This picture was taken during a recent trip to Paris. A photo snapped outside a restaurant while walking through the Latin Quarter, a busy artistic neighborhood known for its student life and bistros. I turned a corner and there it was…something that used to be alive and kicking. Can you see what is roasting in the photo? It resembled a small pig or hog. Now in front of me it was skewered and was turning on the rotisserie. I could see its teeth and head, it looked like it was sleeping. At the top of the rotisserie potatoes were being cooked, at the bottom a thin sauce of animal drippings and onions. No doubt that was the “Plat du Jour” being served in the restaurant that day. Quickly, I took a couple of pictures and ran away. I am not a vegetarian but this image of a whole animal being roasted out in the open saddened me. Is this normal to feel sad on images such as this? Do vegetarians living and traveling throughout France also feel this sadness to see whole animals cooking or ready to be cooked? It is one of the cultural aspects of living in France that I find difficult to get used to: seeing the whole animal ready to be cooked or pieces of the animal (head, feet, tongue) displayed for anyone to buy and eat. This “open” aspect on the animal/fish for eating also translates to misunderstandings in France towards vegetarians and vegans. Just ask a long-time vegetarian in a small town/city/village in France and you will hear their stories on their meat-less eating adventures in France. A vegetarian or vegan here needs to be strong and speak some French. A vegetarian in France is not for the weary!
The rabbit and my daughter
Recently my father-in-law came to visit. He was very proud to bring two organic rabbits with him, freshly bought from “le marché” (the market) and ready to be cooked. “We don’t eat rabbit.” I told him. “I think of little bunnies hopping around in a field, it makes me sad to eat rabbit. But go ahead and cook it and we will see if the kids want to try it.” The day came (uhm….too quickly) to cook the rabbits. I was in the kitchen helping. My father-in-law asked me, “Should we put the rabbit head in to cook with the rest of the meat? It is so good!” I said, “No, please don’t do that, the kids will freak out!” So, he cooked the rabbit (without head) and brought it to the table to serve. I told my father in law, “Don’t tell the kids what meat it is unless they ask.” Well, they asked. When my 12-year-old daughter saw the pot with pieces of rabbit in it, knowing what it was, she burst into tears. I could really feel she was upset. She loves animals and especially she loves rabbits. Although the rule in our house is to taste every food that is brought to the table, this time I made an exception. No, she didn’t try it. I did. So did my 2 youngest kids. They loved it. (I thought it was good too). Can you imagine if the head of the rabbit was in there too? Oh, la, la….When I tried to explain to my father-in-law that his granddaughter is eating less and less meat, that she finds it hard to distance herself from the fact that she is eating an animal, he said, “But animals are supposed to be eaten.”
Seeing the whole animal is a cultural thing, n’est-ce pas?
No, a vegetarian in France is not for the weary. Even the concept of vegetarianism is not well-accepted or understood in France. A French chef here thinks he is serving you a vegetarian dish if it doesn’t have meat, not realising that the sauce he served on your vegetables has meat drippings in it. As a vegetarian in France you have to sometimes be more relaxed and patient with your values. If not you will end up tearing your hair apart. Living here you regularly see the whole animal, how it is presented for food and how all of it used in French cooking. It is just something to be experienced. Just walk into any French butcher and you will see calf brains, tongue, heart, liver, intestines, blood sausage etc. Buy your poultry from the market and it comes with the head and feet. Order your fish in the restaurant and it may come whole. Even shrimp bought in the supermarket comes with its full body armor. The French use everything and every part of the animal and fish in their cooking. Nothing to be wasted. There is something to be said about that. Now, will someone please come and help me cut off this chicken head? I need to get it in the oven for dinner…!
Are you a vegetarian or vegan living in France or have traveled here? Would love to hear your comments or stories about your experiences (good or bad!). Shout them below in the comment section. Will end with Julie Child’s (a big meat-eater) famous qoute ” Bon Appetit!”