“You Americans are so one dimensional,” my European friend said some years ago, standing on my back porch as I dug through a freezer. He wasn’t talking about politics or culture. He was talking about what we were having for dinner; he was talking about meat.
In Europe, he said, people eat a variety of textures of meat. They eat organs, they love pâté, but in America, with a few exceptions, meat means the muscle of an animal and little else.
Though we all love a good sausage or hotdog, the best way to gross out a group of middle schoolers is to reveal what’s actually in those products: “They put pig hearts in hot dogs, you know.” To which we should say, oh, so that’s what makes them so good. But we don’t. We go for ignorance or take refuge in a chicken breast or a simple steak. We want our ground beef to be ground chuck so that we can be sure that no strange scraps are thrown in. And I was no exception until I raised animals of my own and realized that those cuts of flesh were just a portion of what was given by that doe-eyed steer I’d come to love. If I was going to respect his death I needed to eat everything. Or, to be more honest, to sell everything and eat what was left over, which was often the tongue and liver, the kidneys and heart.
I no longer raise animals myself, but I still eat organ meat. I eat it to respect the animal and the farmer, but also because I’ve learned the truth of my friend’s criticism. We American’s are often one dimensional in our meat choices and it’s to our detriment. It turns out that liver is tender and full of flavor. Beef tongue is can make an easy and delicious barbecue or taco filling. It also turns out that many of those organ meats we’d rather pass by are some of the most nutrient dense foods available. Liver, for instance, is full of vitamin A and B12. Heart has a healthy dose of CoQ10. As is often the case, what is healthy for the farm is also healthy for the eater.
Last night, my family sat down for dinner. At its center was liver and onions, prepared with a beef liver I’d bought from the Grass Roots Farmers Coop a couple of weeks back. It was wonderful food, a meal of many dimensions that was satisfying in flavor, health, and wholeness. May more of my meals be like it.