Why French Cuisine is Turning Me Vegetarian


Prior to preparing for the CAP Cuisine, France’s national cooking exam, I seldom ate meat and avoided cooking it altogether. Now that I’m cheffing it up, I’ve had to disembowel Foghorn Leghorn and filet Nemo, with Thumper, Peppa Pig, Clarabelle Cow, and Shaun the Sheep in line for the chopping block. France is turning me into the the horror of every beloved woodland creature. Learning how to cook animals might just be what stops me from eating them. I’m either going full vegan or full pioneer woman.

When a technique is coming up that will require some degree of butchery, the first steps are the worst steps. They may include the ripping-out of internal organs, the dislocation of joints, the sawing-through of bone, the removal of skin, or all of the above. As someone who once considered Willy Wonka a horror movie, you can imagine my displeasure in becoming the Jigsaw of the animal kingdom.

Felt cute, might delete later.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but if you’re curious about the process and techniques, I post them on my Instagram stories–with the proper content warnings, of course.

In any case, once it’s over, and after I’ve soiled both the kitchen and my conscience, it’s disinfecting time. This is not only for food safety, but also for a mental and emotional cleanse. All entrails go in the trash, which goes outside, and bones go in the stockpot, which has a conveniently opaque lid. I’ll even change clothes, as my present lack of an apron occasionally results in fish scales covering one of my shapeless black dresses.

All that is left is the prepared meat, which, if you ignore my amateurish cuts, could’ve come straight from the safe, sanitized freezer case.

At this point, I can look over my work and feel capable. If for some reason my future children and I have to pack up in a covered wagon and battle our way to a new life, we’d survive. I could provide for us in the wilderness, now that I know how to do entry-level butchery with a video tutorial.

Watch out Ree Drummond, I’m coming for your wig.

Careful, Drummond. There's only room for one pioneer woman in this town.

Disgust aside, there is something to be said for meat-eaters learning some butchery. If we’re going to eat animals, we might as well be aware of what they go through to arrive at our plate. It’s easy to make fun of France and other countries that display intact, dead animals in their market stalls and butcher cases, but at least they acknowledge what meat is. It’s not as though fishermen drag up nets brimming with filet o’fish, processed and ready to fry.

Thanks to the CAP Cuisine, I’m now uncomfortably aware of how a happy little bird became a plate of chicken parm, and that doesn’t even include the slaughtering. My animals came to my kitchen dead and plucked; I only did the dissecting. Just imagine how well-rounded I could be if I had to snap their necks and drain the blood!

As a southern American raised on Kroger-brand pork chops, eating meat was my status quo. The onus was on vegetarians and vegans to prove why they would follow what appeared to be an outlandish lifestyle, while I enjoyed my barbecue nachos. However, once you’ve had to cook and eat a fish with its dead eyes staring at you from start to finish, vegetarianism doesn’t seem so strange. It’s a reminder that meat is animals, and you have to decide if you’re okay with it–really okay with it, instead of stocking up on boneless, skinless chicken breast and pretending it never clucked.

Thar she blows.

Calling myself a pioneer woman was fun and all, but the modern implications of factory-farming carry a heavier weight than the good ol’ days of shooting a deer who’d lived an otherwise happy life. I know I’m practicing my knife skills on scrawny, antibiotic-stuffed animals who had miserable lives, and, let me tell you, it’s not easy on the conscience.

I could, of course, close my eyes to the whole issue and live ignorantly, as it’s easy to do with most aspects of modern life: the harmful effects of fast fashion, the abundance of single-use plastics, the CO2 emissions of my last flight, and as a privileged white person, systemic racism and discrimination against people of color.

It can feel overwhelming, how the most mundane choice can create a chain of consequences that’ll somehow end up benefiting a crooked corporation, a Nazi sympathizer, Donald Trump, or all three.

I don’t have a magical solution to all these issues at once. That being said, baby steps can lead to greater strides. So while I can’t go vegan as long as I’m preparing for this exam, I can limit my meat consumption in other areas. I can try to hit up more thrift stores instead of H&M, take more trains, educate myself on my own white nonsense, and continue to alter my behavior as I go.

Incidentally, my recent purchase of reusable cloth vegetable bags filled me with such an inflated sense of moral superiority that I’ll be able to cook the cheap cut of beef waiting in my fridge.

Oh, damn. It’s wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam.

Keep working, y’all! How are you working to better yourself? Let me know below.

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