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First Foie Gras Ban, Then Trans Fats, Now All Meat?

03/12/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago's health commissioner, Dr. Terry Mason, wants everyone to join him in going vegetarian for a month. First city officials tried to ban foie gras, then trans fats, and now another one wants us to lay off meat for 8.3% of the year? Not this Meathead.

Can you imagine the city built by Armour, Swift, and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters going meatless for a month? Can you just see Da Coach wandering from table to table at Ditka's selling grilled tofu during the playoffs? Or Mr. Beef changing his sign to Mr. Eggplant for two fortnights? Or Hot Doug's serving nothing but asparagus on a bun for 31 days?

mr_eggplantI'm wondering if The Good Doctor ever heard of Lent, or perhaps this is where he got the idea? For centuries, during the 40 day run up to Easter, many Catholics swore off meat. Why? In the late 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas explained in his seminal work, Summa Theologica, that the Church forbade those foods which afford "most pleasure to the palate." He went on to explain that meat encourages the body to produce a surplus of "seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust." Perhaps Dr. Mason is really advancing a stealth population control plan.

Catholics loved the idea of renouncing meat so much they created Carnivale, a weeklong bacchanale of debauchery before the advent of Lent. Carnivale comes from the Latin word carne, which means "meat", and levare, which means "to put away". Meatless Lent was such a good idea that most modern Catholics pretty much ignore it and instead give up a vice of their choice, like chocolate.

But there are other reasons not to proscribe meat. We are programmed to eat meat by our ancestors. I can envision a pre-human tribe padding warily through the fragrant ashes of a forest fire as they follow a particularly seductive scent. When they stumble upon the charred carcass of a wild boar they squat and poke their fingers into its side. They sniff their hands, then lick their greasy digits. The magical blend of warm protein, molten fat, and unctuous collagen in roasted meat is a narcotic elixir and it addicts them on first bite. They become focused, obsessed with tugging and scraping the bones clean, moaning and shaking their heads. The aromas make their nostrils smile and the flavors cause their mouths to weep.

Today Chicagoans do it almost the same way all across the city. Our noses lead us into a place of burning wood where we eat without forks or linen. Just pig on a stick, grease and sauce on our faces. "Don't play with your food" doesn't apply when you're in a rib joint. If you don't get it on your shirt you're not doing it right. This is what we were bred to do. This is our heritage. This is pure carnal joy.

There are also sociological reasons for eating meat. Since that first conflagration, cooking meat over a fire has always meant a gathering of the clan outdoors, and there is no more intimate gathering than hanging around the grill with the sweet smell of smoke mingling with the perfume of proteins caramelizing in the air, and a beer in hand. To this day, nothing says "party" more profoundly to the prehistoric remnants in us than barbecue meat.

Now don't get me wrong, I love my greens. I've written numerous killer vegetable recipes, and I'm the first to admit that fresh corn on the cob and August tomatoes come close to meat in sheer gustatory pleasure. I even occasionally relish meatless meals. But I do not plan to make a month of it.

I'm sure reading such graphic porknography horrifies vegans, but I'm tired of fundamentalist evangelists pushing their religions and diets on me like some nightmarish mother from a Fellini flick pushing a plate towards me commanding, "Eat your rutabaga, Craig, eat it!" Dr. Mason and the food police should be teaching teaching nutrition, cooking, and moderation with all the food groups, not abstinence.

I asked Barry Sorkin of Smoque, one of Chicago's great barbecue emporia, what he thinks of Dr. Mason's idea and he said "Sure, we'll cut meat out of our diets and we'll all live longer. But will we want to?"

Remember, no rules in the bedroom or the kitchen!
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