I AM SITTING HERE AT VEAL ENDERS, trying to kick the veal habit. I think if I just taper off, rather than go cold turkey, I can manage to stop eating veal. It will be tough, though, since I love veal in all its many forms, most of them ending with the letter A: piccata, parmigiana, marsala. The very typing of these terms makes my mouth water. But I shall not succumb.
At Veal Enders we are reminded of the way veal is produced. The animal (a calf, I believe) is penned up and not allowed to move. We are shown pictures of the poor thing and then given our usual veal meal. Tonight, it's my all-time favorite: veal cutlet cooked on a grill, accompanied by spaghetti alla cecca, a summertime dish (the tomatoes must be fresh) that's unparalleled. I am given a plate but push it away. It seems I have kicked the veal habit.
Next I will go to Lobster Enders. Unlike the poor veal calf's, the lobster's life is okay. It's his death that's the problem. The New York Times recently ran a story on the best way to kill a lobster -- best for the lobster, that is. Various methods were tried, but none, it seems, was absolutely painless, although no one knows what a lobster can feel. After I read that piece, it became clear to me that the only way to settle the issue was not to eat lobster at all. I am trying.
The reason I am attending these (imaginary) sessions of Veal Enders and Lobster Enders is that I am afflicted with doubt, plagued by second thoughts and harboring all sorts of questions -- some of them ethical, some of them nutritional -- about what I should eat. In other words, I have spent my recent vacation in the occasional company of adolescents, most of whom, most of the time, will eat, it seems, absolutely nothing. For ethical or ecological reasons they will not eat veal or any kind of meat. Some of them will eat no poultry, and some will eat no fish, and some boycott certain foods for the way they are packaged.
I have discovered that the mention of almost any food in front of a 12-year-old will somehow result in the uttering of two words: rain forest. You would be surprised how many things you can do in the course of a normal day that affect the Brazilian rain forest. Similarly, you cannot imagine the damage done to the entire universe by cows, of which there are many too many, all of them belching and in other ways emitting gases that wend their way to the ozone layer, whence they melt Antarctica.
My problem is that I know what the kids are saying is right. The reason I have such a problem with lobsters is that they are the only animal whose death I witness. All other animals are slaughtered somewhere else and then brought to my table, garnished and cooked. With their insistent ethicality, the kids of my acquaintance will not let me remove myself from the consequences of my dietary choices. They confront and confront, which, I tell you, takes all the fun out of eating a hamburger, especially if it is washed down with a soda whose packaging may choke a water fowl, which will then die, leaving behind little ones, orphaned and doomed to read a grade or two behind the others. Hold the burger, please.
The kids I know seem to be boycotting everything, although some of them have a fondness for the vile and multi-untalented Madonna -- a different sort of packaging issue, I grant you, but one I thought I would bring up nonetheless. These kids will not allow me the slightest room to freely practice hypocrisy. Better than them, I know what cows are doing to the atmosphere. Better than them, I know about plastic six-pack rings and birds, about the suffering of veal calves and the way chickens are usually raised. I know all that, but still a good veal chop, a burger off the grill, a lobster with drawn butter (what's drawn butter, anyway?) -- these are a few of my favorite things.
I now know what it feels like to wear a fur coat in Aspen. You remember -- Aspen, the Colorado resort town that voted on whether to ban fur coats. Just before that election, all the networks went out to Aspen and interviewed people on both sides of the issue. The anti-fur people had wonderful arguments. Animals suffered -- and for what? Vanity?
On the other side, some people said the animals didn't suffer at all (come off it) or that they (the people) wore fur coats because they were warm (yeah, sure), but most of them just giggled in an embarrassed fashion and pronounced the whole issue silly. What they were really saying is that they preferred not to think about how the fur got off the animal and onto their shoulders. The issue, they sensed, was not just fur, but almost everything else, including the ethics of paying several grand for any kind of coat when (forgive me for being trite) kids were starving in Ethiopia. Besides, fur is beautiful.
Indeed it is. But I can no longer look at a fur coat without seeing the animal writhing in a trap, and I can no longer order veal without visualizing the calf in a cramped pen, and while I may still be able to order a lobster in a restaurant, I cannot cook one at home. I won't buy certain packaging, and, if I can, I buy free-range chickens (hoping they ranged into the path of a car and were killed accidentally), and, always, I conduct myself with the rain forest in mind. The kids of my summer have done this to me, driven me to Veal Enders and Lobster Enders, taking a bit of a spring from my step and prompting me, in a fit of wonderful hypocrisy and selfishness, to enlist in the only movement that will give me some peace of mind: the boycott of my friends' children. Buzz off, kids. I'm hungry.