Many unsettling questions go unanswered when preparing to move to the Middle East. Will my hair dryer work with 220 power? Will I be able to use my debit card in ATM machines? How will I get Microsoft Updates with a dial-up Internet connection? But perhaps the most haunting questions are about food. How will my dietary habits have to change?
I’m thinking particularly of a vegetarian friend of mine who is heading to Turkey soon. A great way to understand how people on the other side of the world think is to get a peek at the routine of their daily lives and how it differs from ours. Here’s the story of my first meat buying excursion after moving to Lebanon in 1999.
A Trip To The Souk in Tyre
Denis and I went to the open-air market and approached the blue-painted walls of his favorite butcher. He picked out a chicken in the same way that someone in a fancy restaurant might choose a lobster. She looked at us and blinked as she was extracted from the cage by the vendor. We had time to name her if we wanted. How about Hilda?
It all happened very quickly and with no warning to either Hilda or me. With practiced precision the knife flashed at Hilda’s throat and she was thrown head first into a hole in the counter. After three minutes, the chicken stopped thrashing around inside the cabinet.
Another worker came and submerged the bird in scalding water to loosen the feathers and then threw it into a cylindrical machine, shaped like a clothes washer. Plastic quills inside, sticking out from the walls, neatly removed the feathers as the chicken spun around like it was in a blender.
The butcher then deftly sectioned it and removed all the innards. Was it my imagination, or was its heart still beating?
The meat was placed into a small black plastic bag – its handles tied to produce a loop for easy carrying on a finger. The bag went into the scale and Denis paid by the kilo.
By the time we got back to my friend’s house and presented his wife with the fruit of our manly hunt, the bag was still warm.
That’s what I call fresh chicken!
In my youth, I cleaned the meat market at Vashon Thriftway. The chicken scraps I scraped off the counters at the end of the day represented the chicken’s last stages of processing from coop to table. But the meat arrived at the store in boxes, not cages. After all, meat is supposed to be presented how God intended – refrigerated and encased in Styrofoam.
Maybe removing the visibility of the butchering process has allowed westerners to become overly carnivorous. It could be that you’d like to know more about the source of your food. How do you think your dietary habits would change if you had to look your dinner in the eye before eating? Would you eat more or less meat?