Eating and Cooking Animals

The show starts in typical Julia fashion-a complicated contraption of funnels and glass jars are piled on top of each other and out comes the sauce. If playing a sort of kitchen jenga wasn’t daring enough for you, Julia informs the audience that today we’re making tripe! I should let you know here that I’m a vegetarian and actually eating the lining of a cow’s stomach (that’s what tripe is in case you were wondering) isn’t enticing to me. But Julia Child is.

The other night, I switched from a few old French Chef episodes (Julia’s original television show) to an incredibly over the top late 80s detective/surfer film. And for all the blood and guts of the action film, it has nothing on Julia. How do you make the sauce for the tripe the perfect consistency? Cow’s foot. And so Julia has a cow’s foot to wave around and next to that? Pig’s feet. She knows American cooks at the time wouldn’t have access to any of these things necessarily and so she walks you through every possible option, waving around the more gruesome parts of several animals; you could use pig rinds, pig or cow feet, or, perhaps the most fearsome, a veal “knuckle,” which is a sawed down veal’s knee. And even though I’m never going to eat these things, I learn so much watching her.

Just as Julia was talking to an American crowd of homemakers dedicated to the canned good, today she speaks to an equally distant audience who can’t simply go to their friendly butcher and ask for some veal knuckle for their tripe. Even though Julia never became involved in anything like Slow Food, she understood that the sausage you stuffed yourself just somehow tasted better. She kept repeating, “you know what’s in it.” It isn’t just that you can list the ingredients, it’s that you truly know what’s in it. You are comfortable handling all parts of the animal and you know why each works as it does.

But many of us don’t have the familiarity. And to point this out to modern audiences, Jonathan Safran Foer gives us his Eating Animals, an honest and detailed investigation into all things factory farm. And while all of this led him to become a vegetarian, I don’t think it necessarily has to. It should lead you to be suspicious of the term “free-range” or “cage-free.” It should lead you to doubt any promises of “cruelty-free” once you’ve seen the inner-workings of how the industry is regulated (here’s a hint-it’s essentially not). This book is a difficult read and it doesn’t disguise its tone. So, read it, consider it, and then go find those few rare examples of farmers (as Foer points out, no one involved in the factory farming process can truly be called a farmer), and then find a recipe from Julia.

So here are my holiday suggestions: Julia Child’s French Chef DVDs and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. And might I also recommend finding a turkey who doesn’t just promise free-range but one that lived its full life, developed social hierarchies, and wasn’t crippled by its own manipulated genetics. Because, as Julia taught us, it just tastes better when you know where it’s coming from.

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