I wimped out (eating nose-to-tail)

May 10, 2011

Photo by Stewart

I like to talk the big talk about eating nose-to-tail. It’s wasteful not to, various parts that aren’t commonly eaten are chockfull of stuff that’s good for us, it’s economical, it’s respectful to the animal, I could go on. And I actually enjoy offal – liver, kidneys, heart, you name it. But as I found out recently, there’s a catch. With offal, and most meat in general, you don’t really recognize the body part. It all just looks like “meat”. But you put a recognizable body part in front of me, and I apparently turn into a girly-girl.

Case in point. I bought a whole mackerel. Actually, I bought an entire box of frozen whole mackerels, but that’s another story. I say “whole” because the fish I usually buy already have their heads chopped off. So I was actually really excited about eating fish head. At the time of purchase, I didn’t yet register any “yuck” factor – it didn’t even cross my mind.

Well, when it was all said and done, and the fish eyeball was sitting there on my plate, staring right at me, it took a heck of a lot to get that thing in my mouth. And then I instantly spat it out. Couldn’t chew on it, couldn’t suck out the inside, I could barely look at it much less eat it.

What is it about the eyeball that makes me squeamish? I guess it’s just too recognizable. After all, I have eyeballs, too. And I’ve watched cute fish swimming around, and they looked back at me with those eyeballs. You don’t look at a cow or a fish and say, “Oh, look at its steak, it’s so big”. But you could easily point out their eyeballs. I bet if you took that eyeball, chopped it up, and fried it, or prepared it in some other way where it no longer resembled an eyeball, I’d have no problem eating it.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easier to disassociate an animal from its meat, and to not think about the animal that the meat came from. And no, these feelings don’t mean that we should all be vegan. I think this disassociation is more of a by-product of commercialized farming. Hunters know exactly where their meat comes from, as do farmers. But when you or I walk into a grocery store, all the meat is neatly packaged, all looking very similar – we never see the animal, and most of us prefer not to dwell on how that meat got into our shopping cart.

I’ve always loved animals and respected nature. But when I was researching farms to buy beef from, and I learned more about how the cows are treated, what they eat, etc., and then later about which cuts of meat I want, I developed a deeper sense of appreciation for the beef I was buying.

I think that if you’re going to eat the meat, then you should be comfortable with where it came from, and how it got to your table. That’s really more big talk from me, because watching an animal get slaughtered would probably traumatize me. Having said that, logically, I know that there shouldn’t  be a difference then between eating an eyeball and a steak – it’s all part of same animal.

I’m a work in progress. “Luckily” I have a lot more mackerel eyeballs, and thus many more chances to redeem myself.

Do you get squeamish about eating recognizable “meat”?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chad Lott May 11, 2011 at 6:21 PM

Great post. I could never get around the pure nastiness that is a pig’s tail. The other thing that was just un-bearable was goose intenstine.


[email protected] May 11, 2011 at 6:29 PM

Thanks! Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of trying either. I’d imagine though, that since a cute, squiggly pig’s tail is one of the defining features of a pig, it’d probably be difficult to swallow. As for goose intestine – the closest I’ve come is beef tripe, but it was chopped up and in a soup, so it didn’t bother me.


Valerie October 29, 2013 at 10:49 PM

Great site, thank you!
To answer the question at the end of your post: my husband is like that – if he knows the name of an animal part, he won’t even try it. And I’ve been always wondering what causes this disgust in people? And I think that it’s the “clean” diet that does it to children, and then, adults. In other words, if a person, as a child, used to eat mostly the same meals with little variety, this person would most probably not be adventurous in food later on. And I think that most American parents do just that: whether trying to please their offspring, or for the lack of time, or just because it is easier, they offer their kids only the foods that they would definitely like. And the whole culture follows this trend for decades. Look at the Children’s menus at ANY restaurant, whether it’s Chinese or French, or Greek, – there’s definitely going to be potato fries, some variation of mac n’cheese or grilled cheese, and some variation of chicken nuggets.
Another thing in Western world cuisine that leads to people being “afraid” or disgusted by some food is – trying to make things look aesthetic, picture-perfect, flawless. Rare Asian would clean the pepper’s insides before cooking. Here, a bell pepper with a piece of white flesh and few seeds is considered “yucky” or at least untidy. Blotched apples are moldy. Wild rice is dirty. Beets are ugly (and peeing red after eating them is creepy) Small fish is scary.
I came from a culture where most people cook from scratch (Ukraine). Having two grandmas that cook and many family friends and or village-dwelling relatives, who would never let you go without having a bite, gave me a great variety of foods to try as a kid. Salted fish eggs, fried liver, stuffed kidneys, salted uncured pork fat, beef tails or pork foot meat jelly, salted sprats eaten whole, pickled herring and chickens that you have to clean yourself before eating/cooking, a plethora of meat soups – these were normal things cooked at home or tried visiting friends and relatives. Needless to say, I have no problems eating offal in almost any form. Then, at age 10, my parents were sent to work to Guinea, West Africa, for almost two years, and I went with them to live there for a year. We had to deal with the fact that the only safe and affordable protein was fish, (well, also a rare scurvy chicken). No dairy, no eggs were available. And we were surrounded by people living in poverty, and even fish was a rare treat for them. So, it came naturally to use the fish that we could get whole. Sometimes we would use parts if fish for different meals. Back in Ukraine, soups were a wholesome essential part of our diet. Our Africa soups were based on fish heads broths. They had eyes :)
Having such an exposure, fish eyes do not bother me anymore. But if such experience seems rather exotic for your childhood, then, being squeamish about fish eyes is natural. Next time, when you bake or fry fish, take the eyes out, give ’em to a cat, and put some berries in eye sockets before cooking. With offal… give your cooked offal French meals’ names (or use other language, if you wish) they would seem to you much more appealing :) Get a kitchen chalkboard and write those names on a menu, you’d feel like a million bucks when you eat them!
Good luck!


[email protected] November 1, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Thanks for the well thought out comment! :) You’ll be happy to know that I have since become less squeamish about fish eyes, and can now eat them. I completely agree with your views on varied diets in children. I’ve written a couple of posts about this (here and here), as it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Looks like adult diets are veering towards the more adventurous, and with the local, farm to table movement, foraging, etc. movements we are appreciating our food and resources more, and eating whatever we can find. Stuff that was considered peasants’ food is now appearing in the best restaurants. But we still seem to indulge in kids’ food pickiness, which I think is a shame. By the way, your childhood diet sounds like something straight out of Weston Price :) And I’m sure your time in Africa, although perhaps not exactly nourishing, was quite the experience.


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