by Liz Caskey on February 17, 2010

Today marks the beginning of 40 days of lent and the end of carnival when partying, overeating, sex, and general debauchery have gripped much of Brazil (and NoLa) for the past 5 days before repenting sets in. Although I am not Catholic, it got me thinking if I could really give up a certain food, like say red meat, for lent or otherwise.

Most of the time in Chile, I am quite content eating from the sea. My plethora of options is endless due to the abundant Humboldt current that brings scores of shellfish, salt water fish, and crustaceans to nearby Chilean shores. I feast off chicken and turkey, legumes, vegetables, and never really seem to miss red meat. Why, there was even a time in my life where I went without any meat all together (dunno what I was thinking, an introduction to foie gras while traveling in Bordeaux quickly resolved that…).

In Patagonia not too long ago, driving past verdant pastures with peaceful cows and sheep graving alongside newly birthed “children”, I couldn’t help but want to take that little lamb home and keep it as a pet like my little white kitty.  How could I eat something so precious? Another living being? If I had to hunt and kill my own meat could I even do it? There I stood, traumatized by a pasture filled with easily a 10,000 sheep. What to do? Was the solution in going veggie again?

I pondered this dilemma for a couple days. In the interim, I stuck to the king crab, southern hake, congrio (conger eel), and other things from the sea. And then it inevitably happened. That little lamb turned up on my dinner plate and I was forced to confront my confusion and indecision about how I felt towards my own meat-eating ethnics. Was it the cuteness of the animals and connection to them as living beings on earth? Was it my inability to hunt and kill my own meat? Was it the guilt for not wanting nor having to do it? Eating meat seemed all too easy. I didn’t have to work for it; it came neatly packaged and you forgot that this piece of meat was once a living thing.

In a second, that “baaahing” face flashed in my mind. I decided to take a bite and go with what I truly felt and stop giving it so much thought. I had to move forward and accept that I was one (carnivore) or the other (vegetarian) but this in between b.s. was torturing me. I bit into perfectly Frenched lamb chops. They were juicy and pink in the middle, fragrant and garnished with an addictive mint sauce. One bite of those bleu lamb chops and I was toast. Ecstasy. I devored them all even licking the bones. My husband looked at me in amazement as I ate like a prisoner who hadn’t seen food in years. When I was done, I realized my body and emotions had answered my intellectual conundrum towards meat-eating.

Later in Buenos Aires, I  somehow managed to avoid the parrillas the whole week I was working. This was not an easy feat in a city where the gastronomy reads to the tune of steak, steak, pasta, pasta, some ethnic. I wanted to get some distance again and make sure this wasn’t a one time breakdown. On my last night, the smell of mesquite burning and steaks cooking over a barbeque, so characteristic of anywhere in Argentina, got to me. I couldn’t stand it. Something primal kicked in and I got in a taxi and headed straight to Don Julio’s in Palermo, a classic parrilla with an awesome wine list.

I didn’t even need to see the menu. I knew what I wanted: bife de chorizo ancho, jugoso (rare) please. The steak that appeared was 250g of loving. So tender, I could cut it with my fork, no knife needed. In fact, I didn’t need to chew it much either. It literally melted in my mouth.  I washed down by sips of a glass of Covalcura, a delicious Cabernet-Merlot blend from Antucura in Uco Valley of Mendoza and a tomato-avocado-palmito-arugula salad on the side.

As I sat in Don Julio’s I reflected further on eating red meat. Something had changed. It wasn’t about being a carnivore or vegetarian, and all the dogma around whether that is right or wrong, healthy or not. It was about what I wanted and how I could accept my decision to eat meat responsibly. I was only answering to myself. I suddenly remembered some great clients from Houston who are hunters who only kill what they eat (pheasant, deer, ducks, etc.). I reheard our conversation of how they are thankful to the animal for its life and food it provides (apparently this is also conveyed in Avatar, which I have yet to see). And then it hit me, what if I could simply give and feel profound gratitude to that animal–for its life, for sustaining me, to the people that care for it to have it be the best meat, and really be grateful to have this instead of just taking it for granted. That’s what all cultures, hunters, and responsible eaters do. Something shifted.  I finally made my peace with eating red meat (and eating all food in general).

So, yes please to steak and lamb. When’s the next asado?

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