Dear Mr. Pollan,
I’ve only just finished reading the first chapter of your new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Tranformation. Your description of the grilling process is so like the asado my family and I experienced while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I just had to write and tell you. In fact, much of what is happening to grilling in the US is happening in Argentina as well. The difference? They could still stop the massive takeover of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Especially if the Argentine people understand what is happening to the meat industry in their own country. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about an Argentine asado.
Argentines start their cooking fires with the best quality hard wood available. In fact, the asador, much like the pit man of the South, might choose different types of wood to obtain optimal results for the different cuts of meat he grills that day. And yes, the asador is almost always a man.
The wood is often placed in a stand, not unlike a stand we might find in a typical American fireplace. Once lit, the wood burns hot and as it begins to glow white hot, the asador taps against the metal frame to send hot coals to the base of the grill. These coals are pushed and pulled to their proper place under the main grill. The proper place all depends on the cuts of meat being grilled that day but never, never, never will you see coals in flames under the grill. Argentines like their meat cooked long and slow. It is an amazing event to slice into a piece of meat that may have spent an hour or more on the grill and find its center running pink.
We haven’t enjoyed beef in the same way since returning to the US. And before reading your first chapter, I thought that the Argentine method of slowly cooking meat over wood coals was an art that had never been discovered in the United States. I’m tempted to take a field trip to North Carolina to learn more though I will admit the idea of eating CAFO meat makes the decision not to go a little easier.
We’ve eaten grilled meats in huge restaurants called parillas (the double ll pronounced like the sh in the sound we make to hush a crying child, sh, sh, sh). We’ve eaten at the Argentine equivalent of a sports club where members reserve a grill and picnic area and cook to their hearts’ content. We’ve eaten the most delicious steaks for Thanksgiving dinner on the backyard bbq of friends. We’ve had grilled meats in chain restaurants and tiny little holes in the wall. And we ate a glorious meal in the quincha of an estancia (not unlike a ranch) hundreds of kilometers from Buenos Aires. All of these meals had something in common – great beef.
When you ask an Argentine why their beef is so good, you hear that it’s because it is grass fed, raised on an estancia, slaughtered with care, and butchered in a manner completely unlike any found in the United States. In fact, there is one place in the US where you can order Argentine cuts of beef.
I want you to visit Argentina and try their grilled beef before it is too late.
You see, Argentines are falling prey to the CAFO. Currently, the meat raised in CAFO’s is reserved for those who can’t tell the difference – mainly Americans overseas willing to pay premium prices for Argentine beef but with palates that can’t discern a difference because they’ve never tried the real thing. But big business is worming it’s way in and is fighting to make CAFO beef the norm in this South American country. Companies like Monsanto have already managed to change the face of the estancia. A lot of ranch land has been given to the plow. Not to raise food crops for people but to grow corn and soy to feed both the biofuels industry and the CAFO feed lots.
It’s unlikely that a few estadounidenses can make a difference in Argentina, but it would never hurt for a well-known American writer to speak out on the matter. I can imagine the New York Times would be much more likely to print an opinion piece from you than from an stay-at-home military wife even though her bio includes a love of cooking, travel, photography and a penchant to write about all three. Please think about it.
In the meantime, you have a big fan who shares your work whenever she can! I hope you continue to write about food and share your adventures of discovery. I can’t wait to read the rest of your book!
un beso argentino,