The whole crux of the omnivore’s dilemma is the distinctly human capability to distinguish between what tastes good to eat, and what feels good to eat. Because of my conviction that eating a pig could never feel good, in nearly five years of marriage, my husband and I didn’t consume pork. By way of disclosure, bacon and finely shaved ham have made semiregular appearances on our menu since last year, when the inexplicable cravings of pregnancy superseded my principles.
Lately, though, we found new rationale for ethical compromise: financial hardship. After giving birth and having surgery within four weeks, plus buying a new-to-us second car, we barely had two pennies to rub together for a solid six-month period. We gave up membership in our community-supported agriculture guild—to which I am indebted for launching heirloom tomatoes into my culinary orbit—and joined Sam’s Club—after which I learned 101 different ways to prepare canned tomatoes. We started shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart, where last week for the first time in my life I willingly, if begrudgingly, bought pork (the cheaper white meat). One cannot always afford to be principled.
So my personal omnivore’s dilemma came to a head on Sunday, when I sat down to a fine dinner of roasted root vegetables with a side of moral anxiety. That is to say, pork loin. The cooked pig was seasoned with cracked black pepper and other herbs. (Not a hint of customary applesauce tarnished the plate. I despise mixing sweet with savory. But that is a separate and unrelated matter). I must admit it was delicious. As expected, though, despite the delectability of the meal I came dangerously close to a retch more than once. As I dined my better angel whispered the kosher laws in my ear—with aberrant, sinister emphasis on “Cloven footed! Cloven footed!”—an episode made more disturbing by the fact that I’m not even Jewish.
I made it through the meal, but I haven’t been able to let go of the conflict that to me something can still taste good without feeling good to think about. After much soul-searching I have discerned two distinct personalities dividing my character: a bon vivant and an animal rights advocate.
This split personality can’t be healed by vegetarianism—I’ve tried it several times since elementary school, and though meat plays merely a supporting role on my menu, it is on the cast list nonetheless. Perhaps the root of the problem is that I don’t find repulsive the notion of eating some animals. It’s the way we generally go about it—with complete lack of compassion, respect and stewardship—that make sorrow and guilt common condiments on my dining table.
No matter what principled stands I may decide to take, I’ll always have a bitter taste tingeing my relationship with food. You see, inhumane husbandry has played a bigger part in my life than I have heretofore explained.
A constant reminder of the barbarism that led to Mad Cow, a euphemism that I’m certain was coined to imply cows getting on absurdly as opposed to having their brains dissolve inside their craniums, will always run through my veins, an ever-present element of my being. Since I lived in Great Britain during the ’80s—regularly dining on seemingly innocuous stews and roasts—the American Red Cross won’t allow me to give donations for fear that prions of the disease might have surreptitiously taken up residence in my bloodstream.
I’m happy to report no symptoms thus far, gastronomic identity crisis notwithstanding. Hopefully I’ll never develop that particular flavor of crazy.
Thursday, February 5
A Crisis of Conscience, Part 2
As promised, here's the rest of my essay. Enjoy!