You can't make everything from scratch

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Killing your own food

Xtreme lobster closeup

One of my fundamental principles as a meat-eater is respect for the living beings that die to sustain us. This principle has a number of implications on the way I eat. One is not being afraid of offal, and I've worked hard over the past few years to appreciate "the nasty bits." (Successfully, I might add: I'm now never without some boudin noir in my freezer, and I eagerly agreed with the waiter in Siena who suggested I try the tripe.) Another is minimizing cruelty by using as little factory-farmed meat as possible. This is a much harder one for me, especially because of supply chains where I live, but it's one I'm working on.

A third implication is the importance of recognizing where food comes from. As part of that, I believe that I should be willing to kill my own food. Not all the time, but at least once, and without being squeamish or sentimental about it. Until last Sunday, I had never taken a live animal and personally turned it into meat. (Unless you count oysters. I don't.)

Now, granted, lobster is a pretty mild case, because even otherwise-squeamish people are willing to kill their own lobster, or at least watch it be done. After all, in its live state, lobster is not exactly cute and cuddly the way that lambs or piglets are. (And I have a firm belief that people's objection to killing animals is directly proportional to the perceived cuteness of the animal in question, though they're also willing to make specific exceptions for "luxury foods" like lobster and foie gras.) Also, it's not like you're intimately connected with the death of the lobster; you just throw it in the pot, toss on a lid, and you're done.

But it was an important psychological moment for me. We bought the lobster the day before cooking it, and I was very meditative about the whole thing. How did I feel about having six living creatures in my fridge overnight? Was I going to grow attached to them? When the moment came, how would I feel about placing a live, wriggling creature into boiling water and watching it die? There was a moment when I considered the possibility of converting to vegetarianism. So even if many others are willing to make lobster a specific exception to their general preference for shrink-wrapped meat on a styrofoam tray, I felt very deeply about the whole experience, and it was an important moment when I put that first crustacean in the water.

In the end, I was quite comfortable with the process. I felt no morbid fascination with their deaths (though the tone of this entry might lead you to believe otherwise!), but I felt no remorse either.

And the lobster was very tasty.


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