Who you starin’ at?

Some of my food issues are now legendary round these parts: The no fruit in my cake thing. The tuna fish makes me gag thing (as yet another poor PR person pitching me tuna fish learned yesterday). The no milk in my cereal thing. Though I suppose if I were stranded on a desert island with only boxes of pineapple cake and bowls of milky Lucky Charms, I would somehow manage to make do.

But the biggest challenge I’ve always had is easily food that looks at back at you while you eat it. No whole fish, no crabs with their little beady black eyes daring me to eat them, no giant pig heads roasting on a spit.

I sheepishly admit I’m one of those pathetic Amurkin types who likes to pretend my food was never alive. I prefer chicken breasts off the bone, and cured meats that bear no resemblance to anything with a face. I stopped eating wings in college when I realized that those veins? They were actual veins. Like, with blood in it. You know, veins? No clue why it took me 19 years to put the two together. I thought it was just a euphemism.

Soon after, I had a job which entailed slicing meat and draining blood. That’s how I became a vegetarian.

But really, a pseudo vegetarian. A bacon vegetarian. A bacon vegetarian who also ate Walter’s hot dogs. Because those things? Don’t look like meat. I used to joke to other vegetarians–real vegetarians–that oh, hot dogs…that’s not meat. That’s like nitrates and snouts and beaks and stuff.

Yeah, they really loved that.

(But come on! Walter’s hot dogs! The best!)

Cut to all these years later. I’m heavily back on the meat wagon and I’ve dabbled in more swimming food than I ever used to, but I still have a long way to go. Nate is teaching me to look at food differently; something we can honor and respect, and thank for giving us its life for our dining privilege. It’s kind of sad when you think about it–we want food that doesn’t seem like food. We want chicken shaped like stars, and bread that doesn’t require teeth to chew, and fruit ices the color of no fruit on this planet, unless there’s some exotic antifreeze citrus (C. Prestona) that I’m not yet aware of.

I recently asked a colleague at work who had toured a chicken farm whether it completely grossed him out. He said no, actually it made him want to go club something and drag it back to his cave and eat it with his bare hands. I have to respect that.

I want my kids to model their eating habits more after Nate’s (or Anthony Bordain’s) than mine. I want them to know that it’s okay for food to touch on the plate. And French fries aren’t a vegetable. And that  those veins, yes, are veins and that’s really okay. So I’m trying hard to eat better in front of them so that they can eat better in front of me. To get out of my comfort zone so they can get out of theirs.

For now, I still can’t eat the stuff that looks back at me while it’s on my plate. But a nice lobster roll smothered in mayo on squishy bread from Brooklyn Fish Camp, with a cold pilsner and a good friend, can sure hit the spot in the summer.

 [beef photo]


42 thoughts on “Who you starin’ at?”

  1. So sad but never actually noticed the veins. Off wings now, too ;).

  2. That looks DEE-licious!

    I'm learning to respect the food I eat more too and what I put in my body in general. I like the way Nate thinks!

  3. I don't eat anything that swims either. Thanks for actually giving me that analogy because when I say “I don't eat seafood” people are all like “OH, but this is shellfish” or “OH, but this is freshwater fish”. Ummm… no thanks. Just the smell makes me nauseous. I just can't deal. Never have been able to from the time I was small. My mom is just like me. My dad and brother aren't. My husband will eat anything. I do mean anything. My kids are a bit more picky but will usually at least try anything their dad does. Wings completely gross me out. Really any kind of chicken grosses me out because of the veins and stuff. I buy boneless, skinless breasts and then hack the ever living crap out of them. *shrug*

    I'm a ranch girl so I'll eat anything beef. I prefer the leaner cuts and I have my ground beef processed as lean as is humanly possible.

    When your friend toured the chicken farm was it an *actual* chicken farm or a factory farm? I have a laundry list of issues with factory farms. We don't eat anything that's not grown free range.

    Thankfully I'm in Wyoming and my family owns a ranch so that's easy for us to do. I realize not everyone has that ability.

  4. Oh, I love you even more now.

    I won't eat chicken if I have seen or handled it raw. I won't eat it if it has visible fat or veins or dark meat. And, God forbid I get a bite with a vein or something– I'll swear it off for months.

