A Meat Processing Professional Reviews Cormac McCarthy’s The Road -The Toast

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Helen Craig’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

The Road is a relatively short book, comprising 320 pages and weighing approximately 380 grams. It contains several scenes of interest for professionals in the animal product industry. Sadly, each has several inaccuracies, and so I am unable to unreservedly recommend this novel. Here I list the fundamental defects, and attempt to suggest alternatives. 

Mr. McCarthy has written a scene where a number of people are being kept for food in a basement structure. They are alive, and call out piteously to be rescued by our narrator. Needless to say, in a situation where the stock and consumers subsist on the same food, a “living larder” such as this is immensely wasteful. Every day they are alive, these people will be depreciating in calorific value, converting valuable fat stores and skeletal muscle into energy for continued life. This would have been obvious to Mr. McCarthy if he’d done even the smallest amount of research.  

I would suggest that our enterprising cannibals slaughtered their captives as soon as possible. Any butcher could advise them on a huge variety of preservation procedures. The ribs will be good fresh, and a pickling and brining process for the thighs and haunches should result in a product that is similar to ham. The fat may be rendered and stored safely in well-boiled jars, and sausages and jerky will use up any further scraps. 

In addition, the narrator is horrified to note that one man shows the signs of limb removal and cauterization. Obviously Mr. McCarthy has heard the joke about the pig that was too good to eat all at once! (You will excuse my levity, although, indeed, I fear this to be close to the truth. The man’s knowledge is truly lacking.) Of course, as any slaughter man knows, shock and blood loss, combined with the heightened risk of infection in burnt flesh, make amputation a very poor choice for the sensible practitioner of animal husbandry. 

What is worse, in the closing stages of the novel, a group of characters are depicted as eating a baby. Now, as we all know the young of the sheep, cow and pig remain luxury choices. They represent a high level of investment, and this is in animals that can subsist on foods human beings find unpalatable. The use of a human baby for nourishment is an immense waste of resources. 

Let us do some basic math. Let us be fair, and note that there have been documented cases of women carrying a child on 400-800 calories a day. Over a 9 month pregnancy, that’s an investment of 108,000 – 216,000 calories. We shall generously estimate that the infant weighed 7 pounds. A small 7 pound turkey will provide roughly 4,480 calories, an order of magnitude less than that which was put in. (And bear in mind that modern turkeys have been bred for a large and broad breast, meaty thighs, and white feathers that do not leave unsightly spots on the skin when plucked. The human infant has not been bred for these characteristics, and will likely be a disappointing eating experience.) Again, Mr. McCarthy does not appear to have thought this through at all. Perhaps he thinks that women simply spontaneously generate babies from the ether! The woman’s companions would have been better of slaughtering her immediately, or, if they still wished to associate with her, seeking a medical end to the pregnancy as soon as possible.

Despite these qualms, I otherwise enjoyed the novel. I wish Mr. McCarthy luck in his future literary endeavors. 

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