Saturday, April 10, 2010

those bones are that child

The last time I ate bunny was also the first time I ate bunny: December, 1997. It was at Rose Pistola, a fancy-dancy restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco. It was the first official date with the man who was shortly to become my husband and eventually my ex-husband. I don’t remember what the bunny flesh tasted like. I wish I remember what that bunny tasted like. Instead, I just remember only the butter that soaked it and my share of the bottle of red wine my ex-husband extravagantly ordered (We killed the whole bottle), then stumbling giddily and fatly down to my old raspberry-colored dented 1989 Nissan Sentra in my thrift-store finery—a teddy-bear plush fake fur coat—and suddenly being picked up my date and swung around in the mud and cheesy fog surrounding us.

That kid wearing a fake fur coat eating bunny on a first date pretty much sums up the kind of vegetarian I am to become. I’ve been transitioning as a vegetarian for the past couple years, slowly weaning myself off of meat, which is difficult. Being Korean, grilled meat has transcended the status of cultural marker and become chromosomal component. Still, I’ve not touched red meat now for 5 months, and not touched poultry for two months. But I don’t think I can’t give up fish, so I guess I am what you would call a pescatarian. Having written that sentence featuring the word “pescatarian,” I feel like a straight girl who had one lesbian affair in college and still wants to hold onto a bisexual identity. Oh well.

Actually, the reasons for my becoming a fisheating vegetarian is pretty much like those of a straight girl who tries lesbianism and becomes bisexual: it felt simultaneously shiny and right. I stopped eating cow-pig-lamb, because when I started doing it, I began to feel much lighter in brain and body, like my own flesh stuck to my bones better. Then I realized that I’ve never felt fully comfortable eating flesh, not because it had been a result of killing (I don’t think foraging is inherently more ethical to hunting; tigers and cheetahs and wolves and foxes are still ethical) but because of the cruelty that goes into their particular killing. As I hate zoos because I hate seeing animals cooped up for human amusement, I hate the idea of penning up and fattening animals for the purpose of producing steak and bacon. Farming livestock for me amounts to sadism. So while I began transitioning to vegetarianism to feel bodied in a certain way, it’s also inspired me to eliminate the affect of sadism from my life.

But here is the big exception: bunny. After 13 years, I just ate bunny again. Why did I do this in the middle of my transition? I don’t really know. Partly because the chance to eat bunny comes rarely. Partly because I wanted to see if I’d immediately puke it back up (I didn’t). Last weekend, I took my Aries gal pal Trace out for a birthday dinner to another fancy-dancy restaurant, this time in Providence. She ordered a gorgeous gourmet hamburger, medium rare, stuck pink between briochy sponges and I, though ostensibly not the birthday girl, ordered a more expensive dinner, a “duo of rabbit.” On a fluorescent white plate: black triangle of wine-dyed scant flesh hanging barely onto the tiny bones of something very hungry; two little beige cylinders made to look like the bone-and-marrows of a much bigger animal. When I asked about the dish, the server told me that the black stuff was “the arm” and the cylinders were “the saddle” that was made into a pâté.

“Saddle?” I said. “You mean like the butt?”

He looked a bit stricken or disgusted when he replied in the affirmative. I wasn’t trying to be crude or be facetious; his restaurant-language struck me, too. Cows and pigs and sheep don’t have “arms” and “saddle”; they just have “legs”—four of them. The asymmetrical conceptualization of limbs is applied to birds—who have “wings” and “legs”—and of course, humans, with their “arms” and “legs.” So bunnies, in evoking that asymmetry, are made more akin to humans. It’s as if it is this proximity, created solely through language, is an expression of the general discomfort in eating an animal that is so cuddly and cute, associated with Easter and the arms of children that reach out for something plushy.

“Saddle” seemed to me a ridiculous euphemism (but then, maybe all euphemisms are ridiculous). Like calling a living part of a body the name of an inanimate object can distance you from the feeling and reality that you are munching on a tiny thing that was once tender, soft, and obviously throbbing. No amount of wine, butter, and spices can cover up that memory.

