My complex relationship with meat

A few years ago, I cooked a couple of big steaks. Impressed with their heft and the real estate they took up on our plates, I said “now that’s an assload of meat.” “Is it, now?” or something to that effect, M answered, coyly inviting further comment. “Yeah, I get that all the time,” I followed up. Pregnant pause. “So you’re telling me that you get an assload of meat all the time, huh?” Ah, the crumpling feeling of having a double entendre intended to speak to the substantial girth, length, weight, and general power and desirability of your manly parts turned against you in such a way that it (according to the old sensibilities about manliness and accepted male sexual tendencies) is at utter odds with what you were (with an ironic PC wink, of course) going for.

I don’t have a smooth transition here. I just like that story, and it turns out that my topic tonight is once again meat, and given the title I had dreamed up for this post before thinking of incorporating the anecdote, it seemed an appropriate intro, if one that it turns out I don’t have a smooth transition out of. File your complaints with the management and keep holding your breath for my book deal; it’s looking like it’ll be a while yet in coming. Ahem.

So back at the end of March, I posted about leaving meat behind, at least temporarily. At the time, I was just tired of cooking meat, of looking at the “glistening cold red slabs of flesh” (band name, anyone?). Meat didn’t appeal to me. For several months, I didn’t eat meat, or cook it. But then we had a few family gatherings at which standard cookout fare was more or less expected, and I’m certainly not one to push my eating habits on others. So I grilled frozen pre-fab patties, and it didn’t bother me (they’re not glistening, after all). Then I knocked M up. And she couldn’t eat much of anything because the thought of eating anything made her want to hurl up the very soles of her feet. But she occasionally craved some morsel or another of meat. So I started cooking meat for her and Lennie from time to time, but stuck to tofu or beans myself, not as a matter of principle but merely because the meat didn’t appeal to me. It was much the same as the way I sometimes cook corn but often don’t partake of it myself because it just doesn’t appeal to me.

I don’t remember the precise sequence of events, but some time recently, I cooked some (baked) barbecued chicken for M and Lennie, and I went ahead and ate some too because I didn’t want to cook something separate for myself, and sugar snap peas and a biscuit alone just weren’t going to cut it for me. At around the same time, we stopped at Wendy’s after Lennie’s dental surgery, and rather than stop at a second place for my meal (M was craving a Wendy’s burger and a frosty), I just went ahead and got a burger. And because I’m not dogmatic about not eating meat, it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed my Wendy’s hamburger (thin as it was) and my beef tallow fries. Last night, M was craving Chinese (she described a dream in which we had gone to a Chinese place and she was waiting in line or for takeout or something, and she finally got to the buffet and was craving mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, which happened to be on the buffet in addition to piles of wonderful Chinese food), and so we went to the buffet (which sadly didn’t have mashed potatoes or mac and cheese). And I partook of great heaping piles of chicken meat that I enjoyed (though my GI tract paid the price for all the grease today and I think I would have liked the flavors applied to tofu just as much). Both yesterday and today, I consumed tube steaks. It was a weenie fest, to be sure.

Here let me break for a stupid pun that just came to mind that seems entirely relevant. You’ve heard of the Beatitudes, no doubt. (After googling Beatitudes, I’ve discovered that my pun is not only stupid but also incorrect, as you’ll see momentarily.) I was thinking that the Beatitudes were the part of the scripture where you have all the “there’s a time for this, and a time for that, a time for this, and a time for that.” (Here’s where I was wrong — it’s the part the Monty Python crew lampooned with “Blessed are the cheesemakers” — an entirely different set of repetitive phrases). And but so given my recent attitude toward meat, I was thinking it was appropriate to say that there’s a time for chicken, a time for tofu, no time for beef, a time for fish, etc. The name of this little litany? The meatitudes. If you were camped out in my head and could hear the running internal monologue, you’d be laughing, I promise. It’s hard to capture the genius in print.

Ahem. So it seems that I have an informal and actually uncharted meat matrix that governs what I’m happy about eating of late. It’s not a set of rules but is more like a set of prejudices I’ve begun to notice emerging. And it seems so far to go something like this:

  • I don’t really want beef if I’ve had anything to do with its preparation or if it’s recognizable as something I might have prepared (my patties are six times the width of a Wendy’s patty, so a Wendy’s patty isn’t recognizable as something I’ve made, and it’s dubious that it’s recognizable as meat). I don’t object to it, but I sure don’t want it.
  • I’m ok with chicken sometimes, preferably white meat and preferably in small chunks (a la the Chinese buffet). I don’t really want it if I’ve had to prepare it myself, but if it’s a matter of eating a few bites of chicken or having just some peas and a biscuit, I’ll probably eat some chicken if there’s no fake chicken around.
  • If there’s a veggie option available, I’ll generally choose it. Meat is something of a last resort.
  • Although I’m not dogmatic about not eating meat, I feel like a little bit of a failure if I do eat it because I have the weird sense that I’m failing to live up to some commitment I made, so in addition to my general lack of desire to consume meat, I have an additional incentive to avoid it if possible, though it doesn’t outweigh practical considerations like not wanting to make two left turns across a busy street at a peak traffic time to go to two drive-through restaurants for separate dinners or not wanting to prepare two dinners each night.
  • Again, this all seems to be a matter of transitory preference rather than of, say, ethics. I just generally don’t want much meat lately, much as I usually don’t want corn, though sometimes it (corn) appeals to me.
  • For corn, I’ll just omit the dish if it doesn’t appeal to me; for meat, I feel compelled to find a substitution, preferably highish in protein.

There you have it, the beginnings of an understanding of my complex relationship with meat. Where it’ll go from here, who knows? I’ve got a yummy curried veggie dish planned for Labor Day, I know, and I’ve got a couple more veggie dishes I’m just dying to make soon. I gather meat will remain a satellite ingredient in my diet. It’ll be like that distant relative you don’t really care to correspond with but with whom you must occasionally maintain polite contact.

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