Dark Humor: Rigor Mortis on the Dinner Plate by Coleman McCarthy Washington Post
WASHINGTON—Thanksgiving, America's day of tribute to carnivorism, isn't likely to have the same turkey-chomping merriment of years past. Marian Burros, the journalist-cook-dashing spirit who favors simplicity in her kitchen and factualness in her prose, has seen to that. She talked turkey the other day in the New York Times.
Birds served by Grandma, said Burros, are all but a vanished species. Most of today's turkeys "have been frozen and filled with ingredients no self-respecting turkey should contain...Much of the flavor has been bred out of turkeys, so whether they are fresh makes little difference."
For the fresh-is-better dreamers, Burros, whose current best-selling cookbook is Keep It Simple, salted her story with a Final complication: "If the turkey is freshly killed do not try to serve it the same day, for you will end up with one stiff bird, rigor mortis having set in; give a freshly killed bird two days to relax."
When food writers begin sounding like morticians, a major advance for vegetarianism has been made. A circle is being closed. Marian Burros discussing the rigor mortis of Thanksgiving turkeys is not much different from George Bernard Shaw's discourse on "animal corpses" as he beheld the meat-filled plates of his dinner companions.
It isn't known whether this style of Shavian frankness helped cure England's cadaver consumers of their ghastly habit. It may even have had the opposite effect: the harder Shaw was to swallow, the more his dinner mates sprinkled meat tenderizer on their steaks.
But this is different from the frankness currently found in the food pages of U.S. newspapers. The skepticism of a Marian Burros is likely to turn citizens into nutritional vegetarians, as against the creation of ethical vegetarians, which was the goal of Shaw. To skip the turkey and go straight to the yams and peas is an attempt to dechemicalize one's body.
That turkeys and other meats have become so tasteless indicates that effectiveness of food technologists. In an earlier time, the birds, pigs and cattle that ended up on America's tables were tasty because they were vegetarians themselves. But now the animals are forced to ingest chemicals: to grow fatter faster.
To become a nutritional vegetarian is to seek an escape from the food technologists who attack the animals. The attacks, it is discovered, are really on us. A turn to healthy food is a turn away from death food.
The ethical and nutritional vegetarian is now being joined at the table by the economic vegetarian. Ewen Wilson, director of economics at the American Meat Institute, talks about "income elasticity": the more money a person makes, the more likely he'll eat meat. The less money, the less meat. "The demand for meat has been slow this year," Wilson says, "because of the economy. With a lot of people out of work, families cut back on meat."
This is another circle making a full turn. Historically, man was a grain and berry eater. He moved against certain animals out of necessity. Plutarch writes in The Eating of Meat: "For my part I wonder what was the disposition, idea, or motive of the first man who put to his mouth a thing slaughtered and touched with his lips the flesh of a dead animal...Actually, the reasons those primitive people first started the eating of flesh was probably their utter poverty."
Today, with economic vegetarians increasing in number, the challenge for these involuntary abstainers is to resist the feeling of deprivation. We have been conditioned by the false message that vegetarians are weaklings and flakos, while the eaters of red meat—and, on Thanksgiving, white meat—are the real articles. Real, perhaps, but not so healthy.
The conditioning is wearing thin, especially since the meat industry has few defenders once the propagandists are removed. As Mark Braunstein, in Radical Vegetarianism, a new and remarkably intelligent book, asks: "What philosopher has written a convincing text for the cause of carnivorism? What poet has lamented the misunderstood lives of the butcher and executioner?"
None. Which is why the food writers are feeling less and less restrained in discussing rigor mortis on the dinner plate.
Home > Lesson 32 - Why We Should Not Eat Meat
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