Meaty Matters

4 Mar

Last weekend I had dinner with friends at Joe Beef in Montreal. It’s a fun place where the the welcome is warm and the food is inventive, delicious and meaty.

Our server was extra attentive–he read us the whole handwritten menu from the chalkboard, stopping to explain all the weirdest and most wonderful dishes. Then he brought surprises to our table between courses that turned dinner into a whole experience.

The first was donkey mortadella.

A few of us got stuck in, but my tablemate Rebecca passed. She said had trouble eating any animal with big, beautiful eyes.

Rebecca also mentioned she’d been hunting before. I said I could never do that–in between mouthfuls of the donkey that she couldn’t touch.

The pistachio-studded mortadella really was delicious, but I admit that as I ate, I was trying not to think too much about the little donkey I used to groom in the local park, when I was a young girl (and a hardcore vegetarian).

We dined on brains that night too–something I’ve wanted to do since I took a high-school Latin class, where I learned that the Romans served them at decadent, multi-course banquets, at which they’d throw up mid-meal, so they could keep stuffing down more such delicacies.

The salty and juicy jumble of Joe Beef’s “Brains Over Matter” won my fickle heart, but I’m still squeamish about animal bits such as trotters, chicken feet or tongue.

Dead tongue on my tongue–non, merci.

*     *     *     *     *

Just the following day, still in Montreal, I was taking a Belgian cooking class. It was great fun (more on that in an upcoming post), but I was a little anxious about one thing: the rabbit entree.

We were all assigned different things to prep. I looked at the little rabbit steaks all lined up on a platter on my team’s table, then I looked over at the group melting dark chocolate into full-fat cream, and I knew I was not where I belonged.

I infiltrated the desserts team, more or less on tiptoe, and as I got to work on my chocolate mousse, breathed a sigh of relief.

The thing is, I used to have a pet bunny called Molly, and while I don’t think it’s any better or worse morally to cook up rabbit than cow or pig, to me eating rabbit would be like eating a family member.

Just to complicate things further, later when the main course was being dished out, I declined the rabbit but poured veal gravy all over my frites.

Eyebrows were raised.

All this to say, my weekend in Montreal got me thinking about how complicated it can be to draw the lines when it comes to meat.

Here’s what I figured out about myself:

I will try most things once, unless they remind me of a beloved pet.

The exception is shark fin soup–not because I’ve ever had a pet shark, but because I believe no animal should suffer a drawn-out, painful death (and in numbers that spell extinction for a species) so that we can dine on one small, tasteless body part and throw away the rest of the animal.

I’d rather not kill my own supper… unless we’re talking oysters.

I’d rather pay an extra few dollars for humanely raised meat and eat it only now and again than eat factory-farmed meat on a daily basis.

I sometimes eat at hole-in-the-walls where that ethos goes out the window, but I can’t say I feel great about it afterwards.

Cow tongue, pig trotters and chicken feet creep me out.

I’ll never give up haggis.

 *     *     *     *     *

I’ll be the first to admit my own principles are not entirely rational, but this is by nature a messy and emotional topic.

So I put the question to you now: When it comes to eating meat, where do you draw the line?

22 Responses to “Meaty Matters”

  1. signe March 4th, 2012 at 5:25 PM #

    No endangered species. No dogs but I would eat a country-raised, cat (uh oh, now I’ve done it!) No insects. No horse. No factory farmed meat or eggs. But I do love blood pudding and many of the end bits and guts. Though tonight I dine on kale and potato curry. Sans donkey.

    Here, kitty, kitty, kitty………. 😉

  2. Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 8:46 AM #

    Of all the things I expected to see here, cat was not one of them!

  3. RD March 5th, 2012 at 9:35 AM #

    Gross – not even sure where to begin.

    • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 9:48 AM #

      Note to self: Never invite your vegan bestie to weigh in on meaty matters.

    • RD March 5th, 2012 at 11:38 AM #

      Ok – i’ve digested your meaty culinary experience. Eating brain and donkey is gross. My feeling is, if you can kill it, eat it. If not…
      Just a big fresh salad for me thanks.

      • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 11:43 AM #

        That pretty much only leaves me with oysters then. And technically wasps.

      • The Greater Goods March 5th, 2012 at 1:54 PM #

        I used to subscribe to the idea that I wouldn’t eat anything I wouldn’t kill – but then realized I’m fine with, say, using a toilet when I have no desire to wade the city’s sewer system.

        • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 5:23 PM #


        • RD March 5th, 2012 at 10:10 PM #

          Ya – I’m fine with toilets, too. Still not eating donkey and brains…

  4. Alison March 5th, 2012 at 9:56 AM #

    No shark fin or other endangered species — check and to search sustainable seafood lists. Definitely humanely-raised — no factory anything, if I can help it.

    And after years spent cooking rabbit in various restaurants, I swore off eating them over 10 years ago when I got my first pet bunny. This wasn’t a difficult transition, as rabbits have such distinct and playful personalities. Of course, you can say that virtually all animals that have made it into our food chain…!

    • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 10:06 AM #

      So true, Alison. After meeting a friend’s hens and seeing how friendly they are, I have a harder time eating chicken.

  5. Rachel March 5th, 2012 at 10:04 AM #

    I’ve taken a “when in Rome” approach to meats (and food in general), eating local delicacies I would never have thought to try from the relative bland safety of my Western-Canadian hometown. I ate rabbit in France and horse in Quebec. I guess if I ever make it to, say, Vietnam, I’ll have to face down balut (fertilized duck embryo in the shell). What I have tasted has been delicious (preparation by a skilled chef helps) but I’m not going to buy those meats just for the novelty. While they make for interesting experiences, the more animals I eat, the more I realize the best diversity, in terms of flavour and preparation possibilities, is in the vegetable kingdom. Meat is best used sparingly, which hopefully means you can afford to source the highest quality, cruelty-free kind.

    • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 10:56 AM #

      Thanks for weighing in. I’d never heard of balut – guess what I’ll be Googling this afternoon.

  6. March 5th, 2012 at 10:17 AM #

    I think what Joe Beef are doing is stand-out. Take all of us back a generation or two and we would have been eating directly off the land or the sea. Whilst this may seem primitive these days, it is far more in sync with nature than eating directly off a supermarket shelf. I grew up eating rabbit, goat, goose, pigeon, boar and my family still hunts. Currently, back home in Australia there is a young wild boar which is growing up with the kids, yet will lovingly be smoked to prosciutto. And at times, there is even an odd kangaroo hopping around (the meat is delicious). Each to their own I say, and congratulations to Joe Beef for their inventiveness and their respect for the different parts of the creature, both big and small. If we all lived off chicken fillet the world would be a boring place.

    • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 10:55 AM #

      Good points, Mira. What you’re talking about are kinder and more sustainable ways of getting meat on our plates, definitely not primitive.

  7. Juliet March 5th, 2012 at 10:55 AM #

    I can eat most animals but think I’d draw the line at reptiles and insects and cats and dogs. And I’m with Val on never renouncing haggis – so tasty as long as I don’t think too much about what it’s made from!

  8. Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 10:57 AM #

    My son ate chocolate-covered insects at Montreal’s insectarium once. They do a tasting event once a year. Kids are mad for it.

  9. The Greater Goods March 5th, 2012 at 1:52 PM #

    There’s no denying that most meat rules are purely arbitrary. As with any food, I like to eat what’s local and in season, including specialties I might not touch elsewhere (e.g. seaweed-fed lamb in Orkney, Scotland – hadn’t eaten lamb in over a decade before my trip there).

    Also try not to eat any animal that has put its life before mine – so no dogs or horse!

  10. Tihana March 5th, 2012 at 9:13 PM #

    I would definitely refuse to eat any endangered species. I also try to avoid as much as possible any processed meats, because of the notorious mistreatment of animals in that industry. I’m mostly vegetarian, with the occasional fish on the menu and the rare meat dish.

    I used to live in Asia, and I loved trying out the various local specialties such as snake soup, deep fried silkworms and duck jaws with the tongues still attached! If the people there eat it, why wouldn’t I at least try? I cannot give up meat completely, as I’m too curious about food!

    Anyone interested in the question of “Meat or no meat” should read Fast Food Nation, by Erik Schlosser, and Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

    • Valerie Howes March 5th, 2012 at 10:45 PM #

      What do silkworms taste like?

      • Tihana March 6th, 2012 at 7:32 AM #

        They have a doughy texture and taste like slightly savoury pancakes. They’re great bar food! Have them with some crispy grasshoppers, for the contrast. Lots of beer helps you forget you’re eating critters! 😉
        (says your resident Asian Food Freak)

  11. vicky weiss March 5th, 2012 at 11:58 PM #

    I’m having a hard time figuring out when I would draw the line.
    I wouldn’t eat a pet animal, that’s for sure (no cats, no dogs).
    Plus I have a bad memory from my childhood regarding “tongue”. So no tongue for me, either.

    So much easier just to eat a salad!!

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