Confessions of a carnivore

Went to a huge lobster fest last week. Dozens of the bristly brutes had been express-airfreighted in from P.E.I. and boiled on the spot. Not surprisingly, the place was packed with enthusiastic diners armed with forks and pincers, drooling onto their bibs. They weren’t disappointed. Everybody got a hulking two- or three-pounder hanging off both sides of the plate.

Except me. I settled for the potato salad, some sliced tomatoes and two buns.

It’s not that I’m a vegetarian or even lobster-phobic; it’s just that I prefer the food on my plate to be a little more gullet-ready. Any time you catch me with a pair of pliers in my hand and wearing a drop sheet, chances are I’m on my way to change the oil, not eat a meal.

On second thought, do put me down as lobster-phobic. I don’t know what heinous crimes those creepy crustaceans committed in their previous karmic life but it must have been grim to look as evil as they do. Lobsters are indisputably ugly suckers, whether they’re scuttling across the ocean floor or reclining on bone china.

It’s not your average life form that can manage to appear flamboyant and hideous at the same time. Lobsters look like steroipumped cockroaches in drag. And there’s the labour component. When you sit down to a lobster dinner, you don’t just dig in; you have to deconstruct them first. You’re not eating a meal – you’re conducting an autopsy.

What really turns me off is that a lobster on the plate is so blatantly a creature lately deceased. Porterhouse steak is not like that. Neither are pork chops or chicken breasts. I’m more comfortable when the biological origins of my food are camouflaged. How many of us could cheerfully tuck into a lamb kabob if it arrived at our table looking remotely like the loveable, bleating, gambolling cutie it so recently was?

Shall I “render” that for you?
Hypocritical? You bet. Hypocrisy is the operative mode for your 21st-century human carnivore. After all, very few of us kill, gut and dress our own meat these days, and a lot fewer of us would be carnivores if we did. I know – for once – whereof I speak.

As a teenager, I worked at the Ontario Public Stock Yards. I was an alley rat – a cane-waving middleman between the farmers who brought in their livestock and Canada Packers, the purchasers that, ah, “rendered” the beasts. I guarantee if most Canadians spent one afternoon in a slaughterhouse we would be known as a nation of lettuce eaters.

But we don’t choose to put ourselves through that. Instead, we buy our meat at the supermarket or the delicatessen, nicely sawn up, sculpted and vacuum-packed into amorphous portions like so many protein pucks.

Oh, we won’t eat absolutely anything. We wrinkle our noses at Europeans who eat horse and Indonesians who eat dog, but is that so very far removed from our own taste for veal or squab? Aren’t we really just talking about different menus?

Me, I’m a most unlikely carnivore. I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I even rescue spiders from the bathtub and relocate them on the woodpile by the side door. And yet I eat meat. How do I justify that? I don’t. I just do it. I pretend that what’s on my plate was not recently excised from a dewy-eyed Aberdeen Angus or a gambolling Dorset lamb. I just close my eyes, shut down my mind and chew.

Mind you, I would renounce my guilt-ridden habit and give up meat tomorrow but for one thing.

It tastes so damn good. 

I tried living without meat once. I was a vegetarian for two years. I inhaled more green than a Mastercraft lawnmower and sucked back more pasta than Pavarotti. But the gastronomic limitations got me in the end. I discovered that the lowly soybean curd is lowly for a reason. And a man can eat only so many zucchini-goat cheese casseroles.

I respect and admire the old vegan adage about not eating anything with a face. I just can’t live up to it, that’s all.

Just call me a reluctant carnivore. And a two-faced one, at that.