Making the Animals on the Plate Visible: Anglophone Celebrity Chef Cookbooks Ranked by Sentient Animal Deaths

Abstract

Recent decades have witnessed the rise of chefs to a position of cultural prominence. This rise has coincided with increased consciousness of ethical issues pertaining to food, particularly as they concern animals. We rank cookbooks by celebrity chefs according to the minimum number of sentient animals that must be killed to make their recipes. On our stipulative definition, celebrity chefs are those with their own television show on a national network in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia. Thirty cookbooks by 26 such chefs were categorized according to the total number of cows, pigs, chicken, fish and other species they included as ingredients. The total number of animals killed was divided by the number of non-dessert recipes to generate an average number of animal deaths per recipe for each book. We outline the rationale for our project and its methodology before presenting a ranked table of 30 cookbooks by celebrity chefs. This method generates several interesting findings. The first concerns the wide variation in animal fatalities among cookbooks. The chef with the heaviest animal footprint killed 5.25 animals per recipe, while the omnivorous chef with the smallest footprints killed 0.19 per recipe. Clearly, not all approaches to meat eating are equal when it comes to their animal mortality rate. Pigs and large ruminants are all substantially bigger than poultry, which are themselves bigger than many fish. The prime determinant of a chef’s place in the index was the number of small animals his or her recipes required. Whether a chef cooked in the style of a particular cuisine (Italian, French, Mexican etc.), by contrast, had no discernible influence on his or her ranking. We analyze how different chefs present themselves—as either especially sensitive or insensitive to ethical issues involving animals and food—and note cases where these presentations do or do not match their index ranking.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Scholars have examined how celebrity chefs transfer “meanings and values” to businesses through celebrity endorsements (Halonen-Knight and Hurmerinta 2010); how they bestow class status on consumers who eat their food (Hyman 2008; Powell and Prasad 2010); how gender roles confine their public personas and cookbook narratives (Scholes 2011; Redden 2017; Matwick and Matwick 2017); and how chefs often depict meat eating in a manner that promotes political doctrines such as nationalism and human superiority over nature (Buscemi 2016). We have been unable to find any scholarly analyses of the number of animal deaths recommended by celebrity chefs’ cookbooks.

  2. 2.

    Padma Lakshmi a self described “food expert: rather a professional chef (Padmalakshmi.com2017: 1). We use the term “celebrity chef” broadly to also include Lakshmi.

  3. 3.

    “In part” because we, the two authors, have overlapping but distinct views on animal ethics. In addition to the interest-based view of animal ethics outlined below, we get some of our ethical motivation from approaches influenced by Aristotelian virtue ethics and the capabilities approach (Nussbaum 2006) as well as biosemiotics, umwelt theory (Uexküll 1934 [2013]; Hoffmeyer 2008) and a wide range of other sources.

  4. 4.

    For a bit more detail on the Goodreads numbers: Batali’s Molto Italiano (2005) topped out our list, with 31,885 Goodreads reviews, as accessed on April 8 2017. Batali (2010), Bayless (2005), and Bourdain (2004) each had around twenty thousand reviews. Colicchio (2003) and Deen (1998) each around ten thousand, Drummond (2009) Fearnley-Whittingstall (2001, 2011) and Fieri and Volkwein (2011) all garnering around five thousand reviews. (Some of the authors of books much further down on the list (Lawson 2007, with 278 reviews, or Ottolenghi 2010, with 171 reviews) also had memoirs or other hybrid books with ratings in the mid-thousands.) Ratings of below one hundred Puck (2004), at 77; Ramsay (2007), at 60, Ray (2001, 2005), at 52 and 24; Romero et al. (2015), at 14; Samuelsson (2014), at 2; and Stone (2013), at 1 review. We selected, in other words, both for clearly popular books and for less popular books by authors who: have blockbuster TV shows (Ray, Ramsay) or have won shows such Top Chef Masters (Samuellsson), operate a well-known franchise (Puck), maintain a substantial following in some part of the English-speaking world, such as in Australia (Stone), or books that are specifically vegan (Romero et al.). While we are agnostic about the specific mechanisms of celebrity influence on consumer behavior and even preferences but point out that some such mechanisms do appear to be operative, and our sampling method was designed to pick up signals coming from places other than the most popular books.

  5. 5.

    Available at andylamey.com.

  6. 6.

    We tabulated a total of 2138.5 eggs used (with a high of 296 in Paula Deen’s book and an average close to 75). This would still only amount to the productive lives of around nine chickens. We thank Natalie Terenzi for assistance calculating these figures.

  7. 7.

    The dressing percentage is the percentage of the live animal that remains as carcass after skinning and evisceration, a process that normally removes the hide, head feet and entrails. Raines (1999) provides the following Approximate dressing ratios: pork (70%), cattle (60%), sheep (50%); from carcass to cuts, with pork 65–70% boneless and 75–80% bone-in, beef 55–60% boneless and 65–70% bone-in, lamb 70–75%.

  8. 8.

    Such as at http://www.clovegarden.com/ingred/ap_pigc.html.

  9. 9.

    See the first page of the data sheet for sources on approximate weights for the around 25 larger fish species that our chefs called for.

  10. 10.

    For discussion of the ethical significance of recent findings in avian cognition see Lamey 2012.

  11. 11.

    This is again not to deny that they may have differential moral status based on cognitive, behavioral and social-structural differences, but that we are concerned here with measuring and making these questions of basic standing in the context of celebrity influence and the ethics of individual food choices.

  12. 12.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2012) notes that more than 50 % of fish produced for human consumption now comes from aquaculture. For discussion of the welfare issues of farmed and wild-caught fish seen respectively the Humane Society of the United States (2010) and Mood (2010). For a discussion of the latter see Singer (2010).

  13. 13.

    Oliver’s public persona has frequently been subject to critical commentary. For examples see Andreou (2013), Self (2013) and Bowater and Foster (2016).

  14. 14.

    We initially wondered whether to include glass eels, which are eels in an early developmental state, between the larval and juvenile stages. Might it be the case that glass eels do not feel pain? Adult eels are in fact known to respond to pain stimuli, and we are unaware of any vertebrate species that feels pain as an adult but not a juvenile. Indeed, from an evolutionary point of view it is not clear how an animal could develop the capacity to feel pain only after the juvenile stage of its life-cycle. For responses to pain-stimuli in adult European eels see Lambooij et al. 2002a, b. For welfare aspects of killing European eels see Salman et al. (2009). For a discussion of handling stress in glass eels see Wilson (2013) 334–8.

  15. 15.

    Bourdain’s approach is shared by Mark McEwan, host of the Canadian edition of Top Chef. McEwan characterized fois gras as “one of the great Canadian food products and a source of considerable culinary prestige abroad (except maybe for in Chicago),” (2010: 54). McEwan is here referencing a 2006 decision by Chicago’s City Council to ban foil gras, a decision that was overturned in 2008 (Chicago Tribune 2016).

  16. 16.

    This is true even in regard to the two vegan cookbooks. The Vegan Mashup book contains only recipes and does not discuss food ethics at all, while Vegan-ease briefly mentions animal welfare as one of several justifications for veganism (Theodore 2015: 4).

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Lamey, A., Sharpless, I. Making the Animals on the Plate Visible: Anglophone Celebrity Chef Cookbooks Ranked by Sentient Animal Deaths. Food ethics 2, 17–37 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41055-018-0024-x

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Keywords

  • Animals
  • Celebrity chefs
  • Animal rights
  • Food ethics