Tuesday, January 13, 2009

If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Paul McCartney

DANGEROUS SQUIRRELS: Or why I became a vegetarian.

A recent article in the Guardian announcing the arrival in the UK of a new taste in Walker’s Crisps prompted me to contact friends across The Pond and get their take on this curious development in crisp world. What did they think of a squirrel-flavored crisp? Could they be enticed?

Lady Di from Winchester had not heard the news. “What? No! Occasionally a Walker’s crisp if it is presented to me. As for the squirrel—never to my knowledge.”

My sweetly bemused friend Amy from Devon tapped back in e-mail: “What are these strangely named snacks?”

“Good grief,” replied Kate from Leicester. “Do I live in a blighted Isle subject to mass lead poisoning and memory loss? First I’ve heard of it.” She added that she had seen a television celebrity chef cook a squirrel, “…which I thought disgusting and unnecessary.” Her good friend Hillary chimed in that they were both very fond of small mammals, especially furry ones with cute tails.

Mr. Porthole, from Kemptown, sent a rather sharpish e-mail response: “Sod the crisps. I’ll be eating raw squirrels between two bits of bread! Only the grey American bastard imposters obviously, as I love the little red chaps almost as much as life itself. I saw some red squirrel kittens (me: squittens?) last summer and I promise you there’s nothing cuter in the whole world.” He followed that up with a call after a nearly emptied bottle of the red (him, not me…too early in the day over here for such nonsense). There is a great deal of squirrel news over there right now, he told me. The red squirrels are overrun by the grays. Celeb chefs like Gordon Ramsey charge: “Just eat the buggers.” Of course, the randy hash slinger probably had similar sentiments for his squirrely mistress. Then Mr. Porthole adds that the original cheese and onion crisps were made from sheep’s armpits!

Were they? 

I felt compelled to defend my furry American friends and countered: “You wouldn't say that to the bastard imposters if you were in Central Park where the fat little buggers are quick on their feet and their teeth are human ankle height!” Typical American overkill, I confess.

Another Brighton friend, Tina—in expectably pragmatic tones: “What a lot of fuss. Given that they are veggie crisps, I might go and buy a packet, however I am not personally a crisp fan.”

Siggy from Leicester scoffed: “It’s not squirrel. It’s actually a synthetic flavour.”

Relieved, I opened the last of the e-mails from Pete Lovepenney, another Leicestershire lad and a man of few words: “No. Don’t eat crisps.” Which is odd because those crisps originate in Leicester. Their website conjures, among other things, images of cow-eating Texans!

The Mister knew Adam Seymour, son of the head of the crisp empire. He’d come into the music shop—Sound Pad on London Road—where The Mister worked eons ago in Leicester—and freely spend the dosh he had more of than anyone else. The Mister’s friend Stanley had a band then and they were struggling for money and Stanley sold his white Gibson Les Paul to Adam. The guitar joined Adam for a time in Chrissie Hynde’s band The Pretenders.

But, I digress. I am a vegetarian now. Being the half-empty person that I am (despite the promising direction of a previous post) I conjure gloomy scenarios of homelessness. I have stated that if life sees The Mister down-and-out in Central Park, and me keeping house…er, I mean cave…beside him I could roast a squirrel. But no, I couldn’t. And as many times as I have sworn to join Wildman Steve Brill on his walks and learn first hand how to survive in the urban jungle I still think I’d pick the wrong mushroom—"Hmm…let's see…not the curly ones or is it not the ones clinging to a tree trunk"— and die. Or die hallucinating the attack of a 140-pound lobster. 

Which reminds me of trip to Princeton, New Jersey one year. It was early on in the marriage and The Mister and I went off to Princeton to see an exhibition of drawings of the American artist Phillip Guston. Foolishly forgoing breakfast—a habit I have still not broken—I was starving by the time we got off the bus. My friend Mary met us and suggested a quick stop into the local health food store where, despite her sage advice, I decided on raw organic peanuts. Organic. Healthy. Right? The Mister and Mary smartly abstained from sharing. Not so the insistent squirrel that followed us across the verdant grounds of an Ivory Tower as I repeatedly gave in to his greedy gaze, pleading above his adorably curled paws.

Halfway into the exhibition the raw nuts kicked in. My stomach roiled like an old and angry boiler. My lips were blue! Mary hustled me into the restroom and revived me somewhat with cold water to the face and righteous admonition, but she promised there was a remedy back at the same health food store. The Mister and she helped me back across the campus. The sight of a group of concerned students staring dismally at a (familiar) gray squirrel convulsing on the lawn is something I shall never forget.

