There is little that will test your commitment to being omnivorous like chopping up your own raw meat. Which is why I’ve always avoided doing it. I prefer my meat neatly plastic-wrapped on styrofoam trays* in single-meal portions so that all I have to do is cut the plastic open and dump it into the pan or onto the grill, keeping my dainty digits reasonably meat-free. Raw meat is cold, and creepy, and smells icky in a way that cooked meat, which I love, does not.
I think my raw meat issues stem from childhood. When I was a wee one, the husband of one of my babysitters had a butcher shop out in the back yard. I think he might’ve actually been the butcher at my dad’s Red Owl store, too, but I guess he butchered for fun as well. My babysitter didn’t like me much, as I remember it (she once forced me to eat half a lemon, rind and all, because I took a lemon slice off the cutting board without asking because I was curious about what it tasted like—I didn’t like her much, either), and her daughter tormented me at every turn, but I also remember sitting out in the meat house with the master of the house while he worked. He was nice, and didn’t mind me being there. I’m sure there are probably a hundred laws about having a 4-year-old hang out in a room where you’re butchering meat, but this was the ’70s, where peril was around every corner; if you managed to survive the widely spaced slats and foam bumpers in your crib, I guess everyone figured you were a survivor and they didn’t have to worry too much about you.
But ever since, the smell of raw meat makes me want to gag a little. This wasn’t a problem when Scott was the chief cook in the house, but now that that’s my responsibility, I’ve had to face my raw meat issues, because I can’t avoid it. Most of the time, I just don’t think about what it is I’m handling and get the job done as quickly as possible, which seems to work. But recently, Scott had a hankering for pork saltimbocca, because he’d tried it at our favorite Italian restaurant. So he found a recipe, and I was thrilled to learn that it was actually a pretty easy recipe. Costco had pork tenderloin on sale, so I picked some up, along with the prosciutto that goes on top of it. Layered pork, my friends; now that’s good eatin’!
Of course, it was Costco-sized, so I had 8.74 lbs of pork tenderloin, in a lump of meat that was about 5 inches across and over 2 feet long, when really I probably needed just a pound, maybe less, for the saltimbocca. So I was going to have to split it up myself. It was really a good deal, though; by chopping it up myself, I got 18 individual meals for $19.61. You can’t beat $1.09 a meal, tenderloin no less.
When you’re looking at meaty goodness of those dimensions, you pretty much lose any hope you might’ve had of not reckoning with the fact that this pile of protein could’ve just as easily come from you as from Porky. I think that’s probably the other thing that bugs me about raw meat—cooked meat doesn’t really look like an animal, but raw meat is pure muscle. I have muscles. I cannot help but notice the similarities. It was just dumb luck that I happened to end up at the top of the food chain.
I don’t imagine timber wolves or lionesses have these moral crises about eating meat while BEING meat, but on occasion I’m overcome with a strange sensation; it almost feels like a vague form of cannibalism, and I briefly consider whether I, and the animal world, would be better off if I were a vegetarian. It happens maybe once every couple of years, and it happened as I and my knife faced off with this large hunk of pork. But I can’t live without the regular consumption of cheeseburgers, so inevitably I accept my animal nature, and remind myself that our big human brains are the direct result of our meat consumption over the millennia, and I like my big human brain. And that pork saltimbocca was mighty tasty, if I do say so myself. If you come over, I’ll make you some.
Does anyone else have these carnivorous existential crises?
*Fun Fact: Styrofoam trays (clean ones, preferably) behave like Shrinky Dinks if you cut them into shapes and mark on them and stick them in a regular oven. Hey, it was often slow in the evening at the bakery where I worked and learned this particular “craft,” the lore being passed down from another bakery employee.