    I will, however, devour street hot dogs and questionable hamburgers.

    Makes no sense at all.

  5. When I had to explain to my oldest that chicken nuggets were once a real chicken, I was a little afraid. She thought about it for a minute and said, mmmm yummy, tasty chicken and continued eating.

    She's definitely my kid.

    I have meat issues, but mostly texture. I am not really an animal person, so I guess I just never thought about it that much. I could never be a vegetarian, although if bacon and sushi were allowed, I guess I could give it a try. Shit now I want sushi. Dam it Liz.

  6. Have you watched Food, Inc.? Unfortunately I did right before lunch time one day and I went to my kitchen and realized I couldn't eat anything in there. I was buying free range chicken at quadruple the price for like 2 months after from Trader Joe's and looking up co-op vegetable gardens.

  7. Yes, Food Inc is a must-watch for everyone. I found it intellectually honest and not alarmist at all, even as it revealed some alarming things.

    Mostly it made me never want to do anything with Monsanto, ever.

    Read Fast Food Nation. That one is a real frightening one – I haven't had a burger at McDonald's or BK ever since.

  8. I totally get the no food that can look at you while you eat it thing. But this is coming from the person that can't have mustard touching cheese. eww, just the thought of it makes me gag

  9. I just posted about Emilia's insane eating habits, and how she inherited them TOTALLY from me. She hasn't gotten to the no eyes no veins stage – I am and will always be there – also, fruit in cake, COME ON – but it's coming. The first time she sees eyes on food, it's coming.

  10. Since I married a cattle farmer and routinely walk into the pasture to pick my steak while it's still alive, I have less issues with eating meat than I expected.

    I don't even mind when the cows moo at me because damn, they taste good.

    But I can't get past the veins in the chicken wings either.

    Or the fish faces staring at me.

  11. I know a guy who won't eat spherical foods. He doesn't say “round” – he says “Spherical.” Kuh-razy.

    Personally, I go on-and-off meat. I totally get the bacon vegetarian thing. I am a vegetarian about 80% of the time, but I NEED hamburgers. And bacon. My life wouldn't be worth living without the occasional (like, weekly?) burger. The beauty of burgers and bacon is that they look absolutely nothing like their origins. I'm with you on that, too. No food that looks like where it came from. I prefer no visible reminders (veins, fat, etc.) of the former body.

    Used to love crab cakes, but after watching Deadliest Catch with the hubs and seeing WAY TOO MANY crab crawling around in those traps, looking so prehistoric, I'm kind of off crab for the moment. Give me a few months, though…

  12. it's lobster that gets me. Or rather, lobster as “hey kids big fun let's rip the shells of this thing that looks like a BIG RED COCKROACH and EAT IT.” Freaks me right out. In fact, college roommates once reduced me to tears by chasing me around the house with a live lobster. Those long waving antennae. Shudder. So I would refine your “no eyes” thing to: nothing that looks like something I would otherwise spray with toxins to rid myself of.

  13. Your post reminded me of when I recently heard Jonathan Safron Foer talking about his new(ish) book Eating Animals. I really want to read it but am too cheap to buy it in hardcover…have any of you guys read it?

    I want my kids to eat well. Dinosaur chicken nuggets are cool and all, but watching my kids dig meat out of a lobster with their little hands is pretty friggin' awesome.

  14. LOVE Walter's. LOVE. Then again, we have been known to go out of the way for good road food hot-dogs.

    It's important to teach kids to eat food, real food. I was pleased when my kid came home from her farm afterschool program and asked if she could eat my pansies.

  15. Probably the strangest and most disturbing thing I've eaten was brain. I think it was a lamb's brain but I can't be sure. It was really the texture that got to me, and perhaps not so coincidentally, shortly afterwards I became a vegetarian for a few years.

    Anyone who knows the real me knows I've struggled with food for a long time. This past week I've been thinking a lot about my relationship with food and actually told my husband that I'd like to see a therapist about it. I just want to get past whatever drives me to use food for comfort or to pass the time. I absolutely do not want to pass on any of the food issues I've had to my kids. It's far too emotionally exhausting and such a waste of time + energy.

