Tuesday, October 21, 2008
When I lived in Italy I got used to the grisly appearance of the animals in the butcher stalls at the market. Rabbits with the heads on, whole pigs' heads, feathered birds hanging by their feet. Even the chickens in the grocery store, wrapped up in a styrofoam tray and plastic wrap, had their feet and sometimes even their heads on.
I found out then that I'm not particularly squeamish about these things. I would just cut off the feet and the head, discard them, and then go about trying to figure out where the joints were so I could cut the whole chicken into pieces.
But it's been a while since those days.
I was totally taken aback when I unwrapped this Murray's chicken last night and found the feet still attached. Okay, I was kind of grossed out. It was the little toe nails that did me in. Also how it sort reminded me of E.T.
But I was fascinated, too. It made the chicken look so much more like a bird, like a pale, plucked version of a formerly living breathing animal. Without the feet it's just a cartoon image of a chicken, like a food icon. No toenails.
As I got ready to roast the chicken, I decided to leave the feet on. Why? I don't know! Maybe I just didn't want to deal with cutting those formerly alive feet off.
But I was also interested in how squeamish I felt. I liked being reminded that my food was once an animal, and that our food preferences are so culturally mandated. In China chicken feet are a delicious snack. You can buy a whole plate of them in a restaurant. It seemed lame to cut them off just to protect my prissy American sensibilities. Also, what would my kids say? Would they think it was gross? Grosser than kidney beans or eggs or asparagus or any of the other mild foods that make them, uh, squeam?
I also thought the whole thing was sort of freakishly cool-looking.
"Look guys, they left the feet on!" They glanced up from playing, uttered monosyllabic responses and went back to what they were doing.
An hour later: "Who wants the chicken feet?" I called out cheerfully when I set the roast chicken on the table.
Unbelievably: "I do!" "I do!" "I said it first!" "That's not fair!"
This was amazing. Would they really eat them, just because I was acting all nonchalant? "There are two," I said. "You can each have one." I used my kitchen shears to cut the feet off at the joint, and set a caramel-colored, roasted, slightly shriveled foot onto each of their plates.
"Uh..." My son had just arrived at the table. He stood for a moment, staring at his plate. "Actually, I don't want one. She can have mine."
I moved his chicken foot over to her plate just as she arrived. "I don't want them either," she said, without a missing beat.
And neither did the grownups, even thought they think they are so worldly and such good eaters. And thus the feet were reunited in the soup-stock bag in the freezer and our cultural lesson came to a close.