I began a life-long love affair with charcoal capsules.

It was the artist Sue Coe—her exhibition at Galerie St. Etienne in ’96—who inspired me to quit eating meat. The title of the show was “Dead Meat.” She and her sister (a journalist and animal rights activist) visited abattoirs across the country. They acted like interested tourists—or they would have been denied entry. Sue Coe made surreptitious sketches for her paintings and her sister took notes. The stories were heart rending. I remember reading every word, looking at every illustration in the catalog for some years after seeing the original large works at the gallery. I bought two of her etchings. Two co-workers flanked me along 57th Street, lobbing their sarcasm (rightly deserved) back and forth as we raced from the gallery back to Hatchet Publishing where we designed superfluous magazines like “20 Billion Ways to Lose Weight and “1001 Useless Decorating Ideas.” I had made many such proclamations in the past to quit ‘my evil ways’ and usually followed that up with a night of raucous carousing. I would never stick to it, they said.

I did quit and except for the rare falter early on into a Christmas ham at a party to remind myself why I wasn’t eating it, The Mister and I have been meat-free ever since, eventually adding the over-fished and poisoned fish to the list of no-nos.

Until I read the article he was talking about, I thought The Mister was saying there was a 140-pound lobster somewhere in Manhattan, which had been set free. That I didn’t blink an eye says something about our communication skills. “Okay, he read it so I’m sure there is such a thing….” There actually was an article about a 140-year-old lobster who was rescued by those pesky (sarcasm here) animal rights activists, freed from the Manhattan restaurant where he had become a “mascot” and returned to the ocean.

I should think there are a few thousand much younger souls in war-torn places like Gaza who could stand a little bit of freedom.

“Billions face food shortages, study warns. And yet we continue to grow obscene amounts of grain to feed beef; beef that starving children in poor countries will never see. Water, another valuable and threatened resource is used far more in animal production here in the U.S. than in growing our entire fruit and vegetable crop. Never mind the carbon footprint those poor, tortured creatures stamp on the earth, while adding more greenhouse gases than a planet full of autos.

Forgive me for being flip, but that doesn’t leave a lot for the poorer countries (and a “there but for the grace of God” attitude won’t mean much here soon). Might I suggest repackaging our financial woes into a cereal and call it “Kredit Krunch.” It won’t have nutritional value but will most certainly be meatless.

"As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields. What I think about vivisection is that if people admit that they have the right to take or endanger the life of living beings for the benefit of many, there will be no limit to their cruelty." Leo Tolstoy

Why should we be vegetarians? Why, indeed. If cows had opposable thumbs—well, and fingers and conscious choice and be able to walk upright—then I think we would be well advised to stand back from the killing floor. Imagine the cow that has had enough: “Go ahead, Mister, MAKE MY DAY.” Suddenly a winter meal of roasted root vegetables with a healthy sprinkling of fresh rosemary has a little more bite to it.

They say a human being tastes like the last thing it ate before it died. Hmmm, depends on the season I guess but me and The Mister might taste like any number of delicious meals I cook up like “Lonely Shepherd’s Pie” (no lamb) or if summer takes us then a crisply pungent cold lentil, tempeh and pineapple salad.

I confess to loving Walker’s crisps when I am abroad with The Mister. Only the salt & vinegar kind for me. Suitable for vegetarians or not, the idea of Prawn Cocktail, Roast Turkey with Paxo Sage, or Lamb with Mint Flavor and Oven Roasted Chicken with Lemon & Thyme does not tempt me. Though seeing as they are “meatless” I could be persuaded to happily pop a few “Smokey Bankers” crisps should that flavor ever occur to them?

Marmite Yeast Extract? Not with a gun to my head.

“To become vegetarian is to step into the stream which leads to nirvana.” Buddha


zbelnu said...

I liked this story and the poor cow asking Make My Day. And the squirrels. Thanks for sharing this story! BTW I am veggetarian too.

Marianne said...

Just wondering if you wouldn't mind picking up some of those squirrel crisps and bringing them back home on your next trip over the pond. Given the state of our economy, and the appetites of the Bernie Madoff's of the world, there are some gift baskets I'd like to be making up and sending to jail.
As for Brill's walking workshop, just stay away from everything with a thin layer of brown attached to it.

Linda Danz said...

I laughed out loud at this!