Pas de viande?

I’ve learned to say that I don’t eat meat, and point to objects and ask if they contain meat in probably a dozen languages. I stopped eating meat a few months before our first trip to Europe in 2001. I’d never much liked it — in fact I remember my mom bribing me at a quarter a bite to eat liver as a kid.

The meat pavilion at Rungis Market, Paris

Touring the meat pavilion at Rungis Market in Paris

Upton Sinclair broke my teenage heart with his depiction of meat-packing plants in The Jungle, furthering my feelings against meat, and Eric Schlosser’s hideously sad stories in Fast Food Nation left me sitting on the couch one day, tears streaming, vowing I was through with meat (and fast food). Rather conveniently for my later sushi-loving self, he didn’t address fish, so I kept fish and seafood in my diet. Aside from my early over-exuberance, I don’t think I ever became a horrid, holier-than-thou type. I didn’t join PETA or Earthsave. I simply stopped buying beef, pork or poultry. I’d never eaten game, but I lumped that in with the rest.

As we humans tend to do, I read a lot of material that supported my decision. Then Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle gave me pause.

Should I overlook the suffering of victims of hurricanes, famines, and wars brought on this world by profligate fuel consumption? Bananas that cost a rain forest, refrigerator-trucked soymilk, and prewashed spinach shipped two thousand miles in plastic containers do not seem cruelty-free, in this context. Giving up meat is one path; giving up bananas is another. The more we know about our food system, the more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.

I didn’t run out and start gobbling up free-range turkeys, but it did plant a seed of wonder. Like Kingsolver and many others, I have no doubt factory farm raised meat is destructive, cruel, flagrantly wasteful and the cause of may ills.

I took from the book the main message of eating locally and seasonally, and enrolled in my first farm share, learning to eat with the seasons again, still with no meat.

I continued reading — Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, people I admire greatly and neither vegetarian. But both agree meat production in our country is anything but sustainable. I began to wonder about game though, especially after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma.

After many months I was ready to ask myself why I don’t eat game. I checked my reasons for not eating meat against game — wasting resources on feeding cattle, growth hormones, antibiotics, cruel treatment and inhumane slaughter, dire conditions for the meatpacking plant workers — none of them apply to game. It was simply that I’d never eaten it and it slid in along with other meat.

So not only do I find myself with no reason to not eat game (other than tenderhearted sadness at thinking of a beautiful deer or rabbit cut down)  some part of me is in approval of the person who eats wild game and uses it all — honoring the animal by not wasting any meat, and all that notion.

I’m not ready to run into the woods with a gun, but I am, for the first time in nearly nine years, ready to consider putting something on my plate not vegetable in origin. But as much as I don’t want to be that obnoxious person at the cookout who climbs on her high horse and announces she only eats free-range, organic, grass-fed, hand-massaged-by-virgin-princesses beef, please do not offer me a grocery store hamburger or hot dog.

5 responses to “Pas de viande?

  1. When I first came to France, ‘meat’ was the core of my cooking menus- beef one day, followed by chicken, veal, duck, rabbit, lamb, pork- I could have embroidered them like ‘days of the week’ on my seven aprons. 20 years in this Gascon farmland changed me- now I buy pork when I meet the Chapolards, occasionally a rabbit from Xavier, duck from Patricia when company comes. I write you to the sound of a cock crowing outside my office window; chicken is becoming a deliberate luxury and I like it better. Hunting season began this week in the woodlot next door. I’ll celebrate with hare or partridge, if I can talk the neighbor into sharing.

    ‘Meat’ is now just one small part of many other things that make up my meals here at Camont. While confit and foie gras get the gastronomic press, the garden and market vegetables here steal the show. Putting meat in perspective is a good exercise where abundance and moderation are good kitchen companions.

  2. what an interesting perspective! Altho I’m not vegetarian, this article gives me a lot to consider.

    We always feel sorry for vegetarians who visit Umbria. Pork is done so well here, and it’s local – the butcher or restaurant can tell you the name of the farmer who raised it, and they’re probably related to each other as well.

    As for game, the cinghiale (wild boar) is truly amazing. I’m like you – images of Bambi and Thumper give me pause, but around here every part of the animal is used and nothing is wasted, just as it should be.

  3. I am the girl that does go round lecturing people about the treatment of chickens.

    If it hasn’t been nicely treated then I’m not prepared to eat it.

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