Have I moved
to Austin? No, Hank, but it’s a thought.
haven’t posted in a long, long while not because I’ve been tempted to move
geographically, but because I have been contemplating a more fundamental shift
– philosophical, ethical, spiritual, or perhaps merely culinary.
more than 25 years I have called myself a vegetarian – a vegetarian with a
profound passion for vegetables but one who also eats eggs, dairy products, and
fish, which I guess means I was never a true vegetarian to begin with.
because I also eat sauces that include various meat broths and beans that include
lard and the odd bite of Thanksgiving Day turkey or a forbidden and guilty bite
of foie gras and, for the first ten years or so, a very occasional filet
did I mention that I consider bacon an honorary vegetable?
fear the sad truth is that I am just a picky eater. I always loved vegetables as a kid but was
squeamish about meat. Didn’t like dark
meat chicken or anything fatty or gristly. In the natural course of events I’d have probably grown out of this
without incident, but my father, in a streak of food sadism, made the price of
having more white meat chicken having some dark as well, and more French fries
meant more stringy steak. Maybe I had weak teeth or something, but my plate was
always littered with half-chewed bits of food that I couldn’t get down. If this grosses you out, well then you can
imagine how I felt too.
became a vegetarian in rebellion and self defense.
funny thing is that, though my sole motivation for giving up meat was to save
myself from tyranny in the home, the longer I didn’t eat meat, the easier it became
to look cows in the eye, and to enjoy the sight of foolish lambs in the spring,
and even to greet the various chickens who have occasionally crossed my path
with a clean conscience.
kind of backed into vegetarianism, but when I got there I liked it and I liked
who I was.
that was me for the last 25 years or so. Madly in love with cooking and eating and reading and teaching about
food and possessed of an extravagant obsession with vegetables. I am madly in
love with a carnivore as well, however, so occasionally and tentatively I have
ventured out to brine a turkey, or braise a leg of lamb or pork shoulder, or barbeque
some venison — always from a comfortable “cook but don’t taste” distance.
recent years I have made sure that the meat I did cook was local, if at all
possible, or at least raised organically, sustainably, and humanely. That kept me on good terms with cows and
pigs. Still, I was not tempted to eat them.
then two things happened. I got
seriously hooked on braising and I read The
fascinates me – a slow cook that transforms tough fibrous meat into rich and
flavorful, falling-off-the bone succulence. My kind of meat, if there ever was one. I’ve been playing with it off and on lately: milk braised pork, lamb
braised with a ton of garlic, braised beef in red wine. The house has been infused with mysterious
and enticing smells as I have browned and sizzled and simmered the days away,
and the urge to eat it has grown strong.
then I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The book that had the effect of turning huge
parts of the population off meat seemed to have the opposite effect on me. I loved the book, but I was not surprised by much
that Pollan wrote. I already made the
food choices that he advocates – local first, organic and sustainable wherever
possible. I am an active Slow Food
member; I put my money where my mouth is.
it was just the inescapable reminder that I am designed by nature to be an
omnivore; maybe the understanding that if we weren’t meat eaters, many
creatures would never be born in the first place; maybe the notion that if done
right, eating meat is part of a natural cycle of life and death that has
nothing to do with slabs of flesh in white Styrofoam containers and cellophane,
and everything to do with a farmer friend bringing me a chicken raised on feed
she prepares by hand, or a market farmer telling me “My animals live a
wonderful life. They just have one
really bad day.”
us creatures should be so lucky.
my relationship with meat eating has been up in the air of late. For a friend’s birthday dinner recently, I
ordered some huge steaks from Niman Ranch and as I counted up the five meat
eaters who would be there, I thought what the heck.
been on the edge for months and it just seemed like the right time to
jump. I ordered six.
guess I kind of thought something would happen when I ate that steak. That it
would be so delicious that I would be visited by a revelation, like those
I-could-of-had-a-V8 commercials; that I would joyfully rejoin the ranks of meat
eaters; that at the least my stomach might notice that I was feeding it
instead, nothing. An anticlimax if there
ever was one. The steak was good (though in retrospect my electric stove doesn’t get hot enough — we should have cooked them on the grill) but my
mind was really on the frites (I seriously love a good French fry, and these
were good.). And the braised endive. And
the roasted vegetables. The steak filled
me up and left me with less room for the stuff I really like.
I a meat eater? I guess. A poultry eater, for sure. I ate farm chickens in France last month and I
had some really good fried chicken at Joe Huber’s Restaurant in Starlight, Indiana, last
Sunday and I still have that braising fixation – there’s my friend’s chicken in
my freezer that I have plans to turn into a rich and tasty coq au vin, and I’ve
been craving the smell, if not the taste, of simmering stracotto – an Italian
pot roast that I shred and serve with pasta.
Pollan used a word I hadn’t heard in a recent New York Times article –
“flexitarian” – a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat. I guess that’s what I
kind of backed into flexitarianism, though. I don’t yet know the terrain, or
who I am here, and that has kind of rocked me. So, with all this percolating through my mind and my heart, I have been
tongue-tied lately, and silent on the blogging front. I’ll try to do better.