Exclusive: Sasha Wizansky on Her Meat-Obsessed Quarterly Mag

We’ll be the first to admit, we were a little late to the Meatpaper party. But the moment we discovered this quarterly magazine (which is devoted to looking at meat as “a growing cultural symbol and phenomenon” and is neither pro-, or anti-, for the record), we knew we had to interview the creative minds behind it. After the jump, co-founder Sasha Wizansky expertly fields some meat-related q’s, and quite frankly, leaves us feeling hungry for more.

Flavorpill: You’ve said that Meatpaper is “the culmination of several years” that you’ve “been considering and documenting the meat zeitgeist.” The actual decision to turn your thinking into a quarterly publication — can you remember that moment?

Sasha Wizansky: As a matter of fact, there was a specific, “aha” moment, in 2005. I had been working on a meat-related art project, which started with an amusing collaboration in New York City. My collaborator and I attempted to eat tastes and meals at meat-related restaurants and delis around New York for 24 hours. Needless to say, after about hour six we were stuffed. But while preparing for the event, it had been so interesting talking to people about meat, I continued to think about meat and collect meat stories from people I encountered. On a spring day in 2005 I drank too much espresso and decided to start a magazine about meat. I began my research that day and about a year later I invited my journalist friend Amy Standen to join me. We launched with our sample issue, Issue Zero, in March, 2007, and our first distributed issue came out in September, 2007.

FP: We’re imagining that people are surprised when they see that two attractive women are the minds behind magazine. Is it ever hard to get people to take you seriously?

SW: I think people are often surprised that Meatpaper was started by two women, but then it makes sense. There are so many stereotypes involving men and meat, but both men and women have relationships to meat. Our most explicit agenda is to be as open-minded and open-ended as possible. We don’t have a deliberately feminist or polemical editorial strategy. The fact that we’re not two barbecuing dudes has made people scratch their heads and pay attention.

FP: As the more visual of the two, do you ever find it hard to make meat look pretty in the magazine?

SW: Sometimes meat isn’t pretty. We publish those images, too. Meat is troubling and complex, and meat imagery inspires an incredible range of reactions. We call meat a rorschach because a single image of meat can produce contradictory responses. A double-page photo of freshly slaughtered lamb carcasses hanging in a slaughterhouse (which we published in Issue 6) looks beautiful to some readers and horrifying to others. But by far the most intense responses we’ve gotten have been to the images of meat used as clothing in the art context. For some reason, people have a hard time looking at meat being worn on the body. Perhaps because it reminds us of our own animal nature — the body turned inside out. As for meat art, I do photo illustrations and sometimes pen and ink illustrations of meat for Meatpaper. I’ve strung up mortadella on a clothesline, and made anthropomorphic pieces of bacon sit in tiny chairs for Meatpaper photo shoots.

FP: An interview you guys did with Bust said that Amy had gone vegetarian and that you both were veggies at one point. Do you try to distance your personal beliefs from the editorial? Can you talk a little bit about walking the line between a pro-vegan/pro-meat publication while still creating provocative features?

SW: We try to publish a range of viewpoints in Meatpaper. We don’t intend to be polemical about our personal beliefs. Individual contributors and interview subjects have strong points of view, and our goal is to juxtapose some of the wide range of beliefs about meat. I’m sure our experiences with vegetarianism helped to inspire our open-ended editorial style.

FP: We were surprised to see that you’re based out of San Francisco. Are most of your readers localized? And do most of them fall somewhere in between the two pro/anti meat camps?

SW: We have a strong following in the Bay Area, but our retail distribution is national, and our subscribers are international. We don’t interview our readers about their meat-eating habits, but we’ve gotten the sense that the majority of them are curious carnivores. San Francisco still has a reputation for being a vegetarian hotbed, and there certainly are a lot of vegetarians here. But recently we’ve seen a new subculture of eaters: people who want to have a closer relationship to the meat that they consume, either by making educated choices in the meat market, or buying meat directly from the people who raised the animals. People are joining meat CSA’s, or buying whole animals directly from farms. People are asking more questions about the provenance of their food in general. There are a number of new butcher shops in the Bay Area that feature local meat. Meatpaper‘s editorial style seems to appeal to these eaters, many of whom have been vegetarian at some point.

FP: Best meal you’ve ever eaten that involved meat?

SW: That’s a tough one. The most memorable meat-heavy meal that I’ve had since starting Meatpaper was the annual Wild Game dinner at San Francisco’s Big 4 Restaurant. The chef, who we interviewed, spends months scouting for sources for antelope and yak and other game meats to compile the menu. We had caribou and elk and yak in the same meal.

FP: We’re big bacon fans around Flavorpill, but obviously it’s kind of jumped the shark lately. What do you think is the next big meat trend?

SW: I don’t think bacon is going anywhere… but I do feel that baconmania has hit fever pitch in recent months and a lot of folks are saturated. Recently I’ve seen the discussion about whole animal cookery going more mainstream, and I’ve seen more home cooks take on the less traditional meat cuts and organs while cooking at home. This is partly due to the new wave of conscious carnivorism, and also related to the economy. I, too, am curious about what will replace bacon in the popular meat imagination.

FP: Do you think the bad economy has had an obvious effect on meat culture?

SW: If people are cutting down on their meat consumption because of the economy, that would have a positive environmental effect. As I said earlier, people are getting more interested in the less popular, and therefore cheaper, cuts of meat, and this helps to spread the whole animal ethic. I haven’t seen any reduction in meat enthusiasm in the Bay Area food culture. But I am surrounded by folks who cook and eat as their primary entertainment.

For information on how to subscribe to Meatpaper, click here.