much of Adam’s work involves going to farms and teaching farmers about the humane slaughter of animals. “Slaughter,” he explains, “is at its best incarnation on a farm, especially when it occurs on the farm where the animal was raised, where it is handled by someone with a familiar face and in a manner in which there is minimal stress, no pain, and above all, a great deal of reverence.” This reverence extends to meat we put on our table. When we consume an animal, he feels “it is to be directly connected to it; through its nutrients, we sustain ourselves.”

To learn more about Adam Danforth and visit his website and his blog at Storey Publishing