Tag Archives: preparedness 101: zombie apocalypse

Butchery, Part I: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This…

2012-01-03 19.11.59

A few weeks ago, I went to Boston and had a lesson in how to butcher a pig. Not exactly what you’d expect from this city girl, right?

But we’ll begin at the beginning, and it started because of pernil.

A friend shared some of her mother-in-law’s with me the week after a major holiday, several years ago. It was melt-in-your-mouth awesome. A while after that, I ran into a recipe on reddit, and a few months after that I made my own low-sodium version with pork shoulder from that great foodie mecca of Western New York, Wegman’s.

Flash forward to mid-January, 2013. Walking through a nearby grocery store, I spotted pork shoulder for the first time in a Manhattan supermarket. (Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem to carry this particular cut of meat.) Unlike the pork shoulder at Wegman’s, though, this was the real deal: bone in, skin on – the shoulder of a pig. Six pounds of pig shoulder.

2013-01-13 16.32.25Thinking back to the pernil, I got excited, and paid eight bucks for a lump of meat the size of my head. Headed home, tried to fit the thing in the crock pot – ready to try making BBQ’d pulled pork, this time…and it wouldn’t fit.

I had to cut it in half, first.

I’ve never cut through pig skin before, and it says something about me that this may have been the first time I’ve ever had such a, erm, close relationship with a piece of meat that wasn’t poultry. By the time I got half the pork shoulder severed and the other half back in the fridge, I was starting to wonder whether I’d ever be able to eat bacon again.

But I kept going. The pork stewed in the crock pot for a couple hours. I took occasional pictures. My roommate and I made uneasy jokes about pig skin, humans, eating meat, and the zombie apocalypse.

When the cooking was over, the trouble started.

If you’ve ever cooked extremely fatty meat in a crock pot, you’ll understand when I say I probably shouldn’t have added the BBQ sauce to the mix before cooking the meat. Because I didn’t, the result was a watery mixture of sauce, meat and fatty oils – from both components. That was okay. I got out a couple of forks and started shredding the meat. (Also a bad idea; in retrospect, I should have drained the sauce off first.)

2013-01-13 17.01.53Things were basically cool, up until the moment the fork dragged up a piece of half-melted pig skin, strung together with a couple inches of meat. And maybe a tendon. Or something.

My stomach rolled.

But I kept thinking about the original reddit pernil recipe, specifically the part where he talks about honoring the animal that gave its life so you could eat, and I kept going. Picking out chunks of half-liquified pig skin, trying to scrape the shredded pork off the skin and back into the sauce. I tasted some.

I had not picked a good BBQ sauce. Also, there was still WAY too much fat in the sauce.

2013-01-18 00.32.48I managed to eat a spoonful before I realized this – unlike my famous steak tartar incident by the seine (remind me to blog about that, some time) – was not a culinary battle I could win.

With three pounds of frozen pork shoulder in the freezer, this was going to be a problem.

Luckily, a work friend was talking about making pork tacos the next day, and happy to take the rest of the pork shoulder off my hands. Guilt somewhat alleviated.

But now I had an ethical quandry on my hands, of the low-grade variety prone to plaguing the dietarily privileged: how could I justify eating a meat I couldn’t even prepare myself? It sounds nuts, I know. But it tickled at the back of my head for days following the pork shoulder incident. I’d spent time, recently, talking to hunters. My cousin and his wife (cousin-in-law) ran a free range organic farm back before they got married, and mine is the kind of family where, while we’re all omnivores, we have been known to trade emails asking “Is it ethical to eat meat?”

So when a friend posted on Twitter about a Boston restaurant and the pig-butchery-lesson they were giving away as a contest prize…I entered.

And won.

Which was when I realized: in March, I’d be butchering a pig.

And I had no idea if I was ready for it.

To Be Continued…

“Getting” the Internet: The CDC and the Zombie Apocalypse

When people think of social media jobs, they might consider pop-culture commentary and corporate representation – but what about social media in public service? Last week, the Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response used a darkly fictional twist – and a keen understanding of social media’s strengths – to tap into the hive mind’s love of all things undead, sparking a global viral sensation of Zombie Apocalypse humor (and educating the public) in the process.