  16. I've found that trying to be a good example for my kids has made me face up to some of my food issues, too.

    We have a veggie with ever meal, even though my daughter won't eat it. I'm in that subset of people for whom green veggies taste bitter. I am also a working mother without a lot of time to cook dinner. So I am developing a small specialty in fast veggie recipes that hide the taste of the veggie. Hey, we all have our talents.

    I know I should tackle fish next. My husband has one salmon recipe that masks that telltale fishy taste that makes me gag, so there is hope.

    As for reading/viewing on the food industry- I recommend The End of Food, by Paul Roberts. I found it to be a more balanced look at things. I've read Fast Food Nation, too, and got annoyed by the fact that I would often have a counter-argument pop into my head (I can't help myself- I'm trained as a scientist) and the author wouldn't address it at all. That made me feel like I was reading an opinion piece, and not a balanced piece of reporting- which is fine, but not what I was looking for.

  17. I have read Eating Animals and it is an amazing book. It really showed me all the inconsistencies in how I approach what I eat and how little the average person knows about how meat goes from animal to grocer. I think respecting food is important but it is also important to respect the animals that become our meat and 99% of the time that does not happen. Not to mention the environmental impacts of meat etc. I ramble but yes, great book.

  18. Please ask Magpie, CAN one eat pansies? Not that I have pansies in this here desert. But it's useful to know.

    I have the same theory around teaching my kids to eat, so I buy whole trout. Like, entirely whole, with bones and eyes and scales. EEEK! they said, the first time I served it. Now it's delicious.

  19. When I traveled to the East Coast of Canada as an 18-year-old, I attended a lobster dinner. Which is, like, constitutionally required. Only I had a REALLY hard time eating the lobster because it was looking RIGHT AT ME. My friend the vegetarian had to crack into the thing for me. I don't think that I have ever felt more hypocritical in my life.

  20. That lobster roll was a thing of beauty.

    I was all set to join a Fish CSA (to join the vegetable and meat CSA's in our lives) until I heard the fish comes with its head on it. I know I could deal with this if necessary, but it has freaked me out a bit. But then when someone told me to just bake it and take the head off afterward, I recoiled and said, “But I wanted to boil it for stock!” And then I realized I'm really an official grown up.

    (and bacon, sausage, liverwurst and hot dogs were always the reasons I fell of the vegetarian bandwagon—basically all the salty, not-so-good-for you meats)

  21. I can totally deal with the fish and all things seafood staring at me while I eat, but I grew up on the Florida coast, and that's just what we did. We cleaned and filleted the fish right off the boat, cooked and served it. Chicken, however, is different for me. I'm usually okay when I start preparing it but somewhere along the way I find a vein or something gross. I'll finish cooking it for everyone else, but I just can't bring myself to eat it. But bring on the fish!

  22. Let's just say that my Chinese grandfather's 60th birthday read like an episode of Bizarre Foods, in which my grandmother fought with the waiter because the fish only had one eye.

    I'll eat pretty much everything (ahem) but I'm one of those find a bone in soup or in a fish and I'm done.

  23. I've never noticed the veins either. Oh my gosh that big plate of food looks so yummy!

  24. I've got to say I don't mind the veins in chicken. Just eat it along with the rest of the meat on your fork and you don't even notice. I actually don't have a problem with any meat… it can look at me if it wants to, I'm still going to eat it!

    I once went to a fish eatery in Germany where they give you a fishing rod on the way in, you go catch a fish out of the pond out back, give it to the old man who cleans out the guts (but leaves on the head and skin), then he gives it to the old lady who cooks it up for you. I'm telling you, I'm not a huge seafood fan (only eat it every few weeks) but that was the best fish I've ever eaten. Yumma!

    I suppose the only thing I might have an aversion to is the stuff that's just not heard of in North America or Europe… I once saw a show on food in rural China and they were eating things like stewed turtle (shell still on folks) and deep fried insects. That turned my stomach… blech.

    Also re: the fruit in cake – I just baked a strawberry cake for my daughter who's 3rd birthday party is tomorrow, at her request, and it looks freakin' delicious!

