Hank Hill Gets Schooled in Food Politics

I was minding my own business the Sunday before last, my legs propped up, one eye on the crossword puzzle, the other half-focused on an episode of the Fox cartoon series, "King of the Hill".

The episode, entitled "Raise the Steaks," (scroll down page to view on demand) opens with the star of the show, Hank Hill, grilling steaks for his neighbors, all gathered 'round the picnic table eagerly awaiting their steak dinner.

The Hills getting into the holiday spirit. (Fox Broadcasting Company)

"With great meat, son, comes great responsibility," Hank says to young Bobby, proud and confident in his grilling abilities. Unfortunately, the meat, purchased from the neighborhood supermarket, aptly called "Mega-Lo-Mart," is so tough no one can penetrate it with a knife, and Hank, an embarrassed host and angry customer, goes straight to the source -- or is it?-- of the problem.

When he arrives at the Mega-Lo-Mart to air his complaint, he encounters an apathetic employee, who tells the frustrated Hank that "We don't actually have a butcher anymore. Our meat comes pre-wrapped."

Sound familiar?

And that's when I dropped the crossword and gave Hank Hill my full attention.

Hank runs into Appleseed, a burned-out hippie he met once before in the woods, who works as a volunteer at "Cornu CO-OP-ia, " the local food co-op. "Dude, if you're looking for good meat, I can hook you up," Appleseed says, as if he's letting him in on a state secret.

"You gotta shop at the co-op, Hank. All of their meat is organic, grass-fed and prime."

Hank heads over to the co-op and is enamored by the meat counter, glistening with unwrapped, fresh cuts of meat and manned by a real person wielding a knife. But his hopes are dashed when he learns that in order to get a taste of the good stuff, he needs to join the co-op and pay a membership fee.

The scene beautifully encapsulates the state of our food system, one that is controlled by agri-business rather than small family-owned farmers, with an emphasis on volume than on quality, pride and connection with the land and the people who raise the food. If you want better-tasting food that is handled with care, you must pay a premium; otherwise, you gotta queue up at the Mega-Lo Mart like the rest of us chumps.

Steak-fixated Hank, who just can't wait a few days until his membership application is processed, convinces Appleseed to smuggle a bag of co-op goodies, including the steak, heirloom tomatoes and organic carrots.

Dinner that night is an eye-opening experience. "It's the best steak I have ever eaten," Hank declares. "Peggy, I think we need to say Grace again."

Peggy's comment says it all: "Hank, if this is food, what have been eating?"

Dinner prompts a visit to the farm, where Hank meets the farmer and says, "So this is where my dinner came from? These animals live better than most people I know."

"Yeah," replies the farmer. "The steaks you buy from a grocery store come from penned-up steer. They feed'em antibiotics and parts of other steer and that makes them unhappy. And it makes them taste terrible."

The story gets more interesting, but I won't spoil it for you.

I love it when the cartoon world distills the state of the universe into one half-hour episode, giving us mere mortals something worthy to chew on.

Maybe "Raise the Steaks" should be required viewing for members of the Senate Committee of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, where The 2007 Farm Bill remains as stuck as a penned-up steer.

Today is chat day: Talk to me at noon ET for another edition of What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 27, 2007; 9:16 AM ET Food Politics
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Grass fed humanely raised organic dry aged for 28 days prime beef cost around $30lb for a bone in rib eye steak. Ground beef for burgers about $10 a pound. Lamb chops $20+ a pound. Right now you cant afford to eat beef, poultry or fish raised this way.
We need to go back to the old ways. And you have to choose your producer carefully
the garbage beef sold at the Dupont and Fresh Field Fairfax, VA farmer's markets is awful. bad as the Giant at twice the price. It is shame since comes froma farm near Berryville. Picked some up to give it a try was dispapointed and it was frozen. Please learn to sell beef correctly.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 27, 2007 12:47 PM

This was one of the best storylines this year, wasn't it? Especially the relationship that develops between the conventional, conservative Hank and the hippie-dippy co-op members in a very realistic and positive way. Of course, they're both a bit over-the-top, but their reactions were not.

The only other thing I could have possibly wanted in the way of a message was to learn more about the farmer, and have him be more central to the story, but I'm a big fan of farmer's markets and CSAs.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | November 27, 2007 3:17 PM

Speaking of food politics and at the risk of offending by pointing out an article from this Sunday's NYT...
it seems that Washington's big wigs LOVE shopping at Costco! Heehee! I guess no grass-fed, humanily raised, organic and dry-aged beef there either :)

Posted by: Kat from Baltimore | November 27, 2007 4:32 PM

The sirloin steak I buy is the best steak I've ever had. It's not "organic" but the farmer that I buy these steaks from actually has much stricter standards than organic standards. It's grass-fed so it's healthier than regular steaks. And it's $6 a pound. Now filet is a lot more expensive but I don't buy it.

Posted by: Kristina | November 27, 2007 6:57 PM

Actually, paying a lot for good meat IS going back to the old ways, Anon 12:47. Which is why having meat on the table every night is very much a new-fangled thing. I've just finished Omnivore's Dilemma and am making moves to buy our meat from sources I can trust, and my husband has accepted that this means he doesn't get meat every night, but that I'll come up with tasty meals on the other nights.

Posted by: SP | November 29, 2007 1:54 AM

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