The Ultimate Gift (And How it Keeps Giving)
Food culture, the animals we eat, and the positive, lasting effects of our food experiences.
When I was a boy growing up in Israel, sometimes my dad would take me along to his office. For lunch, we would sit in a small restaurant that served the most amazing beef lung stew. That’s right, tender spongy pieces of lung. At the end of the day, we would visit a stand with many skewers lying over a long grill filled with glowing charcoals. My dad would point at a few skewers and the proprietor would slide the meat into a paper bag. We left with a bag full of hot, tasty turkey testicles for our family dinner-- if we could keep from eating the whole bag before we got home. Great memories.
There was never a separation between what we ate and the animal it came from. The chickens still had heads when we bought them. The fish did, too. All the animal parts were on display at the market.
U.S. Food Culture: Chicken Breast Again?
Culturally, we all define ourselves by the food we eat as a child. This is why the idea of nose-to-tail eating is so important and exciting to me as a cook. But this hot, “new” concept (or more accurately, recently resurrected), has a long way to go before it will be fully absorbed into today’s American food culture.
This is a food culture that is largely governed by giant food companies. The mass producers eliminate the connection between our food and the source because it is to their benefit to do so. We come to expect our food to be cheap, standardized, easy to obtain, and barely recognizable as animal flesh. We don’t necessarily expect it to thrill our taste buds. How do we escape this mindset and increase our options beyond the usual steak and chicken breast? Where do even we start?
Honor the Source
For me, it all begins with reverence. When I cook, I’m always aware that every ingredient in my hands represents a life form. Whether animal or vegetable, I regard it as a life that has been lived to completion, then perished in order to nourish my own life. Respect brings with it the obligation to not waste any of this precious gift. It is a contract that I make with the animals I eat.
Think, too, of all the resources and labor invested in creating and producing our food. Avoiding waste can play a role in making our environment greener. We cannot afford to regard a cow as merely steaks and ribs, or see a pig only as ham, chops and bacon.
Whole animal butchery, such as we practice at Homestead Meats, means helping our community discover all of the flavorful meats they have been missing. Will we convince you to eat lungs and testicles? Perhaps not. But we may entice you to step outside of your routine and discover something wonderful.
Grab the Reins and Head for Adventure
I encourage you to take charge of your own food supply. Explore different markets and search for ingredients that have yet to become guests in your kitchen. Be interested, passionate and yes, adventurous about what you cook and eat. The downside risk is so small, but there’s so much to be gained by introducing a new favorite into your repertoire.
Give yourself, your children and anyone else at your table exciting new experiences and some great new food memories. I can’t think of any better way to honor the source.
Homestead Meats is Evanston’s first locally sourced butcher shop, handcrafting unique fresh meats, deli meats, sausages, and other charcuterie. All fresh meats and eggs are sourced from family-owned Midwestern farms that raise their livestock in open pastures, without hormones or GMO feed.