  25. I love meat and I have no problem eating it, but I hate to prepare it. That’s why I married a self professed Grill Man. I also never had an issue with eating lobster from the shell until a friend of mine thought it would be a good idea to kill it by driving a knife through it instead of boiling it. You know what happens when you knife a lobster? Its eyes bulge and pop out from the pressure. Out of curiosity I witnessed the slaying and I don’t think I will ever get over it. Still, if you want to fix me a nice lobster salad roll or even better a tail on a half shell, please pass the melted butter.

  26. Oh no. You're not a mayo girl, are you? It is the ONE.THING.I.CANNOT.EAT. No, thank you, I would not like eggs and oil on my sandwich. I've loved you so, until this moment. I'll take a vein over mayonnaise any day.

    By the way, have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Such a great read and made me cut my family off from commercially produced beef. We only do free-range. With eyeballs.

  27. @dusty earth mother

    Mayo makes me gag almost as much as tuna.

    But for some reason it's okay in lobster rolls. Go figure.

  28. I am sooooo with you on this! I cannot eat anything that looks like it was once alive…uuurrrgghh…..but give me something from the Golden Arches and I'll lap it up!!! All kinds of wrong!

  29. There's nothing I love more than a good batch of buffalo chicken wings….but if I grab one that has a broken bone in it??? I can't eat it. Somehow, a whole bone is okay but that broken, jagged edge makes me gag a little.

  30. you had me at the no fruit in dessert thing. BARF. EXCEPT for lemon and lime…not sure why this is, but key lime pie and lemon meringue are acceptable.

    and YES. I can't eat food that is looking at me. I can't eat chicken off the bone. EVER. But, interestingly, I visited Cargill chicken and meat facilities and didn't walk away not wanting to eat meat or chicken…in fact, I was chowing down before I even left the building.

    BUT nothing that has EVER been in the water for me thanks.

  31. Ali, we are twins in citrus love. LOVE key lime pie.

    Although still wouldn't love a lime jelly between two layers of pound cake. Ew.

  32. I have my own food issues, which is why we are planning to purchase a grass-fed cow once its short, well-nourished life comes to an end in early fall. I want to visit the farm and see our cow and show my kids that this is where food comes from. My husband thinks I am a sick sick-o.

  33. HAHAH “I stopped eating wings in college when I realized that those veins? They were actual veins.” YUP boneless wings only please! If I do have regular ones, I can only eat the outside part. I leave the meat and tendons for Peter *GAG*

  34. Wow, we are the same way about our food. I'm trying to branch out and eat more real food (even if fake foods are delicious!), but I'm not cool enough yet to eat anything that can look back at me. Whoa. We'll see how far I've come when Sebastian is Thalia's age…

  35. Thanks to his dad, my 4 year old loves “fish with eyes.” He will not, however, indulge us in eating some battered and deep-fried fish and chips. Which means, of course, that I can't even pretend that it's a treat for the kids.

  36. I've been a veg for a long time, so all that stuff is out. But when I was a kid, I loved me some chicken gizzards and livers and hearts, and disgusting smelly fish like smoked bonito, and quail…

    Now the things I can't stand?
    Hard-boiled eggs in any form including in salads.
    Poached or fried eggs. Ok, any eggs that aren't scrambled or made into omelet-y forms.
    Bananas when they smell at all like…bananas. Gotta be greenish.
    Splenda. I have heard 10% of the population have a genetic predisposition to have Splenda taste horrible. I am one of those people.
    Lavender. I know lavender is not terribly common in foods, but I once had some pasta with a lavender-cheese sauce that was just horrible, and some trendy places have things like lavender creme brulee on the menu. Ack.

  37. Euphemistic veins…I like that idea. Ha! I have taken a good look at my calves (the one attached to my legs, not the ones in the pasture) and decided those are just euphemisms…not veins.

  38. I have 6 grandchildren and have been training them to love what I eat. When Zack comes to visit in NY, he wants to go to PJ Clarke's because “they have the best hamburger & chili in town”. When James comes to NY he wants to go to Papaya King because he knows that they have the best all beef, natural casing hot dog in town and then he needs to go to the restaurant at the Neue Gallery so he can have apple strudel mit schlag…..and he's only 9.

    The others are yet to be trained.

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