Friday, January 15, 2010

Eat heart, with heart

In a field
Or on your plate,
Love the whole beast
And save Earth from waste

Confronted with a freshly-killed animal, one develops a guilty and ironic respect for that animal's life. Let your tongue be a bit promiscuous and try some heart braised in red wine, or some spicy Spanish tacos cabeza (made from meat that is roasted slowly until it falls right off the skull). No sneering allowed. You eat meat and you should eat every part. If you are too squeamish to admit that a living animal has been killed for the purpose of consumption, then you should not be eating meat at all. To pick and choose parts of an animal you deem worthy of consumption is to treat the animal like a menu. We cannot afford to be so picky; There are grave results when humans mindlessly drift so far from their food.

Rising obesity rates coincide with the decline in family culture (among other things). With work overtaking family time, fewer and fewer North American families sit down together to eat a family meal, whether it be Carne de Lingua (cow tongue), Kaleja Bakara Masala (curried Goat Liver) or Zuppa Forte (Offal soup). One important part of the meal that is lost in the rush is saying thanks. I mean this in no religious way, only a short thank you to the animal that was killed and a moment to reflect on where it came from and how it got to your plate. In Japan, before a meal one would say “itadakimasu” meaning literally, “I humbly receive”. Instead, many families willingly wolf down chicken nuggets (water, chicken skin and scraps from who knows how many chickens) and Angus Deluxe burgers (the 2% of your daily recommended intake of calcium it provides hardly offsets the 23g of fat, 105g cholesterol and 320g sodium). Fast food is cheap, quick and can be consumed mindlessly because a burger is a burger, no questions asked. That is the problem, and what Slow Food has sought to repair.

Fast food consumers are not the only ones eating mindlessly. In fact, the aristocratic yearning for the best rarely ends with an inexpensive plate of heart. Instead, flickering candles illuminate filet mignon.

The average weight of a filet mignon is six ounces, located on the small end of the tenderloin. If each person insisted on only eating one part of the cow, then the rest would become a horrible waste. It is with the same morals that fishers cut the fins off sharks and leave them to die at the bottom of the ocean floor. But other fish will eat the shark, so it is ok, right?

Do not think for one second that your neglect for all things that aren’t steak will be offset by a person who is eating only cow’s heart, and another eating only cow tongue. If there is not a steady sale of each part of the animal, then the super market will cease selling that part and it will become waste. There are many parts to a cow, and most can be eaten. A big bloody t-bone steak, no matter how succulent, comes from only one part of the animal. In order to maintain a sustainable food system, we cannot all only eat steak. The rest of the cow has to go somewhere to make a profit, so why not support offal (also known as variety meats) at your local butcher or grocery store.

If the whole cow was butchered and sold locally consumers would have the opportunity to become involved or at least take comfort in knowing they could ask the butcher directly about where and how the cow was raised. (Butchers also always seem to know what to do with every part of the animal, so ask for a recipe.) Ask a fast-food employee where your burger meat came from and you will be directed towards a long line of blank stares and phone numbers that ring endlessly.

Offal - however disconcerting the name - is a pearl within the cow; a rarity on menus treasured by knowing chefs and a hidden secret found easily and without great expense for those who search. On the BBC program, Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, Chef Peter Gorton enthusiastically teaches six volunteers how to stuff heart, curry tripe and bread sweetbreads. You can watch all the episodes online. Fergus Henderson, another British chef, published The Whole Beast. The Black Hoof Café serves up a delicious cow tongue grilled cheese sandwich (picture below). Most of the time it is the toothless octogenarians who happily slurp up pho with tripe, and savour liver alongside mashed potatoes (and perhaps and Guinness). Our snooty generation needs to change our eating habits and offal is the perfect start.

Let’s bring offal back; For the sake of our health, our budget, the environment and the animals, who deserve to be loved and respected, alive and on our plate.


  1. Fantastic article Jen! I am certain you will be writing for a food magazine soon. I'm going to stuff a heart this week. Offal fer all!


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