When I was a poor student, and living in Boston in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, I was fascinated by some of the offerings in the meat department of my local grocery, which include pig trotters and tripe. I had no intention of buying, cooking or eating such things; I was just intrigued by the fact that somebody clearly did. I figured that their children grew up happily eating trotters and tripe. I imagined them, around the table, calmly accepting an animal’s foot for dinner in the same way that I might have welcomed, say, pot roast or macaroni and cheese. I can write off that phase of insular thinking as the result of being very young, very white, and very suburban.
As an adult foodie, I am constantly reading about, or watching the consumption of foods that I am not sure I, personally, could consume. The difference is that now I feel as if I should want to at least have a “no thank you bite,” because otherwise how can I claim to be a real food person?
I have branched out into oysters, I finally tried gfelte fish this year, and I am game to try escargot, but that doesn’t take me far enough out of my safety zone. There are articles about the virtuosity with which various famous chefs prepare offal, and I wonder if I would be able to eat a lavender-scented lamb kidney bundled with some potato and tied up with a scallion. I also watch Alton Brown eat fried calf-brain sandwiches (apparently, a big thing in Indiana), and Anthony Bourdain eating intestines, head cheese, eyeballs, testicles and penises. Would I, could I, on a dare? Would I, could I, eat balls, rare?
I would not, could not on a bet. I would not, could not, dry or wet. I do not like them, foodie press, I do not like that offal mess.
So, that leaves me as probably what I really am: a narrow-minded, provincial, faux foodie person who might try the newest thing in cheese or hunt for the elusive mangosteen, but will not eat animals tip-to-tail. (It is very fashionable, just now, to consume tip-to-tail, and I genuinely see the argument against wasting significant amounts of an animal slaughtered to be eaten). Many chefs who I admire greatly would scoff at this pronouncement, and Anthony Bourdain would likely write me off as yet another uninteresting and uninterested American seeking nothing more challenging than the nearest Applebee’s. So I ask myself this: if I were actually given the opportunity to eat in Iceland with Anthony, or to have Thomas Keller prepare kidneys for me at The French Laundry, would I demur? Could I look such an icon in the eye and say “no thanks; I’ll just have the grilled cheese?”
I like to think that I would try. I really, really do. We may never know, but for now I am going to tell you that I want to do the right thing, even if its squishy and gross.