Behold, Artusis marvel of efficient, meaty beauty.
Behold, Artusi's marvel of efficient, meaty beauty. Anthony Nathan

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Eating meat is, according to science, pretty much the worst shit you can do for Mother Earth. I'm sure you've heard the statistics by now, but it takes something in the area of 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, and cow burps alone are contributing significantly to global warming. Certainly, when I ride the 132 past South Park's many industrial operations—with their yards full of rusty compressed air cylinders, discarded gears, and smoke-billowing trucks—I am always reminded on just how grand of a scale we are fucked, environmentally speaking. I am less often reminded of the impact of our species' food consumption habits, but the same issue of scale exists with meat.

By issue of scale, I mean that every day an innumerable fleet of trucks is dispatched to "drive the economy," providing us with our various creature comforts, delivering parts to build more things to sell one another, or just shuffling goods around at the behest of an Amazon algorithm designed to predict when you're most likely to purchase a waffle iron and some spermicidal lubricant. You see one of those trucks puffing out a cloud of thick black smoke on the highway and think, "Man, that is so bad for the earth." However, you don't often follow that up with, "Man, that truck is just one truck carrying one load of widgets and there are probably three hundred thousand other trucks on the road right now and our president doesn't even believe in climate change and unless we manage to get off this doomed planet we're totally fucked." If you did, you'd be so wracked by existential anxiety you wouldn't be able to function.

The same is true of casual weekday teriyaki. You stop in for a chicken/beef combo on Wednesday, and don't think about the six other days of the week during which you'll also eat too much meat, or the six bajillion other people who had an overlarge amount of beef for lunch that day. I am acutely aware of the impact of meat on our planet, and I resolve almost daily to reduce my consumption of it, but I inevitably consume at least two Loretta's Tavern Burgers a week. It is hard, in short, to see the forest for the trees when it comes to issues like climate change or air pollution. The damage is done incrementally, and like every soldier in every firing line ever, we never think we're the ones with the loaded gun. Unlike a summary execution, however, the earth is dying a death by a thousand cuts, and we're all holding steak knives.

What's the solution? Resign ourselves to the Beyond Burger? Switch to Soylent? As someone who believes dining is as much an act of pleasure as one of sustenance, I'd sooner die. That said, there are plenty of ways to be a little more conscious of the amount of meat you consume. Perhaps one of my favorite pieces of food writing ever is Charles' ode to charcuterie, in which he makes the simple point that, "Meat is not something you are supposed to eat in large amounts. The purpose of eating it should not be to feel full but to taste its flavor."

He also describes a cowboy eating a steak as "a python whose middle section is bloated by some mammal it swallowed and is slowly digesting," which is just one of the many delightful Charles-isms in the article.

Anyway, he's absolutely right about meat. When you do eat meat, you need to appreciate the hell out of it. Charcuterie, as Charles correctly argued, distills meat down to its most potent, essential flavors, and is thus the most efficient and ethical way to consume meat. You get a lot more from less, basically.

However, charcuterie is not your only option. There are plenty of ways to reduce your meat consumption without reducing your dining pleasure, and today I'd like to pay homage to one of my personal favorites: the perfect meatballs at Artusi.

They are made to order—as in, the handsome chef hanging out in the back with the Hawaiian shirt mixes up and molds each meatball when you order it—and come drenched in a red sauce that is light and almost improbably tangy. Unlike the famous, oddly disquieting 1940's soundie, "One Meatball," a single meatball from Artusi is an extremely satisfying experience. And, in a further departure from the One Meatball saga, you do get a slice of bread with your one meatball, and it's lusciously buttered and toasted to perfection. The meatball itself is a masterclass in pliancy, having just the perfect amount of cohesion to give you a feeling of robustness in each bite, but still being very much a fork tender affair.

Better yet, each meatball is a mere $5 for happy hour, and the happy hour red you'll surely want to wash it down with is only $6 more. When I went, they were pouring a dry, fruit-forward Montepulciano with just the right amount of acid to balance out the meaty richness of the meatball. They also take the care to put your red in an appropriate glass, even if you're just getting whatever's cheap. Thus, for a mere $11, you are able to savor the living shit out of some insanely delicious, locally-sourced meat. Each ball can't be more than two ounces, but just one will take you on a long, drawn out tour of Flavortown. Speaking of...

If I can't unsee it, you can't either.