A couple of recent news items related to meat-eating might seem off-putting at first glance, but I’d argue that although they’re completely different, in their own way they’re both quite uplifting.
A pair of meat stories to consider.
The first one is what producers in the news business call “a bright.” It’s the kind of oddball-but feel-good story they use to wrap up a newscast typically filled with shootings, car wrecks, buildings on fire and assorted criminal incident — something to take your mind off the all the depressing developments that occupy the daily news cycle.”
It’s the story of a fast-food sandwich containing more than a pound-and-a-half of chicken tenders, roast turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, Angus steak, bacon and roast beef and retailing for $10 apiece.
The backstory is also eye-opening. Allegedly, according to a news story from Chicago’s CBS News 2, Arby’s had commissioned a poster depicting all of the various meat products sold in their stores piled in a tall stack. A customer came in and ordered “what’s on the poster,” and the restaurant manager was happy to comply. The huge sandwich quickly became known as the Meat Mountain, and the rest is history.
Arby’s mega-sandwich, which technically is still not on the menuboard, has been described by more than one media outlet as “less a sandwich and more a monument to America’s carnivorous appetite.”
Another food critic stated, “It’s everything in Arby’s entire meat locker thrown onto a bun.”
And yet another wrote, “Look upon it, America, and despair.”
To which I say, What’s your point?
Sure, the sandwich — indeed, the concept — is monumental. It checks in unofficially at more than 1,100 calories. But heck, you can order a supposedly “healthy” turkey burger from any of a number of casual theme restaurants that’s right in the same nutritional ballpark. Even a large order of fast-food fries is well north of 600 calories, and for most people that’s merely an appetizer preceding the sandwich, Meat Mountain or otherwise.
Plus, to be honest, it’s not like Arby’s got a ton of press when they’ve attempted other introductions. The buzz surrounding Meat Mountain is the highest profile news story the chain has received in years.
You can’t measure the value of that kind of publicity, calories be damned, and you can bet the franchisees are loving the commotion. Not only that, for once meat is front and center as a restaurant chain’s “new” menu introduction, and that’s a very good thing.
The other Turkey
Now on to the second story, which delivers an unexpected change-up.
(Wait — that’s redundant. By definition, a change-up is unexpected. Sorry).
This story takes place in Turkey, a country currently on the hot seat as ISIS fighters are attacking Kurdish areas near its border on a daily basis. Although Turkey is a Muslim majority country, it is also a NATO member and a U.S. ally expected to help take up arms against the terrorists.
But while many in the West are busy trashing Islam as a result of the atrocities its extremist elements are committing, there is a charitable group in Turkey called Kimse Yok Mu (translation: “Is Anybody There?”) quietly putting in place plans to provide free meat to some 250,000 needy families in more than 100 countries around the world.
Even though it’s one of the largest charity organizations in Turkey, I certainly wondered where Kimse Yok Mu is getting enough meat to feed a quarter million people.
Answer: From animal sacrifices.
You read that right. The Feast of the Sacrifice is a religious holiday celebrated each year by millions of Muslims around the world. The ritual involves an animal sacrifice, of course, followed by the donation of a portion of the meat to the less fortunate.
According to tradition, the ritual sacrifices are performed in designated places under sanitary conditions, accompanied by Muslim religious officials, as well as a veterinarian. The animals are then butchered by teams of professionals and packaged.
“This year we will reach out to more needy families than in previous years,” Hüseyin Fazlıoğlu, Kimse Yok Mu vice president, told the Muslim news service Today’s Zaman. “For example, we are planning to help more than 80,000 needy families in our country, and we also have plans regarding the Syrian refugees who currently reside in our country.”
Fazlıoğlu stated that the group has enlisted more than 50,000 volunteers to help with the distribution of the meat and plans to target areas of the country where large numbers of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war in their homeland have settled.
Obviously, many Americans consider the very concept — much less the practice — of animal sacrifice to be repulsive, and I’m certainly not planning on signing up to participate in such a ritual anytime soon. But I find the group’s initiative fascinating and hopeful.
Sacrificing an animal has a powerful connection to biblical traditions that have animated the Western world’s three great religions. And as for feeding the hungry, if I might reference Matthew 25:35 — “For I was hungry, and you gave me meat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” — it is truly one of the most fundamental religious imperatives.
Most importantly, it is important for those of us who don’t pray to Allah to remember that despite the violence and hatred that seems endemic in the Middle East, the vast majority of the followers of Islam want the same things we do: A home, a family and a chance to live their lives in peace and prosperity.
Virtually every day, the non-vegetarians who comprise 95 percent of the U.S. population consume the flesh of a slaughtered animal. The source of that sustenance isn’t considered sacred, so it could be argued that Hüseyin Fazlıoğlu and his 50,000 Muslims volunteers are not only doing a good thing, they’re one-up on the rest of us.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.