I learned last night that I am not a vegetarian… at least, not for the reason of being unable to accept what my hamburger started its life as. Perhaps in future I might make that switch, but if I do, it will not be for the ‘ick-factor’.
Yesterday was the first major prep for Hogswatch, which we are celebrating this weekend. Hogswatch? I’m sure a few of you are thinking, “hey, that’s at Christmas time, stooopid”, while most of you are thinking something along the lines of “you’re going to watch pigs? What will they be doing? What the hell is Hogswatch?”
The answer is… follow the link to Wikipedia, or just be patient, and wait until it is explained in an upcoming post. Suffice to say, we focus a lot on food, and a lot on making the food very British, because the author of the Discworld series is British, and Hogswatch occurs on the Discworld.
For this year’s meal, K. and I decided to do DUCK… Goose is such a British festive meal, but I haven’t the foggiest idea where you could get one in my area, and ducks are kind of like small geese.
Over the Christmas holidays, I saw Alton Brown’s holiday special, in which he does a Christmas Duck (this link takes you to the Foodtv.com recipe by Alton Brown). This, I decided, was a very authentically British kind of a duck recipe, even if I don’t use his oyster dressing. With this recipe in mind, I needed to get the duck a few days early, to properly season it. The recipe calls for flattening the duck and leaving it to dry out in the fridge for a few days prior to cooking, to drain some of the fat, and to dry the skin out.
I decided to go for a fresh duck, because, in general, fresh is better than frozen – it should get a nice crispy skin, and I won’t have to worry about making sure it fully defrosts without being exposed to warm temperatures for too long prior to cooking. We checked out a few butcher shops, but, unfortunately, if there is a season in which they have whole ducks, mid-February isn’t one of them. The grocery stores I went to all had either nothing, or frozen ducks.
Then, inspiration! The Asian food market in my neighbourhood! This place is great – there are so many interesting fruits and vegetables there, and they have a huge meat section, with a lot of cuts that don’t fit into the ‘Standard North American Diet’. And, hey, duck is more common in their cuisine than in the cuisine of the Polish people my nearest No Frills caters to. I was so excited to find the duck there, I didn’t hesitate to snatch up the plastic-wrapped package and stick it in my basket, along with two little chickens (to ensure that we have enough meat to serve the masses).
I was so excited that, apart from a brief examination of the package (to establish that, no, it was not a chicken, and no, it didn’t look any different from the other packaged ducks on the shelf), I did not really examine the DUCK. Some of you might be thinking of that one Stuart Mclean story, where Dave buys a Grade C turkey that looks like it’s been abused, and tries to find someone to cook it for him. That wasn’t the issue at all. I think I might have preferred that issue. The issue was in the difference between Asian Cuisine, and North American Cuisine.
Had I been aware of Duck’s head-ed and foot-ed condition, I would have introduced him to the butcher behind the counter, and couldn’t you pretty please chop off the extra bits, I want it to stop looking like it was alive before I got it. In fact, I would really like it to stop looking at anything… especially me… with its eyes. Looking at me with its eyes, on its head. I just want the burger, not the cow’s life story.
When I realised my error – Duck had his head, his long neck, and his feet all attached (though luckily, he was emptied out) – my first thought was, “Dad will be home soon, I’ll get him to deal with this!” After all… what are Dads for, if not dealing with the icky things?
I put Duck on the counter, emptied the rest of my grocery bags, and tried to avoid eye-contact. Awkward. Duck had gone from ‘it’ to ‘he’, and now he was sitting on my counter, staring accusingly at me from out the corner of his eye.
“Have you considered vegetarian?” he asked.
His voice was cajoling as he implored, “You already eat vegetarian food, and enjoy it. Why not make the lifestyle choice?”
He switched tactics, mocking, “Can you really look me in the eye and then cook me? You can’t even man-up enough to do the deed, but you still have the right to eat me?”
Unfortunately, Duck was making valid points – how can I be an omnivore without acknowledging where my food is coming from? I’ve seen carrots in the ground, and not shed a tear as I twist a tomato off its stem. Today’s urban society really doesn’t require you to make any kind of connection between what you’re eating and where it is coming from. A steak looks nothing like a cow, and a plucked and trussed chicken looks nothing like the living, pecking, clucking creature of the same name.
I’ve heard a lot of arguments for vegetarianism. Some people find the idea of eating something that was once alive to be repulsive. Or they want to be more environmentally friendly, and this is the best way, in their opinion, to do so. Others just title their own ‘picky-tarian’ tendencies vegetarian, to make things simple. One friend chooses not to eat meat unless she’s sure it’s organic, and was treated well in life – so it is a health-choice, as well as an ethical choice for her. There are people who are convinced this will help them lose weight – those are the ones who generally don’t do vegetarian well, and lose weight because their body is starving for proper nutrition. I’ve heard the arguments, and continued to eat meat, regardless. They have made their choice, and I have made mine. But, if I can’t acknowledge that the duck I plan to serve for dinner was originally a living creature, did I really make my omnivorous choice with all the information in hand?
I don’t like mushrooms, but I came to that decision through regular attempts to eat them. I have tried a great many types of mushroom, cooked in a variety of ways, and, over the course of years, established that there is only one type that I like, and I really only had it as a steak sauce, so I can’t besure I will like it in other things. How can I make the decision to eat meat without all the information in front of me? And here I am, standing in my kitchen, avoiding awkward eye-contact with a duck. A duck I chose to purchase, in order to cook it, with the purpose of eating it. Why, firstly, should I consider it normal to waste parts (like the neck) because they aren’t what I expected? Chicken feet are a fairly expensive purchase, because making chicken soup or chicken stock with them in it makes for a much more flavorful soup. But they aren’t what the average North American expects, so we don’t use them in our cooking at home. Why should I feel it’s acceptable to eat this creature, but only if I don’t have to see what it was before it was just a bunch of meat?
I’m not saying that I’m going to go out and start hunting my meat, or slaughtering my own chickens, but last night, I came to the realization that, if I’m going to eat meat, I should accept it for what it was before I ate it as well. I’m not religious, but respect for the dead isn’t only for the prayerful, and it certainly isn’t restricted to the human dead.
What I am saying is that I cut Duck’s head and feet off. And then I cut up and down his spine, removing the neck and spine, and flattening the duck out, to prepare for cooking it on Sunday.