Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Crayfish Legs

I had crayfish on Bastille Day at Chez Panisse. They were garlicky little guys but nothing special. Not a match for the $100 Au Bon Climat pinot noir we accidentally ordered. Epicurious has several recipes for crawfish. There's crawfish etouffee and fried crawfish remoulade.

Crayfish legs, being quite small, are not considered much of a delicacy. For people.

But just imagine the temptation of soft-shelled crawfish legs. To another crawfish.

Clem returned home today to find that Evelyn's crayfish, Neon, had eaten all the claws and legs off her vulnerable little Coral just after he shed his shell. He was lying on his side, a multiple amputee, twitching one eye.

Clem sobbed and sobbed, "He was just a baby."

Food and death are all bound up.

My sister Kelly and I, at 7 and 5, were put off veal for years when, as we were happily licking our mint chip ice cream and looking at the cows in the dairy barn, a farmer dragged a calf into the barn by its legs and said he was going to kill it for veal.

A couple weeks ago Ev and a friend and I went to the East Bay Vivarium to look at the lizards and snakes. It was feeding time.

There were fuzzy yellow chicks quivering in some cages. In another was a freshly killed guinea pig. While I was watching the snake maneuver the guinea pig to its mouth an employee brought out a bunny and dumped it unceremoniously on a small table near the cage as if it were a sack of potatoes. But it was a bag of potatoes with legs and it tried to escape and fell off the table. The guy grabbed it roughly and threw it in the snake cage.

I didn't want to watch, but the kids stayed for the squeeze. After ten minutes or so I passed by and caught a glimpse of legs flailing. I admit to gasping in surprise.

"Oh, it'll do that for 15 minutes," the employee said.

When we left I was shocked at how I enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze, the people laughing. I felt I'd been liberated from a dungeon, though I hadn't felt that way inside. When I see or hear about employees dragging calves by their chained legs or slamming down bunnies or breaking chicken wings when shoving them into crates I think they must hate what they are doing and this is the way they have found to cope with it.

I've read stories about Native American or African hunters who thank the animal for its gift. I am thinking about the sacred and the profane. Or some such dichotomy. I don't think I've got hold of quite the right one, but I'll go with it anyway. Killing pushes us (some of us, those of us who didn't grow up on farms, say) one way or the other. Is killing a sacred act or a profane one? If I had to kill something would I feel forced to profane indifference and even cruelty? If I could keep myself from feeling silly would I be kinder and gentler and happier if I thanked the animal for its "gift".

My friend Stefani is slaughtering her own chickens. It is not yet an everyday thing. The last rooster she killed took forever to die. You can see a picture and read her blog here on it here (scroll down to Oct. 1).

I am never going to be a vegetarian and have always kept myself protectively distant from slaughterhouses and books like Fast Food Nation.

And I've always felt sorry for animals that had to eat their meat raw. Poor things that can't cook. But my recent forays into raw meat have proved that the raw flesh of fish, scallops, cows and goats is quite palatable.

Hey, Neon, next time, save a little leg for me.

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