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Circulation: 3,200
Date of Birth: Spring 2007
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $7.95
Natural habitat: Ted Nugent's dreams, Pamela Anderson's nightmares

By Evan Lerner

Two aliens are deep in conversation. One has just visited Earth and is preparing his official report on the strange creatures that call it home. They’re made out of meat. And unlike the aliens, who have more refined ways of doing these things, the Earth creatures use their meat for talking, thinking, even dreaming. The aliens decide it would be best to just mark the planet “unoccupied.”

This is the crux of Terry Bisson’s 1991 short story “They’re Made out of Meat.” But it’s also the kind of thinking that animates the new magazine Meatpaper, as evidenced by the number of times it’s been referenced in reader mail. This “journal of meat culture” is more Durkheim than pork rind; it “likes metaphors more than marinating tips.” The image on the first issue’s cover, a mirror reflecting some heavily marbled muscle tissue, says it all: We are meat, but we also eat meat. Discuss.

The magazine is an examination of the “fleischgeist.” Sasha Wizansky, one of Meatpaper’s editors, came up with that sizzling combination of “zeitgeist” and the German word for “flesh” for a phenomenon she saw popping up in both highbrow and lowbrow culture. Determined to start an art project based on this concept, Wizansky enlisted her co-worker at Salon.com, Amy Standen. They began collecting articles, images and ideas, and in the spring of 2007, Meatpaper Issue Zero was born.

This 20-page prospectus was informally distributed among friends and foodies in San Francisco, racking up both pre-order subscriptions and a distribution deal through Ingram Periodicals. Those early successes were enough to pay for Meatpaper’s production and shipping costs. And because Wizansky and Standen compose the entirety of Meatpaper’s staff, work from home and rely on volunteer contributors, overhead is low. “We started out with pretty much zero,” says Wizansky. “Our strategy is to grow organically, not exponentially.”

Though Meatpaper hopes to be able to pay its writers soon, the fleischgeist alone has attracted a wide variety of articles, which run the gamut from investigative journalism to travelogues to poetry. There is also a dash of science, including a piece about umami, the mysterious “fifth taste” that is not sweet, salty, sour or bitter, but might be at the center of meat’s appeal.

Meatpaper’s editors insist it is not a food magazine, so the recipe presented in the second issue is not your ordinary fare. The dish is courtesy of Chris Cosentino, a chef and offal evangelist. His website, OffalGood.com, is dedicated to the less loved parts of the animal, including the lungs, tail, feet and brain. His creation, “Grilled Beef Heart with Roasted Golden Beets and Horseradish,” looks delicious. But it’s more than a meal; Cosentino’s accompanying article on the culinary merits of the heart touches on the industrialization of meat farming and the cognitive dissonance Americans engage in when they bite into a hot dog.

Though Wizansky and Standen admit that their topic of choice can be polarizing (“the Hillary Clinton of the freezer aisle”), they aren’t picking sides in the ideological war between carnivores and vegetarians. Meatpaper is ostensibly neutral territory for debating the nature of humanity’s relationship to meat.

It seems unlikely, however, that an animal rights activist could read through an entire issue of the magazine without crying, vomiting or calling the police. Meatpaper positively drips with the juice of its subject matter. Each issue opens with two full pages of sliced sopresseta that some butcher, somewhere, must have taped to the inside of his locker door by now. There’s meat-based art on display, including a woman in a bloody steak dress, as well as stunning, visceral photography of health inspectors, abattoirs and just plain ol’ meat in all its primal glory.

While some of Meatpaper’s articles only scratch the surface of the fleischgeist, inventive art and bold ideas make the magazine a page-turner. One is continually surprised at how thematically diverse a magazine entirely about meat can be. And while it is tempting to view as a gimmick, the kind of publication that might have resulted from a dare or lost bet, Meatpaper’s first two issues show it to be working with some lean muscle. It has the confidence and style that make a journal of meat culture seem like the most natural thing in the world.


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