Cute but Tasty

by Natasha J. Stillman

I live in New Zealand.  I drive by my meat a lot.  In spring the lambs are plentiful, frisky and adorable. Unfortunately for them, they are also tasty, and being New Zealand, lamb is relatively inexpensive and on every menu.  While traveling on the road or on a walk, my husband and I point out animals to each other and find them delightful as they frolic in their natural surroundings.  Despite our eating habits, we are animal lovers. But as we’re pointing them out, in the back of our minds, we think, “Hmmmm.”

We often see snails on the road in front of our house ─ oh so cute in their tiny, slimy glory.  I’ve saved several from being flattened by the crazy drivers who hurtle up our hill, placing them gently out of harm’s way. Yet after our year in Switzerland, escargot is my new favorite food, specifically, escargot with feta stuffed portabella mushrooms, grilled to perfection with crispy brown bread crumbs in the mix.

Once upon a time, I also had a problem eating duck and goose liver.  Sadly, that dilemma went the way of the dinosaurs after our year in Switzerland, also. Pâté de foie gras is simply too good not to be eaten.  While we were living in Zürich, our good friends from Toulouse brought us this heavenly stuff in a jar. You have to separate the liver from the fat, and then spread it on crackers or bread. We had the most decadent breakfast on our back deck, overlooking the lake.  I’ll never forget it, and as cannibalistic and pitiless as this makes me sound, I’ll never regret it, either.

Now, let’s talk about veal ─ for 12 years, it had been banned from our house. However, if it was on a menu at a restaurant, I’d give it serious consideration, my reasoning being that, hey ─ it’s already dead and in the kitchen, right? Besides, my mother, who is Goan-Indian, has a family dish called ‘veal marengo’ which is simply to die for. It’s so good that I imagine the veal is happy to have made such a permanent commitment to its existence.  But then again, my whole family is a bunch of rabid carnivores ─ we’ve eaten brain, chicken bone marrow, beef tongue, and more. Never let it be said that any part of a sacrificed mammal goes to waste within our tribe.  It made me feel guilty at first, but of course living in Europe put an end to that shame, too. My favorite soup ever while travelling through Europe was a delicate, clear broth made with slices of tasty veal marrow.

We also recently took a trip to Korea, and while I won’t be repeating the particular and dubious gustatory delight that is Seoul sea slug ─ my husband loved it; I filed it under the same category of the ‘less-than-satisfying raw jellyfish incident of Los Angeles 2003’ ─ I am already craving plenty of other foods from that trip, my particular favorite being Korean barbeque-style pig cheeks. Yes ─ pig cheeks. There was a whole restaurant devoted entirely to the cooking and serving of pig cheeks, and it was packed to the rafters.

Don’t bother writing in ─ it’s not like I’m not aware of the cruelty issues and my culpability in them. But I comfort myself by being updated on where most of our food comes from. In New Zealand where the cows and sheep are grass-fed, and one sees the imported deer on venison farms, romping on open grassy plains and hills, I breathe easier, justifying my taste for beef, lamb, and venison by appreciating that these are well-cared for at least, which is more than I can say for those out in the wild living in fear of being chased by hungry coyote or mountain lions.

Perhaps watching chefs like Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés on such a regular basis has left a permanent mark on my psyche. I’ve become an unabashed foodie who’ll try almost anything once. I pause, but I partake.

It’s just who I am, but being a conflicted carnivore is bliss.

Last 5 posts by Natasha J. Stillman