In a town that prides itself as friendly, open-minded, accepting and tolerant of diverse viewpoints and lifestyles, I find it ironic that the vast majority of my mail comes from people who like to accuse me of condoning the torture of cats and who equate eating pork with eating my own dog-because I write nice things about meat. It's true; I like meat. I like being omnivorous. It's one of our most unique characteristics as humans, and it gives me great pleasure to explore the world and experience other cultures by eating what they eat.
There is no question that as intelligent beings we have the ability-and, one may argue, the duty-to make
choices about what we eat. Some of you have chosen not to eat meat, as others have chosen not to eat pork or shellfish or
or broccoli. But let us all remember that these choices are personal. A reasonable person may choose to live as a vegetarian, another reasonable person may choose to have bacon in her breakfast burrito.
But perhaps, as Sister Mary Katherine Gallagher would say (after sniffing her pit-stinky fingers), my feelings on this topic would be best expressed with a quote from Peter Lund Simmons:
"There is scarcely any living thing that flies in the air, swims in the sea, or moves on the land, that is not made to minister to his [man's] appetite in some region or other. Other creatures are, generally, restricted to one sort of provender at most. They are carnivorous or graminivorous, piscivorous, or something-ivorous; but man is the universal eater. He pounces with the tiger upon the kid, with the hawk upon the dove, with the cormorant upon the herring, and with the small bird upon the insect and the grub. He goes halves with the bee in the honey cell...he grubs up the root with the sow, devours the fruit with the earwig, and demolishes the leaves with the caterpillar..."
Few people now would recognize Simmons name, and probably few would have recognized it in 1859 when his book,
The Curiosities of Food: Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained From the Animal Kingdom
, was published in London. Simmons was also the author of such page-turners as
The Commercial Products of the Vegetable Kingdom
The Commercial Products of the Sea
The Animal Food Resources of Different Nations
. Simmons was the first person to take up the challenge of studying what people all over the world were eating, driven by his own curiosity and the desire to preserve this information for other curious souls. His most popular book,
, languished in obscurity until it was discovered by Alan Davidson, the British editor of the very comprehensive
Oxford Companion to Food
, who convinced Ten Speed Press to reprint it in 2001.
I thought of Simmons and his book again today as I came across part of the above quote on the front page of Charlie Trotter's Web site. Trotter is one of the country's best-known chefs, has a style and technique that is indisputably cutting-edge; His eponymous restaurant in Chicago was named one of the most influential of the 20th century by Bon Appetit. He was also early and nearly alone among high-profile chefs in the vigor with which he explored and promoted raw foods. The 2003 cookbook,
, which he co-authored with California raw food chef Roxanne Klein, featured many of the recipes he served from the 10-course raw tasting menus offered at his restaurant.
Trotter is also the author of a series of cookbooks geared toward professionals and extreme foodies, a series that includes a 239-page volume on meat and game in which he shares more than 200 recipes for beef, chicken, pork, lamb, duck, wild boar, pheasant, venison, rabbit, quail, grouse and other cute little tasty creatures.
In addition, Charlie Trotter's
Meat and Game
offered several preparations for
, the controversial delicacy made by force-feeding geese and ducks to produce very fatty (and delectable) livers. What's interesting is that Trotter rather quietly stopped serving
at his restaurants a few years after the book was published. He has since said that he stopped serving it for ethical reasons. But when the Chicago City Council voted to ban
this spring, Trotter objected, calling himself a libertarian.
Many of us who are passionate about food above most other things and people who call themselves foodies, will recognize nothing contradictory in Trotter's embrace of raw food, his passion for meat and his refusal to serve
. He is an omnivore, one who loves to dine well, to eat and explore, yet not without conscience. As Simmons writes, this pleasure and passion is in our nature:
"Man eats to satisfy his hunger, and to supply warmth to the body; but the lover of good things, who finds a pleasure in eating, may also be told that there is a beautiful structure of nerve work spread out on the tongue, which carries upwards to the brain messages from the nice things in the mouth."
We may choose to deny our omnivorous nature in part (Charlie Trotter didn't just up and decide that
didn't taste good anymore) but we can't ignore or eliminate it.
Tell me where to eat! I need your input. Send all of your tips, gripes and raves to