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Blood And Bone: The Surprising Sight Of Dead Animals On A Meat Show

Eric Greenspan cuts up some hog on his new National Geographic Channel show.
Eric Greenspan cuts up some hog on his new National Geographic Channel show.

The Nat Geo show Eric Greenspan Is Hungry is certainly not the first food show to get gritty about the origins and transformations of food; Anthony Bourdain, in particular, has been doing that for years and years. Still, it feels unusual in its pure focus on an established chef/personality — Greenspan — celebrating the ritual of hunting and eating meat.

Greenspan has a long history over on Food Network and elsewhere, where he's been on lots of different shows either competing or judging — Cutthroat Kitchen, The Next Iron Chef, Hell's Kitchen — and now he's doing this series the network describes as Greenspan and a friend "hunting, cooking and learning about authentic American food served up by the people who know it best." In the two episodes the network provided — the one that aired last week as the premiere and the one that airs next week, but not tonight's fish episode — hunting does indeed take center stage as Greenspan goes out to shoot wild hog and wild turkey, then learn how to prepare it from the locals.

In the hog episode that aired last week, Greenspan went to Warren, Arkansas, where he first met up with Doug Thornton, the proprietor of a little food trailer called Redneck Gourmet. Thornton showed him a couple of pieces of pork prepared with a spice mix called "squealer dust." But the most interesting part sees him out hunting feral hogs with Thornton and some other guys. They track the hog with the assistance of some dogs who pursue and catch up to the hog and hold it until it is shot. (Two notes: First, the show does not talk about the interesting ethics of hunting — which come up with things like the use of dogs — which could have been an interesting sideline. Second, the general problem of feral pigs as a nuisance, which comes up here, is also covered on the A&E show American Hoggers, though that's a reality show rather than a cooking show.)

Once they have it, they hang the hog by its feet from a tree and begin to butcher it. "I've processed plenty of pig," Greenspan says in a later chat with his buddy, "but I've never skinned and broken down a majestic hog." One of the hunters tells him, "You're going to appreciate the meal more now that you've done this." And they show it; the removal of the skin, the cutting into the body, and the locating of various cuts.

Television, for all its attention to food and cooking, spends surprisingly little time talking about where the steaks on Chopped were before they were in brown paper, unless it's simply to visit beautiful farms and admire the beautiful produce. And this is still television — it's still colorful characters, and obviously this, the wilderness, isn't where the meat in the grocery store was before it got to you. But with food shows still often skittish about the relationship between meat and the killing of the animals it came from, a celebrity chef on a show like this still feels surprising. That's particularly true because — as it was for most of the hunters I knew when I lived in Minnesota — the killing of the animal is treated as an enjoyable pastime and means to an end (the end being food), without enormous emotional weight beyond a sense of responsibility to be respectful of the animal.

Mainstream TV is pretty bad at talking about hunting and connecting it to eating; food shows are pretty bad at talking about the business and processes of making food. This is a long way from getting into the issues of factory farming and other practices that affect grocery-store food, but it does continue to sketch the killing/eating relationship in an interesting way. And you might learn something about cooking wild turkey, too.

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