21 October 2017

The Vagaries of Diet

I was raised on a farm in Northeast Kansas. We kept cattle, hogs, and chickens. Every year, I helped butcher a steer and a hog. I also got to pluck the feathers of lots of chickens after Mum or my Grandmother chopped their heads off.  Most of the meat was taken into town to the cold storage locker, but Mum and Grandma always canned some beef, parboiling it, adding tallow, and sterilising the jars. That was just in case we got snowed in and couldn't make it to town! We rendered the pork trimmings into lard, and I got to eat a few of the cracklings, the very deep fat fried scraps of meat left after the liquid lard had been pressed out. We stuffed our own sausage in sheep guts we bought at the locker. It was smoked in a 55 gallon drum, and then hung in the 'big pantry', a large walk-in closet/small room off my bed room.

Needless to say, meat was a prominent feature of every meal! Breakfast would have bacon, ham, or sausage. Dinners (the noon meal on the farm) would have steak or pork-chops. Supper, in the evening, might contain some of the sausage that hadn't been stuffed into casings, along with sausage gravy, and the 'turnip kraut' my Mum made (just like sauerkraut, except made from shredded turnips). Sunday dinners, eaten after Church and the main meal of the day, were always the classic English 'roast and three veg'. Beef-roast or pork-roast with potatoes and a couple of other vegetables, often cabbage or brussel sprouts and carrots. The remains of Sunday's dinner made Monday's dinner, bubble and squeak, a hash made from the left over roast and vegetables.

After leaving the farm, I might have moderated my intake a bit, since I was no longer toiling in the fields and doing chores, but meat remained a large part of my diet. Then, in my early 20s, I became a Hindu. This, of course, entailed vegetarianism. The Hindu phase lasted only as long as I could resist the siren call of a good beef-steak, about six months! When I became a Catholic, in my 30s, Fridays became days of abstinence from meat, and a couple of years ago I decided to follow the old Carmelite precept of abstaining on Wednesdays as well. Good thing I like seafood!

Having returned to the omnivorous lifestyle, I've never looked back. Yes, there were times when good steaks were not exactly in my budget, but there were always cheaper cuts of roasts and fatty, cheap ground beef. As I've gotten older and lost most of my teeth, even when I could afford a good steak, I've had to pass on it, but there are always cube steaks, already sort of 'chewed'. and a good pork-chop can be cut into small pieces and successfully masticated.

Then, the Other Half and I reconciled after 13 years. In that interval, she had become (gasp!) a vegetarian! She has no problem with my eating meat or cooking it in the house, tho' she never did like fish, and she's asked me to only cook that when she's away. However, I like eating the evening meal with her, and I see no reason for the preparation of two different repasts. So, most of the time, I'm a vegetarian.

If we go out to eat, however, I have full rein and I run with it! Even if it's just a visit to the local Subway, I get a sandwich containing meat. Pizza, eaten out, means a half pepperoni or Canadian bacon pie. If I happen to be at the pub downtown during lunch except on days of abstinence, I might have the special, which always contains meat. And, on Monday evenings we have a community supper, free to all comers, which I regularly attend. There is always meat there!

What I miss the most is good South German/Czech dishes like duck, sauerkraut, and dumplings, sauerbraten, kubasa/kielbasa and rabbit. It's made doubly hard because not only do I live in the Beef State, and in the middle of hog country (there's a Smithfield pork processing plant about nine miles up the highway), I live in the Czech Capital of the USA, officially recognised as such by S.J.Res. 51 (100th), signed by President Ronald Reagan on 10 July 1987. We have two butcher shops/meat markets where all these meat products are readily available! Sometimes I get lucky. In August during Czech Days, our annual festival celebrating the town's Czech heritage, she told me to just eat downtown and get some good Bohemian food. I went to the dinner at the Wilber Hotel where I had duck, dumplings, kraut, and mashed potatoes, all washed down with a bottle of Czechvar from České Budějovice, Czechia! Also, on the External Solemnity of St Wenceslaus, the very Bohemian Patron Saint of my Parish, we had a potluck in St Ludmila Hall, the Church basement, named for St Wenceslaus' grandmother. There, I also got duck, dumplings, and kraut!

I am probably actually healthier for having cut most meat out of my diet, but I do not envision ever returning to strict vegetarianism!

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