Yesterday I treated myself to lunch at the Co-op, which has a really nice, fairly local and all-organic deli. It’s a nice walk from my office, about 15 minutes from door to door, and this summer has been so mild so far (knock on wood) that I could walk it fairly comfortably at 2pm on a July day. I took advantage of the hot bar, which featured Mediterranean potatoes, Spanikopita, creamed lentils, and Greek chicken – everything looked and smelled delicious. As usual, I sat down in the dining room and spread out my current read, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, just above my plate so I could read and eat.

I’m nearing the end of the book, and started reading Chapter 18, titled “Hunting: The Meat”. In this section, Michael Pollan recounts his first day hunting pigs in the hills of nearby Sonoma County, as part of his analysis of a completely hunted and foraged meal. I felt a little unsure about reading this section while eating, but I figured I could stomach it.

Somewhere around the time he was describing his friend’s kill, I looked down to cut my chicken thigh, and the skin, which I suddenly recognized entirely as skin, slipped off the meat, revealing the plump, smooth, white muscle underneath. In a flash, I became acutely, sickeningly aware of exactly what I was eating, in a visceral way that I don’t recall experiencing before. As someone who was a vegetarian for the better part of 17 years, and a vegan for some of that time, I’ve avoided this feeling by abstaining from the practice of eating meat, but at the beginning of this year I decided to become an omnivore again, for various reasons. I’d started out with barely perceptible meat – chunks of beef stuffed neatly away in a burrito, or sausage or liverwurst which has been fairly disguised. But now I had graduated to the kind of meat that is unmistakably animal.

I thought very hard about looking away, putting my fork down and leaving the remainder of the thigh, but this book made me think twice about it; if I’m going to make the conscious decision to eat meat again (which I have), then I’d better be as honest as I could about it. If I couldn’t eat this chicken with full conscious knowledge and respect for the animal whose life ended in order to nourish me, then I didn’t want to do it at all. So I finished my slice through the flesh and skin, almost bionically aware of each cut fiber, and ate another bite. Strangely enough, I enjoyed the flavor, and felt a strong spiritual gratitude surge through me. I felt that I needed to honor this animal’s life by eating every bit of meat that I could cut off the bone; that it would have been disrespectful to be at all casual about what I was consuming; so I cleaned it thoroughly. I also felt grateful that even the last bite felt slightly uneasy. It was the most honest chicken meal I’d ever eaten.

Tonight I felt compelled to write about it, and even as I write I’m surprised by the power and profundity of yesterday’s seemingly simple, everyday lunch. I hope I don’t forget it.

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