I do not remember not knowing that pork came from the muscles of once-squealing pigs, nor milk from the finger-nippled white-flocked udders of certain patient cows, nor berries from thorned plants nor cabbages from wormy soil nor apples from gnarled and giving trees, nor eggs from the mysterious insides of startled broody chickens. Food, for me, has always and first been alive.
When I was a little girl we lived in what today would be called a rural environment; then, though, it was just the country, or, perhaps more accurately, the woods. Pigs were things to be slaughtered; deer hunted; cows milked; geese–I learned, after one or two terrifying and vicious attacks–avoided at all costs. This was life, and this was death, and they, together, were the world.
We did not stay there, though, and the comfortable logic of that existence shattered against the diamond-hard and diamond-pretty surfaces of ever-growing and ever-new cities.
(I remember, as a teenager–gawky and quiet and watchful and trying valiantly to adapt to a more civilized view of things–meeting a woman who told me, upon learning of my childhood, that her husband was a hunter. “I won’t eat the deer he shoots, though,” she told me, aloof and proud. “I refuse to. He brings them back whole, with their dark eyes and little hooves and soft fur… It breaks my heart. I could never eat them.” Chagrined, I remember asking her whether she’d been a vegetarian before they married. Her forehead rebuked my inquiry. “Vegetarian? I’m not one of those. I eat meat. I just don’t like thinking about it as an animal.” I do not remember what I said in response. I remember struggling to understand.)
These days, however and at last, the city is home. I love its muted and crueler wildness, and I love its harsh and blunted nature, and I love perhaps most of all the feeling of being both anonymous and enthronged. Still, although humanity is immediate–it is impossible to escape here the rush and pull of the pace and needs and hungers of other human beings–nourishment is abstract. Food is bought, not killed; food is ordered, not slaughtered; food is separate from whatever uncanny force once animated it and made it grow. I love the crush of humanity, and yet I miss this othered immediacy.
I have been using rabbit to comfort me. I bring home at least one every week, and sometimes more. Rabbit! We’re having rabbit tonight!
Is this strange? I love the taste of rabbit meat, which is unlike anything I know, but I love, as much, that rabbits must be bought whole, and need to be dissected before cooking. Rabbit, for me, is a reminder of the real. (Or this, at least, is how I excuse my increasing compulsivity.)
Preparing rabbit is a lesson in the beauty of biology: it demands awareness of bone and tendon and limb; it demands setting aside the soft and delicious chestnut of its little dark red rabbit heart; it demands positioning a small and undeniable body one final time before dinner. Preparing the animal–at least for me–settles a certain unease. I have held it in my hands, I tell myself. I can eat it now.
Ah, me. Perhaps I just long to be close to things. Perhaps this is the burden of all those stuck in between.