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I’m loathe to admit it, but I actually like a couple of vegetarians.
One of them is what those in the know call “ovo-lacto,” (don’t worry, the first time I encountered the term, I was frightened, too!), the other is a “vegan.” They are not citizens of small, warring countries in the Balkans; their titles mirror differing degrees of the vegetarian lifestyle.
For me to say I’m fond of these folks is to take a big step toward becoming the embracing, nuturing being I so desperately want to be.
Still, it’s tough to reveal the truth — as hard, I suppose, as admitting to the wife and kids you have a twelve-gram-a-day coke habit as the repo man carts off your Camaro, or revealing your presurgical gender to the other members of your Sweet Adelines quartet just after you check into your shared hotel room at the convention.
Because vegetarians are goofy and I don’t want respectable folk to know I like goofy people. I have a reputation to protect. Go ahead, vegetarians, write me nasty letters. I’m not afraid to say it: You’re living a deprived life in defiance of your true nature.
With that out of the way, let me establish a standard: If it can’t bleed (or ooze something similar to blood), it’s not real food.
I’m taking a stand, hurling the gauntlet at my veggie-addled pals. If something can’t move around under its own power — walk, trot, fly, crawl, swing or swim — it isn’t fit to be called food. Legumes, grains, chaff and whatnot can serve, at best, as a side dish, an additive, part of a snack served with a cooling beverage. And some jalapeno cheese dip perked up with chorizo.
My nut-and-berry friends can’t tolerate this idea and they try to convince me there are “high grade proteins to be obtained in the proper combinations of vegetables and grains,” that there is no need to take the life of a “fellow animal” to provide nourishment. Further, they say, there is the matter of karma.
No combo of lentils, brown rice and fermented soy can take the place of a perfectly cooked, thick chop. Plus, while I appreciate other animal life forms, they are not my equals. I refuse to admit dolphins are smarter than my dear, departed yellow Lab; and that racket they make is not language, it is high-frequency gibberish. Karma? Well, if I gotta come back in another life as a sea urchin, get dipped in soy sauce and be eaten at some cheap dive in the Ginza, then so be it.
Because, if it don’t bleed it ain’t an entrée.
A friend of mine and I were talking about this subject the other day. He, too, is a card-carrying carnivore and we agreed on the idea there should be something in the Colorado Revised Statutes prohibiting vegetarian restaurants. My friend has an extensive background in the restaurant biz, at a French joint to boot. He knows food, he knows meat. He also knows many vegetarians are blue. Not blue, as in the emotional “blue.” Blue, as in the color blue. With no flesh in their diet, the poor souls eventually turn a shade of pale blue — iron-deprived, one click away, tintwise, from corpselike.
Since we are ethical beings, we were led inexorably to the notion that eating other animals, while necessary and desirable, should not be taken lightly; that human carnivores should pay dues in order to properly understand their relationship to their food. For example, they should raise, name, nurture then slaughter something like a lamb or a goat. Maybe, given the acreage and the feed, a steer.
Most contemporary carnivores are so distanced from the reality of their protein; they have lost touch with the fact the stuff once walked, flew or swam, and bled. Maybe even mated and produced offspring — little, sentient hunks of mobile protein. Most modern meat eaters purchase their flesh in plastic-wrapped packages. That distance allows too much to be taken for granted, too much to be ignored and, as a result, insult is too often added to injury when the flesh enters the kitchen and hits the pan.
I respect my meat. I paid dues. I was introduced to high-grade protein reality in the Cub Scouts, as a member of Pack 10, meeting bimonthly in the basement of McKinley Elementary School, Denver, Colorado.
The Pack 10 schedule was loaded with presentations made by our fathers. These presentations filled the calendar since there was a slew of us in Pack 10. After all, the troop trains bringing the boys home from WW II arrived at Union Station one after the other and, bingo, nine months or so following the off-loading, in 1945 and 1946, a passel o’ babies was born. The males became Cub Scouts nine years later.
Each of our dads was asked to address the pack on the subject, “What do you do to make a living?”
Most of the presentations were incredibly tedious: accountants, dentists, shoe and insurance salesmen, appliance store owner.
My dad was a doctor. We went to his clinic and his nurses conducted the session. We never saw Dad.
Bob’s dad ran a bakery and we traveled there in the early morning hours, when the odor of baking bread was at its peak. Bob’s old man let us switch the giant mixers on and off a couple times, then used us to load several large trucks with boxes of “product.”
Mike’s dad, Whistles, did something he never clearly defined. It involved liquor — warehouses full of the stuff. I learned about barolo during trips to nondescript structures located near the Platte River. Whistles also showed us cartons of untaxed cigarettes stored in the trunk of his Caddie.
Yimmie’s (Jimmy to the Swedish-impaired) father was a plumbing contractor and part-time TV repairman. He also played lead trumpet in a Swedish dance band. He allowed us to compare several types of flux, handle a variety of used tubes and touch the trumpet.
Chas didn’t have a dad, and we didn’t ask him about it. His mom, however, put on a display each year highlighting her talents as a parakeet trainer. We had to go to Chas’ home, since the birds, at least fifty of them, flew freely about the house in a frenzy, depositing droppings on every surface. Including Cub Scouts. I have had a morbid fear of birds ever since.
