Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pleasant Pheasant

Sunday roast: A big thing in the UK and a nice tradition that some families still have in the US. A lot of effort can typically be expected to go into this meal. But I imagine that few go to more elaborate lengths than a trip to the local butcher's (which in itself has become a rarity in the States with the heaps of readily available shrink-wrapped animal parts waiting in mounds at WalMart) to pick up a piece of meat. But there's no need to go to into town when dinner wanders into the front garden.

I glanced out the window earlier this week to see a brightly colored bird, the size of a house cat, peacefully pecking at the lawn. "Oh, look! It's so pretty!", I said to my British beau. And next thing I knew he's marched into the yard with a loaded rifle. Apparently these lovely birds have been bred for the sole purpose of being hunted, evidently by lazy hunters who don't want much of a challenge, which would explain why it did little in the way of fleeing for its life as I watched, reluctantly curious, from the bedroom.

Given today's cornucopia of rehydrated, dehydrogenated, freeze-dried, flash-frozen, genetically-modified, prepackaged bounty, I've always seen hunting as a cruel and unnecessary hobby. But as I was reminded by my proud provider, "In these economic times, who can really afford to pass up a free meal?". So feeling as though the unfortunate fowl was owed the respect of a dignified death, we consulted YouTube for a step-by-step guide to how a pheasant goes from pecking to plate.

We were fully equipped with plastic gloves, bin liners, vacuum cleaner, newspapers, paper towels, bleach,...and knives. Though my job was little more than holding open a plastic bag, I'll still omit the details. I was surprised, however, by how horrible it wasn't. It didn't take long for it to resemble what I would find in any freezer section and for some reason that's the stage where we can comfortably disassociate life (and subsequently death) from our food.

I realize that this experience is hardly unique to the UK and there are plenty of people in the US who prepare food this way quite regularly. But I will note that even while this was the first time I've been so intimately involved with the origin of my dinner, the abundance of locally grown and produced food in the UK is notable.

Most labels in a supermarket boast "British Beef", "English Cheddar", "Made in the UK". We even get our milk delivered to our doorstep fresh from a dairy farm a mile up the road! It wouldn't even be difficult to stock a pantry with only products produced within just one county. This is something that I can't imagine being able to do in the US.

Even if you're lucky enough to have a farmer's market, or even a WholeFoods, within a 25 mile radius, you'd still have a hard time consuming such an array of local goods. I get the impression that consumers have much more of a voice in the UK. It's an island that could fit inside Alabama, with more than 60 million people, and they've managed to keep a lot of food local. So why on earth can't the United States, with its vast amounts of land and hundreds of millions of consumers not successfully demand more locally grown, produced, and sustainable food? I mean, consuming is what we do!

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