September 19, 2021 | Rome, Italy

To meat or not to meat?

By | 2020-11-25T13:09:55+01:00 November 23rd, 2020|"Suzanne's Taste"|
There it sits: A big decision not yet taken...
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egetarian. It’s a controversial word for some. Well, okay, for me.

During our French village isolation, nearly into month nine, with no end in sight, cooking has brought me both great glee and joy. Much of that cooking has involved our favorite non-meat dishes, in part because we’re fortunate enough to have a lovely vegetable and fruit market nearby. The owner has a big and beautiful farm as well as a large family. Easy to throw together a melanzane alla parmigiana or a tian de courgette or make zucchini and potato fritters without really giving a thought to beef.

The only catch is that just before we left Italy last December, I had a meal at Gozzi, a trattoria in Florence, where for the first time I tasted a beef dish, peposo alla fiorentina, that left even semi-vegetarian me spellbound with delight. My fickle vegetarian side took a back seat, as did guilt, before this incredible stew. It’s cooked in red wine and fresh ground pepper for 2-3 hours, then served with polenta (or rice or potatoes or anything else you wish). The competitive cook in me longed to make my own.

My fickle vegetarian side took a back seat, as did guilt, before this incredible stew.

But…

Until the lockdown, my inclination was to eat around meat, choosing pasta and vegetable dishes over beef, ditching veal and lamb entirely.

Though I’d lost my appetite for frolicking baby animals that baaed or mooed at me, I had no problem sticking with fowl. And I figured, knowing that a pig would gladly eat me, if hungry, I didn’t feel so terrible having the occasional BLT, which became a kind of luxurious little dinner. Things change when you give up restaurant dining (and in my case the how-could-they rants that follow) to create a facsimile in your own kitchen.

As for things that swim, I’ve never really had a conversation with a salmon or a shrimp or reasoned with a mussel, so sea things remained within the loop.

And, I’ve seen “Jaws.”

A bit of lockdown luxury did surface in the shape of a nice rare hamburger made with organically raised beef, my first hamburger in, um, about 20 years, maybe more. And a burger every month or couple of decades could be excused, right? We need our amino acids, I told myself, and not too many of those come from Brussels sprouts.

Still, although the burger was shockingly delicious, my semi-vegetarian conscience pulled strongly at me. Hypocrite, it cried, and my amazing mate, always such a pleasure to dine with (and accepting, if not flattering, anything I set before him) began pondering what might happen if I gave up meat entirely – I’d still gladly grill chopped sirloin for him.

This didn’t sit well with him, thoughtful man that he is. My magnanimous eating partner did not want me to be one of those cooks who acquiesced to household catering orders — fish sticks for kids, teens turning vegan, and a husband demanding something with hooves.

We need our amino acids, I told myself, and not too many of those come from Brussels sprouts.

Demanding, my husband is not, in any way, and I insisted that making a meal with meat for him and vegetables for me was easy as, well, pie, no hassle at all. But all the while I was still reflecting on which way my own tastebuds were turning.

The first time in a long relationship when something pulls each partner in opposite directions is, yes, surprising, and requires examination. My husband has actually cut back on meat, and I’m still on the fence, considering my partner’s logical approach to the food chain, which is to differentiate between humanely raised and butchered animals and those raised commercially and destined to spend their short lives in a manmade purgatory.

Perhaps one day animals will be raised and treated humanely and an occasional hamburger will not cause me a trip to the nearest confessional.

And I’m still not sure that hypocrisy isn’t just part of my foodie nature.

After all, I grew up in Texas where they put butter on rare steaks. And even though many of my mama’s savory vegetable recipes came from “Gourmet” magazine, the local Livestock Show annually put meat in our freezer without fail.

Despite our ongoing examination of whether one can eschew the baby but still enjoy the mother, my eating partner and I will still have our lively, joyful lunches and dinners together and probably come up with even more interesting solutions to save the planet, lower methane pollution, and somehow help me settle my vacillating self that could live easily on vegetables (and wine) but every now and then yearns for that mind-boggling peposo at trattoria Gozzi.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.

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