I sucked the sauce off the fairy arm bones and brought them home. You see them above. They are so tiny...and curved! The curvature makes the bones look extra weak, and extra beautiful. One of the bones is like the arm of a doll’s violin. Handling those bones, I can almost feel the flesh and fur that used to protect it, before it was yanked off. It feels horrible to imagine the terror of the bunny before it is killed. I imagine its fright, its desperation, those tiny arms flailing, the strong butt muscles about to be turned into “saddle.” To imagine this is so painful it almost makes me want to puke.

But I’m glad, too, that the bunny bones make me feel this way. Because when you eat a hamburger, or even a slab of steak, the piece of meat before you no longer has any emotional connection to the body that it used to be. This is how most humans eat: abstraction frees them from empathy and sympathy, allowing gluttony for flesh without fear, guilt, or disgust. When I eat flesh, I want to know it, feel that I’m eating flesh. But not to gloat in its fleshiness. I don’t want to enjoy it by sadistically enjoying the pain of its former self but nor do I want to enjoy it by repressing that dark emotion either. I want to be reminded that I’m eating something that used to have feelings. That the flesh I’m eating used to be connected to joy and terror. And so even if I’m enjoying eating, I want to feel that bit of terror, not as an aspect of the enjoyment, but as penance, to give silent respect the complete being that this taken-for-granted food used to be.

Eating bunny is like eating myself. When I was a little child, the bunny was my favorite animal. In fact, as you can also see above, I wanted to be a bunny. I don’t think I’m unique in this. But eating bunny now, I feel like I’m eating my former self. I still love bunnies as creatures, and eating them connects me to being six years old again, making bunny-ears out of my hands and thinking of hopping as a mode of transportation. It makes me feel more primal to eat a tiny thing: I’m a tiny thing that can only eat other tiny things. My diet is more about respecting intimacy than animacy. I don’t want to not eat cows or pigs because they are more “alive” than plants. If I eat rabbit once every thirteen years, it’s because eating them makes me feel closer to them: I love bunnies so much that I want them to be a part of my body, on a cellular level. In real life, we can’t show love through actual cannibalism, which is a good thing!Eating bunny lets me remember the terror it causes in loving too much, and not let loving become a desire for totalizing incorporation.

So that’s why I’ll be a vegetarian of intimacy. I will only eat those animals that fit into the cradle of my arms, so that I never delude myself into thinking that edible flesh fall out of some abstract space without terror and hurt. And while I won’t be eating bunny very often at all, when I do, I won’t eat it without feeling it, remembering its history of living, knowing that somewhere, sometime, my butt, too, is saddle. I won’t eat bunny without feeling that I am chewing on my own bones. This isn’t very vegetarian of me at all, but my dietary edict might go something like this: I SHALL ONLY EAT ANIMALS THAT I CAN HOLD TIGHTLY WITH MY HANDS TO MY HEART.


Krista Benson said...

So that’s why I’ll be a vegetarian of intimacy. I will only eat those animals that fit into the cradle of my arms, so that I never delude myself into thinking that edible flesh fall out of some abstract space without terror and hurt.

This is one of the most beautiful and honest recognitions of what it means to eat someone else that I've ever seen.

I became a vegetarian when I was 17 because I couldn't deal with the environmental impact of factory farming - I grew up in Montana, where my family hunted or fished more than 75% of the meat that we ate, so sustainability and factory farming weren't PERSONAL. But when I was leaving for college, I realized that I couldn't shoot a deer. I wouldn't be fishing much. And if I wasn't willing to kill something so that I could eat it, maybe I shouldn't be eating it.

It was simple, but this is so much simpler. And thank you.

Hi, I've been reading for months. But, in some kind of socially-awkward ridiculousness, I've never felt able to comment until now.

Anyway. Thank you.

joony schecter said...

thank you, krista, for sharing your story. and i'm glad you got over the socially-awkward ridiculousness...i have it too!! xoxojoony

Audi said...

I used to work with bunnies back in my early days of scientific lab work, and the experience both strengthened and scarred me. For years I couldn't eat bunny, and when I eventually did, I felt I could finally put that part of my life behind me. You've captured that feeling so perfectly here, the notion of consuming your own past experiences. Beautiful and brilliant post.