Pleasures of the flesh
Food & Wine
As the fork moved closer to her mouth I felt this inexplicable pang of guilt.
"You don't have to do this." It was like watching a recovering alcoholic take the first sip after years of sobriety, an ex-smoker take that forbidden drag from a cigarette. My wife was eating her first serving of red meat in three years. We were in Mairangi Bay, Auckland, at a farewell dinner for my brother but it felt more like we were saying goodbye to her food innocence.
Four years into our relationship she had turned pescetarian. I thought it was some branch of Christianity. She assured me it was merely a change in diet. "That's just a fancy way of saying you're a fussy eater."
"Look it up." Thank you Urban Dictionary, you proved me wrong yet again. People choose to become vegans/pescetarians/flexitarians (I know, right?) for numerous reasons. Pescetarianism, in my wife's case, stemmed from the argument that meat is dangerous and we shouldn't be eating so much of it, if any. Fish is okay. At home we seldom ate meat any more, which was fine - I was happy to be led down that path. I can play the martyr in the culinary stakes. What did irk me, though, was that by removing both land and flying animals from the menu, my cooking ideas were limited considerably.
I used to pride myself in my experimental recipes and felt free to roam through the food groups without borders. The slow-roasted smoked pork ribs in barbecue sauce. Scotch fillet with a side of homemade fries. Since my wife had found her new path the creative juices had run dry in the kitchen. There's only so far tofu can take you before you realise it tastes like... nothing.
I shudder to recall the dry satay tofu dish that was served to me one evening. Peanut butter mixed with fish sauce on rice - never again. But that had nothing on the chocolate avocado mousse. That one was unforgettable. I'd never liked supermarkets but since she'd turned down the pescetarian path it had become an exercise in torture. As we weaved our way into the maze I confidently strolled past the meat section.
Halfway through the shop, dread hit. Without meat as the starting point, I was at a loss. To the left, quinoa. To the right, kidney beans. I still didn't know what to cook for the week. The one reassurance was at least I could have it both ways.
At a friend's wedding last month there were two choices for entrée and main: meat and meat. But there was no riot, no complaint. At my own wedding I forgot that my groomsman and his girlfriend were both vegetarians. No problem, they told me, they would just roll with it. I admired that. A quiet word was spoken to the chefs to rustle something up - and I'm sure they gladly wolfed the two extra beef wellingtons on their break.
My wife never made a fuss when we were at a friend's for dinner. She'd just do with what she could. A roast with all the trimmings? She'd just have the trimmings, thanks. And it got me thinking, if they can adapt, then are we carnivores the difficult ones? I'd actually got used to going without red meat for days, enjoying it as a treat when we went out to a restaurant.
But everything changed on that fateful evening at my brother's goodbye dinner. All meat eaters at the table of 20. Except one. My wife said that it was time for a change, something about improving her iron levels. So it was lamb shank on the bone for me, Thai beef salad for my partner in crime. A sneaky smile crossed her face as the waitress took her order. She was breaking a silent code but was totally cool with it.
Just like flipping a switch. Welcome back to the dark side. The most satisfying meal in ages, she told me.
Since then the supermarket hasn't looked so daunting. I've even pulled out the meat skewers from the back of the drawer.
- Sunday Magazine
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