Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sid Delicious

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox’s table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

‘Good evening,’ it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, ‘I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?’*

Shortly after I was hired to teach in the teeny, tiny town, I was required to attend end-of-year staff meetings. I had not yet found my teeny, tiny apartment, and the nearest hotel was two hours away. I was dreading having to make a good impression with my new co-workers after an early morning wake-up call and a long drive. Still, it was an improvement over making the trip from my hometown four hours away. Fortunately a friend of a friend from university heard of my dilemma. Her parents had a farm in the area and were kind enough to let me stay with them.

I arrived at their place in the afternoon on the day before my meetings. My acquaintance from school had not arrived, but her mother welcomed me and gave me a tour of the farmyard. She told me about their field crops and showed me her vegetable garden. She explained how the guinea fowl that roamed the yard helped to keep the earwig population under control. In a small, fenced pasture near the house there was a cow and her ten-day-old calf. My hostess introduced us. Both mother and son were picture-book pretty. The son was particularly adorable in that downy, big-eyed way of all babies.

My hostess was just finishing up our tour when her daughter arrived. The three of us headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner. We were having salad, potatoes and steak. It sounded delicious and I said so. That was before I found out about the steak.

I eat steak. That wasn’t the issue, but when I eat steak it’s barbequed. There is a chemistry, a magic, that happens to a steak on the grill. These steaks were being fried. I loathe fried steak. It’s one of the few foods that can make me gag, and I can eat liver without flinching. I don’t mean the kind of gagging that causes you to grimace and soldier on. I’m talking about body-convulsing, eye-watering retching. I began to worry about our shared meal.

Add to this the fact that even when a steak is barbequed I prefer it to be on the rare side of medium-rare. These steaks had passed that stage several minutes before leaving the pan. And they were huge. Really, really huge. Hanging-over-the-edge-of-your-dinner-plate huge. Things did not look good, but I was determined to be a good guest, so I sat quietly at the table and whittled away at my steak.

I had actually made some progress with my meal, and was feeling confident that I could get through dinner without mishap. In retrospect, I had probably already eaten what would be considered a serving of beef, but I had hardly made a dent in my steak when the conversation turned to the farm. That was when my hostess turned and introduced me to my steak. “This is Sid,” she informed me. “You met his brother earlier. Sid was about the same size this time last year.” Sid’s brother was the ten-day-old calf I had met in the farmyard. Needless to say things did not go well after that. It was one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life. I feel like I failed some arcane farmer’s test that day.

I was reminded of this episode when out for dinner recently. I will state right now that the food was wonderful. There was no gagging whatsoever. I tell you this so you don’t get the wrong idea. The connection between the two meals is that both relied on local food. In the case of the farm, the food was so local that future dinners were standing right outside the back door. The restaurant’s ingredients were found a bit further afield, but were definitely local.

The chef of this restaurant is on a mission. He not only showcases local foods in his creations, but he is trying to narrow the gap between producers and consumers. To promote his mission, the menu includes stories about the producers and their products. The restaurant is decorated with photos of the producers and their offerings. Hanging above our table were photos of local farmers along with their fruits, vegetables and fuzzy farmyard creatures.

I was able to convince myself that the chickens in the pictures were for egg production, and that the cattle were dairy animals, but I couldn’t find an alternate use for the pigs. They looked happy, and healthy. Their curly little tails were still intact, but they were definitely examples of pork in its early stages. Across the aisle from our table there were pictures from the local bison farm. More examples of dinner on foot.

I can’t say that these pictures influenced my decision to order a vegetarian meal that night. If they did I wasn’t conscious of it. I did reflect on their impact later though, and once again I wondered about the ethics of eating meat when I can’t look my dinner in the eye. I’d like to be able to say that I’m all about food transparency, but in the case of meat, I’m obviously not ready for complete transparency yet. Maybe some day I’ll get there. In the mean time I’ll try to celebrate baby steps in getting to know my food. And hope that they never develop an Ameglian Major Cow:

’Well,’ said the animal, ‘I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.’*

* From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting. Your words of wisdom will appear once they have been previewed by the spam monkeys.

Your patience is appreciated.

Laurie the Monkey Queen