Max

This is how he usually acts. This is how I currently feel.

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Whether Meat is Meet

Today I found out I’d rather eat dog than be a vegetarian.

This somewhat startling revelation came about as a result of my previously-mentioned English/food class at the U of Toronto, which has now been featured in an article on the UToronto Media site (http://media.utoronto.ca/media-releases/arts/new-class-has-students-cooking-up-literature/), ¬†and also in the Toronto Star (though I haven’t found the link to that yet). Today’s class was based on a radically vegetarian book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I have to say, I did not at all enjoy this book; I found several arguments based on erroneous data or invented facts, an extreme bias which led to instant dislike on my part, and an overall sense of extreme patronising coupled with the fact that the author has raised his son vegetarian – meaning his son did not get to make that choice himself. Indeed, much of the narrative reads as if Foer believes he is the all-knowing father to all of his readers, finding reasons (and sometimes making them up) to force us into vegetarianism.

That being said, the group that presented today (though mostly comprised of vegetarians) were not radical, were not pushy, were not patronising. They prepared us a delicious salad using more than just the customary iceburg and kale, and followed it with a tofu stir-fry on jasmine rice. Throughout the meal, however, diners were somewhat nervously aware of their meat selection – a styrofoam tray with nine Ikea-meatball-sized hors d’oeuvres, a pinky flesh tone with bits of white and black speckled throughout. This mysterious offering was simply labeled “Thing.” Diners were offered “Thing” as their meat serving (which, with the iron in spinach and the protein in tofu, was not technically needed). Being as hardheaded as I am, however, and as affrontedly opposed to the message being shoved into my eyeballs by Foer, I ate one. It wasn’t bad. I ate another. In fact, I ate two-thirds of the serving in front of my little group of horrified classmates.

Growing up with a Chinese side to my family, strange meats and unidentifiable foods are not out of the ordinary. My cousin loves fish cheeks and eyeballs. A walk down Spadina will bring you face to face with bright red marinating pigs, golden brown dripping fatty ducks, freshly plucked and seemingly shivering hanging chicken, and the ubiquitous neon orange cuttlefish. Seeing meat in its original form does not fase me. Seeing meat as curious globs also does not fase me. I’m still not sure what was in my yin-yin’s jook meatballs, but they were crunchy and delicious and – motto of my childhood – try one, you might like it.

That was the attitude with which I approached “Thing.” Try it, you might like it. That simple phrase has led me to my love of Brussels sprouts, artichoke, steamed pork buns, chili… the list goes on, because that phrase has not yet led me wrong. I tried “Thing.” I liked it.

The presenting group then took suggestions as to what “Thing” might be. Was it Spam? Pate de foie gras? Ground chicken liver? It was revealed to be dog, possibly Chow-chow, picked up off the black market by the presenter’s Korean friend. Instant disbelieving gasps shot through the assembled diners. Was it really? How could they have done that? My only thought was, I guess this makes my palate more diverse.

Once, when travelling in Vienna with my father, we were given the chance to eat horse at a Mongolian barbecue. (As a sidenote: I’m not really sure whether horse as a food is native to Austria or Mongolia.) I had to pass it up at the time, at the age of seventeen, because my palate was not quite in line with my psyche, and I couldn’t help but correlate the dark reddish-brown slices of meat to the horse-drawn taxi cabs waiting on the street below. Given the chance now I’d definitely take it.

Foer raises the issue in Eating Animals that thousands of dogs are euthanised in the US alone due to failure to spay and neuter, or pet negligence. His argument, supposedly towards vegetarianism, is as follows: Why not just eat all those leftover dogs? There’s tons of meat simply rotting due to societal ideas. I understand that his argument was intended to shock the audience into a repulsion towards dog meat, and meat itself in general. When I read that section I simply began to wonder what dog meat tasted like, and kept digging into my chicken salad.

As it turns out, “Thing” was canned corn beef (a food product that, incidentally, I find slightly more revolting than dog meat). Its alien appearance (as we are used to seeing cooked beef at a brown colour, not this sickly pink) and foreign smell was intended to throw the diners off the, ahem, scent. The presenters asked how we’d felt about “Thing” both before and after finding out it was “dog,” and again after we’d learned it was really cow. I explained that I followed my “try it, you’ll like it” upbringing, was proud of myself for stomaching, nay, enjoying an alien food source that not many North Americans have had the chance to try, and then disappointed when I found out it wasn’t as exotic as I’d thought. But I was surprised at my reaction to “finding out it was dog” – initially, my stomach dropped in disbelief, and then I came around and began to be quite at ease with the thought. After all, Chow-chow is a breed that originally was¬†specifically bred to become food.

So that is the story of how I would rather eat dog than be a vegetarian. I figure it can’t be worse than anything found in modern-day street meat. (And a slight confession – though I definitely tried “Thing” in the hopes that I might like it, I also ate it slightly in spite of the vegetarians. Make meat as disgusting looking as you can, I will still eat it. That’s the evolutionary purpose of incisors – and who am I to spite evolution? It made me what I am today.)