Monday, June 21, 2010

A Carnivore's Dilemna

Ainsley has started to ask where her food comes from.

This is fine when she asks what noodles are made out of; when she starts asking about her hot dogs, I struggle with the answer.

Since she's started asking, we've pretty much hit all the major carnivorous food groups and told her what animal they all come from: we've had bacon, pork chops, and sausage ("That ALL comes from a pig?") Hamburgers, steak, and roast beef. And of course turkey and chicken, which you wouldn't think needs an explanation but still got our 7-year-old to ask, "Where does chicken come from?" before realizing that question pretty much answers itself. (Or does it? There's a philosophical element there involving the chicken and the egg; discuss.)

All that answer-giving at the family dinner table has made me re-think my meat-eating habits. One Saturday night, which in the summer is often grilled rib-eye night for us, telling her that we were eating cow made me see that beautiful cut a little differently. I had a hard time enjoying it once we switched from eating "steak" to eating "cow." I pictured Norman from City Slickers with his big, brown eyes and gentle demeanor. Norman doesn't taste as good as steak.

When I cooked some bad pork chops one night that turned out more like shoe leather than food, I thought out loud, "Maybe I could be a vegetarian. Sometimes I just don't enjoy eating animals. Someday I'll give it a try."

Jason and Ainsley gave me an "Are you crazy?" look and went right back to sawing their way through Wilber.

For a while now, I've tried to prepare one vegetarian meal a week. I do this partly to save money, partly to save our arteries, and partly to appease my carnivore guilt. Just when I was ready to expand this out to more than one night a week, and found myself listening more closely than usual to something smug vegan Alicia Silverstone was saying on TV, my husband asked to be taken to a Brazilian steakhouse for father's day, and now I can say...

All vegetarian bets are off. I am firmly and unabashedly a carnivore.

I could easily live without pig (until you remind me that bacon is pig; a life without bacon is a life maybe not worth living.) Pigs are very smart and probably deserve better than having their loins smoked in hickory. I don't like lamb. Chicken and turkey only appeal in the boneless-skinless-white-meat form. But after eating my weight in beef yesterday, I see that I really, really enjoy cow. Sorry, Norman.

If you've never been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you must save your pennies and go. Servers walk around with 15 (!) varieties of meats on spits and come around to your table and ask if they can carve you off a piece. That's it. There's no menu. Just perfectly grilled meat and a salad bar so you can put a few bites of something green on your plate even though, clearly, you're there to make a meal of 15 varieties of meat.


I'm not even sure of everything I ate. I remember bottom sirloin and top sirloin. I remember filet. I remember the bacon-wrapped boneless chicken breast that made Ainsley's eyes widen at the first bite. There may have been short ribs at some point and something that tasted like prime rib but wasn't called that. The protein coma I went into has played tricks with my memory.

It was all perfectly and simply prepared and each cut of beef was different from the one before it. Until they're all presented before you at once you don't realize what a complex food beef is. I've always loved the saying that God gave us beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy; I think the same could be said for cow.

Someone may get on here and leave a comment about how raising cows for food is environmentally and morally wrong. My little trip to Boi Na Braza made my carbon footprint a few inches wider. Perhaps. And I do feel a little guilty. But I also look on it as one of the best dinners I've ever had in my life, so my foodie side trumps my liberal hippie side. I do have some organic milk in my fridge and buy produce from a farmer's market in the summer; doesn't that let me slaughter the fatted calf every so often?

Tonight we're having salmon because I'm not really sure my conscience or my digestive system can handle red meat for a while. It will be a tasty and healthy dinner I can feel good about serving my family.

But secretly, I'll be dreaming of beef tenderloin dripping with juices being dramatically carved over my plate. Beef: it's what should be for dinner.


Melmart said...

I wanna go back there someday. Great, you've got me dreaming about that place again...just when I'd gotten over it.

Anonymous said...

I just love that there was a whole blog about meat.