Many companies use social media without really “getting it,” so seeing a government agency set such an excellent example, particularly in a way that acknowledges the foibles of internet culture, is really exciting. Curious to know more, I reached out to the CDC, and the lead for the Emergency Web and Social Media Team, Catherine Jamal was generous enough to answer some questions regarding the process of seeing Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse go viral.

So sit back, and prepare to be infected…with knowledge.

Generating Zombies: Social Media at the CDC

Using collaboration between teams, the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness & Response created the Zombie campaign to revolve around emergency preparedness and the agency’s response to emergencies.

Members of the team had used social media for emergency preparedness in multiple situations, and unsurprisingly – given how this project came together – Jamal says there is “a lot” of social media experience at the CDC. When it comes to their online activities, the organization – like many businesses – uses a strategy that links information via website, social media, and more. In terms of their specific use of Twitter, the H1N1 outbreak was the catalyst behind the CDC’s emergency twitter feed and a Facebook Page.

“This idea [for the Zombie meme] came up during a brain-storming session between CDC communication experts in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response,” said Jamal. “We were exploring how we might reach more people with our preparedness messages since personal preparedness is such a critical component of developing resilient communities.”

What companies can take note of from the CDC’s approach here is that they observed how a real world disaster – the Japan Earthquake – unfolded in the popular consciousness via a discussion their representatives took part in via the twitter account,@CDCemergency. The team noticed that “several people tweeted about zombie preparedness,” perhaps planting a seed for the later idea.

When that later idea was used – when the campaign was launched on 5/16/11 – Zombies were used as a metaphor for serious disasters: hurricanes, disease outbreaks, earthquakes and floods, to name just a few examples. This allowed @CDCemergency to introduce a topic that “people don’t typically talk about until it’s too late.” (Put another way, don’t wait to try and buy 10 gallons of water till the day after the apocalypse.)

But it’s not just peoples’ immediate safety that the CDC is interested in protecting. In a larger sense, “The campaign was also to have a broader conversation about the role of public health in keeping people safe from health threats every day.”

 Going Viral: Spreading the Zombie Apocalypse Infection

If you’ve ever posted a photo of your cat on Twitter, you know the path to viral isn’t always an easy – or obvious one. For every Rebecca Black, there are millions of…well, the rest of us. I was interested in knowing what the CDC had used to launch interest in their campaign, since my awareness of it came well after Zombie Apocalypse began to trend on Twitter. This thing spread like the Rage virus; how did it get out there so fast? Jamal outlined its evolution:

Beginning with a post on Dr. Ali S. Khan’s public health matters blog, the campaign initially “utilized several additional existing social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, widgets, and badges. The blog post had an accompanying web page discussing the related social media.”

As noted above, I learned of the meme via twitter – but shortly after, mainstream news outlets picked up the story, and it went global IRL as well as online. So not only does the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and now have a successful viral campaign on their hands, but the team’s public health message is being spread effectively at breakneck speed around a globe fraught with earthquakes, monsoons, floods, disease outbreaks and more.

The team “hoped that by using zombies as our focus and marketing the message via social media, we could gain the attention of a younger audience that is difficult to reach with traditional preparedness messages.” At a glance, it would appear they were successful – they were as surprised as anyone else to see CDC hit Twitter as a Trending Topic the day of the release.

To give an idea of how significant the jump in the CDC website’s hit was, Jamal provided the following context: while a typical blog post on the CDC site receives between 900-3000 total page views, the reach of Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse came out to over 2 million views – in less than a week. This makes it the #1 page on the CDC’s website.

That’s at least over a six hundred percent increase, based on the higher end of the figure. The average might reveal a far higher leap. Clearly, and whatever fears one might have about the public’s need to be entertained in order to be educated, this is an effective way to transmit information. “All zombie movies have a hero of some sort,” goes the CDC’s message, “and we encourage people to be ready to be that hero!”

The Serious Side of Social Media Outreach

Given the success of the Zombie Apocalypse meme, it’s not surprising that  the CDC is interested in continuing to use social media for their outreach, offering the following advice: “A good way to get ready for the next apocalypse – no matter what it is – is for people to take some personal responsibility for themselves and their community.”

So what say you, dear readers? Has Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse got you stockpiling twinkies for the End Times?

Visit the CDC Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse Guide for information that can help you and your family prepare for a variety of disasters. Check out some of my Zombie-Related reviews for more braaaains…

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