What other baby animals can you serve to your baby humans?: a parental guide.

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Opinion

The final scene of Rachel Cusk’s novel Transit depicts what is arguably the worst dinner party in all of literature. It takes place deep in the English countryside, far from the nearest town, on a foggy night that renders the surrounding country lanes effectively unpassable. After a first course of fois gras wrapped in choix pastry, the scene climaxes with the host serving each of the guests their own personal baby chicken. The children at the table are horrified: “we turned to look and saw that one child after another was rising to its feet beside Angelica, until all of them were standing before their plates, tears pouring down their faces.” The host, Lawrence, fails to consider whether or not he might be at fault for the crying children, and instead retreats into a sulk, resentful of the kids’ sentimentality and lack of good taste.

Lawrence is a proud foodie. He is also pompous, domineering, selfish, and cruel. And much to my horror I find myself identifying with him more closely than I would like. Meal times with children often bring out the worst in me. Why doesn’t this seven year old appreciate my faultless buerre blanc? Why will my toddler not accept that bone marrow is just a savoury jelly and he very much likes jelly? What on earth do they mean black pepper is spicy? In the face of my children’s perfectly natural likes and dislikes I find myself becoming petty, truculant, and mean. I really must do better.

The poussins in Cusk’s novel got me thinking about children’s relationship with meat and what they will and will not tolerate. I’m never quite sure which way these things will go. When my oldest child was three he visited a turkey farm and became very good friends with a turkey named Tom. Later that evening, as he was lying down to sleep, he said to his mother, “Mama. You know Tom the turkey?” “Yes”, she replied with no little trepidation, expecting an emotional scene as he connected his friend Tom with the turkeys we eat every year at Christmas. “I would like to eat him.” he murmered, before drifting off to sleep with a contented little smile on his face.

A longer intimacy with an animal might produce a different reaction. In the small town I grew up in you could divide the chidren into groups of those who on at least one occasion had been forced to eat their pet and those who had not. In fact you might profitably divide the entire world into those two categories and I’m confident you could gather some fairly telling data from the results. You could tell the kids who had been forced to first raise and then eat a lamb. They always seemed to be staring right through you, as if looking into a deeper, crueler reality just on the other side of this one. Trust me, you wanted to stay as far away from those kids as possible.

As Cusk’s dinner party illustrates, serving young animals to children can make for an especially fraught dinner time. Either because baby animals are particularly cute, or because chidren identify more closely with them, or because your child grasps the unfairness of taking a life before it has had a chance to live. So, which babies is it acceptable to serve to your babies?

White bait

There are lots of good reason not to eat white bait. They are an endangered species and eating the young of an endangered species is a particularly destructive way of going about your business. But, from a sentimental or aesthetic point of view, white bait, and fish in general aren’t really a problem. They are not cute, nor are they cuddly, nor are they are potential pets. Kids might not like the little eyes staring up at them from the cosy blanket of the fritter but that’s less about them being young and more about them being creepy. So go ahead ahead give your kids white bait. Or don’t. Because they are an endangered gaddamn species, you monster.

Chickens

Chickens are not particulalry cute. But baby chickens are. They are round and fluffy and go cheep cheep cheep. And as per Rachel Cusk’s dinner party, kids might get upset about eating them. This is particularly true because a baby chicken retains much of it’s form on the plate. It’s identifiably a baby chicken even without its feathers and head. Best steer clear to avoid the tears.

Lamb

Lamb on the plate doesn’t really look like a lamb in the field so it has that going for it. It might take some time for a child to make the connection between the cute little frolicking beasts they see every spring and the slices of juicy pink flesh on their plate and, by the time they do, they might be desensitized enough not to register the full horror of what they are eating.

Kids (goats, to be clear)

Due to the relative popularity of goat’s milk and cheese compared to the meat, most male-born goats are simply killed and discarded at birth. So eating baby goats is ethically, kind of, not so bad. But that’s still a pretty tough sell to make to a five year old. Good luck with that.

Veal

Photo by Carter Yocham on Unsplash

Once you look a baby cow in the eye things get very complicated indeed. Those things are like a puppy crossed with the Gautama Budda. If you want your children to eat veal (presumably because they are the third in line to the British throne or because you insist on them having a solid understanding of what pairs well with Rhone Valley white) then I suggest you keep them away from cows altogether.

Suckling Piglets

Christopher Robin is going to eat you, Piglet…

Probably the worst choice of all. Piglets are cute, make great pets and have been memorably fictionalised.They are often served whole, head and all, sometimes with an apple in their mouth. Don’t do it.

 

Photo by Юлія Дубина on Unsplash

About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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