Meatpaper is why I love magazines. Obsessive, obscure, and beautiful, this “journal of meat culture” is a true labor of love. Almost nobody gets paid and the magazine keeps coming out—another issue is on its way to the printer as I type. So what exactly is it?
“Meatpaper is about meat as a provocative cultural symbol and phenomenon,” cofounders Sasha Wizansky and Amy Standen wrote in the premier issue in 2007. “Meat isn’t a straightforward or neutral topic. In conversation it tends to ruffle feathers and provoke debate. We hope you’ll join in.”
Whether they are exploring what meat art can tell us about life and death or why Filipinos eat Spam, the good people at Meatpaper are always eyeball-deep in some cultural investigation or another.
I spoke with editor in chief and art director Sasha Wizansky about the magazine.
Jeff Severns Guntzel: You folks must get your fair share of hate mail.
Sasha Wizansky: It’s actually kind of stunning, but we get almost no hate mail. I’ve been very surprised by that.
Severns Guntzel: How often do you have to explain the magazine to people? Do you do less of that after 10 issues?
Wizansky: I’ve been noticing that I spend a lot less time explaining the point of Meatpaper than I did when we first started. I think the culture is sort of catching up to us in a certain way. So many people are concerned with food, sustainability, and looking closely at the meat industry.
Severns Guntzel: When you do have to explain it, what do you say?
Wizansky: I start by saying that Meatpaper is about art and ideas related to meat. Then people usually ask, “Are you for it or against it?” And the answer is neither. I list the angles we take. There are anthropological and historical articles—and then the journalism, art, and poetry.
Severns Guntzel: Do you personally commission the art that you’re putting in the magazine or are you using art you’ve discovered?
Wizansky: It’s a combination. Some people submit their art—they’ll say, you know, I’ve been painting beef sticks for several years and I just found out about your magazine! We also have a roster of really talented illustrators and artists and we’ll send them an article when it’s still in draft form and have them create art to respond to it.
Severns Guntzel: And do you have to hunt for the editorial content?
Wizansky: We get a lot of submissions at this point and we have to turn a lot of them down. We try to publish perspectives on meat that you aren’t seeing elsewhere. We’re not that interested in material that you can find in a food magazine.
Severns Guntzel: Is there a kind of story that you’re always rejecting?
Wizansky: We get a fair number of stories about people who eat offal, and we feel we’ve reported a lot on offal already. We’re clearly entering a new realm of carnivorism—I think people are becoming more adventurous about meat.
Severns Guntzel: So is the magazine healthy?
Wizansky: You mean financially healthy? [laughs]
Severns Guntzel: Yes!
Wizansky: We now have a 501c3 arts organization acting as our umbrella and fiscal sponsor, so we can apply for grants and accept tax-deductible donations. We have just begun fundraising, and are developing several side projects that will hopefully support our work. The reason why we’ve been able to publish 10 issues is that it’s pretty much all volunteer. At some point we’d love to be able to compensate people handsomely for their contributions, but right now it’s a labor of love for everybody involved.
Severns Guntzel: So nobody on the editorial staff gets paid?
Wizansky: We pay a few contractors: one copy editor, one database developer. All the editors are unpaid.
Severns Guntzel: What are you doing otherwise to earn money?
Wizansky: I do graphic design.
Severns Guntzel: Can you imagine an end to Meatpaper?
Wizansky: I’m not bored yet and we’re not running out of things to say. We're certainly not drying up in terms of enthusiasm. So yeah, I’d like to keep going as long as I can.
Severns Guntzel: Having created this very unique thing, can you offer any advice to people with a similarly unique vision for a publication?
Wizansky: I would say go for it. Back when we started Meatpaper, the idea sounded really strange to people. So instead of finding advertising or drumming up support we just went ahead and made a prospectus issue. That was the best thing we could have done because there was really no way to talk about this idea—we just had to do it. So we created a 20-page, full color prospectus, which we called Issue Zero and people really got it. Through that we were able to get national distribution for Issue One and a bunch of subscribers. We just kind of went for it.
Severns Guntzel: I have one last question for you. In looking through old interviews with you all there were mentions of various meat parties, including a party to help a friend of yours learn to appreciate bacon. Do you have a favorite meat party you’ve been to?
Wizansky: Meatpaper has co-produced a series of rabbit-dinners, featuring local rabbit meat and a collaboration between a San Francisco chef and a Brooklyn chef. We got to experience the coming together of a really special community of people who are passionate about food and hospitality. And a year ago we had an issue launch party with a butchery demonstration. Basically people came to the party, got a cocktail, and watched a pig being butchered. The meat from that pig was cooked immediately and then served. I wasn’t sure how people would react but they were really fascinated and into it. Since then I've seen a trend of “butcher parties” grow. I've been very happy to close the gap between animal and food. That’s a particular opportunity that’s very interesting to me and people seem to be responding.