But, after all the salesmen, doctors, contractors, mobsters and rabbis had made their pitches, it was Roy’s dad, Roy Senior, who stole the show.
Roy and his dad had a distinct look to them. Imagine a drawing of homo erectus, crouched on a stunted frond growing off the side of the evolutionary tree. That’s Roy and Roy Senior.
“Odd in appearance?,” you ask? Well, yes. Roy and Roy Senior were compact fellows, each with a head of thick, black hair and a hairline that cut straight across the brow, a mere half inch or so above a similarly thick, black eyebrow. Pay close attention here: Eyebrow — not eyebrows. This was a monobrow, an unbroken band of black hair, uniformly thick, running from one temple to the other, providing ample shade for small, rheumy eyes set in deep sockets.
In appearance, and in his presentation, Roy Senior knocked the other dads out of the ring.
Roy Senior choreographed the killing floors at a giant slaughterhouse complex out in Globeville and Swansea.
Yep, Big Roy was the man with the magic bolt, the Doctor Mengele of meat. Dressed in an apron marked by carnage, wearing knee-high rubber boots, Roy Senior was the conductor of the Beef Death Orchestra, the last presence sensed, oh-so-briefly, by countless cows.
Some of the Cubs refused to go on the field trip to the slaughterhouse and, no doubt, they are now among those who purchase hunks of flesh at the market without due attention to reality. Some freaked out at the plant and fled the scene to the parking lot to sit trembling on the back seat of a late-model Chrysler. Some got sick.
Me, I found it fascinating, a clear and instructive analogy: animals walk in single file through an ever-narrower chute, into a dead end (pardon the pun) where … boom! … the lights go out. What once had cloven hoof and chewed the cud was on the way to Porterhouseville.
For the brave few, the tour was instructive. Monobrow Senior took us from the moment of existential truth through the coldly efficient processing phase, the carcasses reduced to primals in the blink of an eye, the various organs removed, taken off for esoteric preparation. We saw the ruthless work done by knives, saws, hooks, the whole arsenal.
It was compelling stuff for a little fat guy with a craving for beef. Who needs a cartoonish illustration of the steer to show where the chuck is located when you can see the real thing removed from the bone?
Now, why relate this to you?
Because, without contact with the baseline reality in the carnivore food chain, i.e. death, there is a good chance injustice will be done to the food several stops down the line. The demise of an animal should be attended at least once, so the sacrifice can be honored. If the consumer is aware of the concrete fact of one life ending to sustain another, the preparation of the flesh will be respectful, perhaps even thankful.
The slob who waddles into a grocery store, picks up a hefty chub of ground up cows, takes it home and nearly vaporizes it in pan, in oven or on grill, is insulting the animal’s gift. For crying out loud, entities were murdered and their remains rest in that chub!
Most of these klutzes stagger out of the store with their wad of protein and proceed to thoughtlessly transform it into something unspeakably awful, like sloppy joes, or they add it to the contents of a box of chemical-riddled Ground Up Cow Helper. They do the same with chicken, overcooking hormone-saturated poultry parts, caking them with industrial coatings, drying them out, rendering them tasteless, mere fuel.
Raise, then kill the darned bird, and maybe you’d have a different attitude when preparing it for consumption.
Bottom line, it ain’t real food if it can’t bleed, but it shouldn’t bleed if it is ticketed for a graceless destination.
That’s why I’m going to pause this week before I cook a prime porterhouse and tell it how much I appreciate the fact it is with me in the kitchen. I will assure it that the preparation will be respectful, that it will become much more than mere fuel, that it will bring pleasure to those who consume it.
There’ll be no grilling this beauty to a cinder, no slathering it with some god-awful sugary sauce that burns and gets nasty when exposed to heat. Nosiree. The porterhouse, thick as all get-out, will be cooked so as to highlight its inherent beauty — the essence of beef, flavor and texture brought to the front, the surface browned, the interior medium rare, each bite cloaked with the best of bernaise.
This baby is going to be aged several days in the fridge to remove moisture from the meat, rinsed and dried thoroughly, then coated with a film of olive oil, seasoned with a lot of salt and a serious amount of freshly cracked black pepper. On to the super hot grill it goes for six minutes or so on each side, then it is nestled in a hot, heavy pan and it goes into a 400-degree oven until the meat feels just a bit this side of medium rare. (Use a thermometer if you must, but you can tell how well meat is cooked by touching it.)
Out the meat comes and it is wrapped in aluminum foil while the incidental goodies are assembled. The bernaise is boated, a decanted muscular red is poured and starts its dance with Dr. Oxygen. I’m thinking roasted asparagus will be swell alongside the porterhouse (and, like the meat, liberally doused with bernaise), the stalks trimmed and, if necessary, peeled, then coated with olive oil, seasoned and roasted on a baking sheet at 400 degrees until just tender and sweet.
When all is ready, I’ll again thank my noble bovine buddy who gave me a precious gift, perhaps tip the hat for what the grapes sacrificed on their way to a fine wine. I might even offer up a toast to Roy Senior who, I am told, is now on the job in the eternal packing plant.
Eat flesh, then, by all means. Especially you blue vegetarians and you nitwits who regard all animals equal to the human species. But do so with respect. Something had to die so you can live in accord with your engineering … and enjoy your life all the more.