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Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2003 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Neil Steinberg

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Consumer Reports

Please help: I want to eat Black Beauty | CHICAGO Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, but already my traditional holiday scorn for vegetarians and other dreary types who put their politics where their mouths are is beginning to build. It was spurred by news this week of Alaskan Girl Scouts being given grief by the long arm of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, upset at the girls for taking part in a state program trapping and skinning beavers. I think every girl would benefit from having trapped and skinned a wild animal — it would certainly prepare them for the demands of dating to come.

Then the editor in chief handed me a copy of Rachel Cooke's column in the London Guardian. Cooke decided to "eat ethically'' for a week and record her experiences in a diary, related in a telegraphic style that passes for writing in England:

"Wednesday. A strange smell emanates from my organic box. I look inside. The Jerusalem artichokes are covered with a white fuzz. Throw them in the bin."

Why don't I, the E.I.C. suggested, try eating ethically for a week? All organic. Nothing from giant family-farm-gobbling agri-businesses. Nothing harming the rain forests. No animals at all, of course, since they are exactly as portrayed in Disney cartoons, down to the smallest white-gloved, googley-eyed, tap-dancing paramecium, nuzzling its mother with humanlike affection. "What fun is that?'' I countered, explaining that I couldn't pretend to eat "ethically'' for a week because I reject the notion, even for comic purposes, that shoveling a pint of Ben & Jerry's Rainforest Crunch into my maw is somehow "moral'' because it contains Brazil nuts harvested in the au courant fashion. Frankly, I said, I'd rather eat unethically for a week, seeking out the most damaging, destructive and immoral foodstuffs I can and see how that goes. Cool, he said.

So, beginning today, I am going to be dining as if human beings were on top of the food chain, masters of the world, and not, as seems to be the impression among so many young people, wretched interlopers despoiling a planet on which they don't belong.

Foie gras? Of course. On little toast triangles, washed down with liqueurs from repressive regimes. Veal? Without saying. I once went to a veal farm — the pens were very small, but heck, I didn't live in them. You can't both bewail the brief lives of calves and the harshness of their conditions. Choose.

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My mind ranged over the possibilities of icky-yet-legal comestibles? Horse? Why not? Local exotic foodstuff dealers pointed me toward Beltex, a Belgian firm in Fort Worth slaughtering horses for the European market. I phoned. Could they, I wondered, crate up a few Black Beauty steaks of what the French call "cheval'' and ship them right away to Chicago? In a word, no. Selling horse meat is illegal in the United States, they said. Who knew? And they call this freedom.

"The Lion King'' costs too much for me to take my family, but I thought I could enjoy a few lion steaks. I called Rich Czimer, at Czimer's Game & Sea Foods in Lockport. Could he, I wondered, pack some lion fillets in dry ice and messenger it to the Sun-Times, so we could have our chef grill it up for our enjoyment?

"When that movie came out, originally, we sold a lot of it,'' said Czimer. Sadly, he said, some animal-rights terrorists, apparently, burned his store down and operations are suspended. That just isn't right. Last year, when I had the pleasure of visiting Taipei, you couldn't turn a corner without someone offering you a shot of snake bile or a plate of sand worms or fricassee of century-old tortoise, dusted in rhino.

Yet at home, when I approach the butcher at Sunset Foods in Northbrook and ask for some fresh dolphin steaks, he gives me a strange look. As if I've done something wrong, then tries to shift me over to mahi-mahi.

When I was a kid, the ozone layer depleted with every blurt of aerosol can processed cheese. You could be certain that the eggs you were cracking or the chicken breast you were slicing came from an animal whose life — not to stretch the term — took place entirely within the mechanized hell of some enormous poultry factory.

Now, half the time, if you're not careful, the eggs are plucked from under free range chickens listening to Mozart. Reprehensible.

I don't want to subsidize the education of chickens. I believe that an egg from an unhappy chicken, who hasn't been to the beach, who doesn't speak Greek, is just as good as an egg laid by a chicken having its feet massaged. Better.

That's my theory, anyway. I'll let you know next week how it works out. But I bet I'll have a lot more fun than that lady at the Guardian. I mean, artichokes, really! My wife cooked an artichoke once — for some reason leaving it on the stove, in a covered pot. I idly lifted the cover the next day to discover this multi-layered monstrosity staring up at me. I screamed. I couldn't have been more shocked if there had been a baby's head in the pot. So no artichokes. But if somebody knows where I can find some good North Korean wine, or hummingbird tongues, I'm in the market.

JWR contributor Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His latest book is Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea . Comment by clicking here.

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