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« Ear-resistible: el Bulli's deep fried rabbit ears with aromatic herbs | Main | Mmmmm... donuts: beignets, paczki, zeppole, and malasada »

March 14, 2007

I crumb in peace: deep fried rabbit ears and the politics of food

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Some of you have seen the reaction to my post on el Bulli's deep fried rabbit ears.  Some of you even responded with insightful commentary of your own -- both for and against the dish -- and with expressions of support via comments and email, for which I'm extremely grateful.   Other comments were veiled threats and personal attacks.

You can imagine, then, how comforting it was to wake up Saturday morning to find my mother in law, our five year old niece, and three year old nephew baking chocolate chip cookies in our kitchen.  They used a recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  These cookies are outrageously good, especially warm from the oven with a glass of cold milk.

But what exactly is the connection between the cookies and milk in this post and the rabbit ears in the previous one?

A photo of severed bunny ears is provocative.  It causes a gut level reaction.  For many, even those who approve of the dish, that reaction is shock, dismay, or maybe even revulsion.

Why is that?  Because you instantly recognize the implications of that photo: rabbits were slaughtered and their ears cut off in order to prepare a dish.  Never mind the fact that the rabbits were raised and butchered for their meat and that the ears were going to be thrown out.  It's gruesome and, whether you choose to acknowledge it, it's the violence that underlies any meat dish.

Now look at that photo of milk and cookies one more time.  What do you see?  Are you outraged or hungry?  I bet only a handful of you see chocolate chips made from cacao beans that might have been harvested in Côte d'Ivoire.  This may seem insignificant, but some allege that cacao cultivation in that country, which supplies approximately forty percent of the world's raw cacao, operates on the back of child slavery.  If you can't bear to think of those children, ponder instead the plight of the cacao farmer whose labour fattens the bottom line of Big Chocolate but does not earn him enough to purchase a single chocolate bar.

You can't bake chocolate chip cookies without eggs and flour, but issues surround those ingredients, too.  A mass-produced battery egg from your local Megamart is likely laid by a de-beaked hen confined to a small cage.  When you think wheat, forget "amber waves of grain" and instead ponder fields planted with genetically modified, corporate-patented über-grass.  It almost happened.

Let's consider milk.  How many hormones are in that glass?  Bovine growth hormone can only be used in the United States, but it is perfectly legal to export milk from hormone-injected cows to countries around the world, including Canada.  Sugar is also a thicket of controversy.  According to the Washington Post, "U.S. sugar policy stands for all that's bad about [America's] political system" for two reasons: first, industry lobbying has led to import restrictions that artificially boost sugar prices for consumers and profits for American producers while extending poverty in developing nations shut out of the world's richest market; secondly, careless sugar cane production is destroying the ecosystem of the Florida Everglades.

This is not a call for activism so much as awareness.  We need to recognize that our food choices, for good and bad, are political choices, and that none of us are virtuous enough to sit in judgment of what others choose to eat.  In other words, there are grounds for outrage in a photo of milk and cookies from the Joy of Cooking, just as there are in a photo of deep fried rabbit ears from el Bulli: 2003-2004.
 
You just have to care enough to look.

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Comments

DinerGirl

Bra-f-ing-vo!

Now you've made me hungry for both rabbit ears AND chocolate chip cookies.

Craig

Deep fried bunny ears are brilliant, something that I would not have thought of. Not only are they apparently very edible (I am still looking forward to tasting them), but they also can be used as a decorative flare for many rabbit dishes. Deep fried rabbit ears usages are not limited only to european style dishes but dishes of many different cuisines. Since I am focusing more on Thai dishes right now, I am thinking that it would be fantastic to combine with -- possibly -- red curried rabbit -- maybe some steamed rice (shaped), and deep fried rabbit ears. Maybe a stir-fried rabbit with ginger, or straying a little, maybe an indian curry with deep-fried rabbit ears instead of the crispy bread (forget what it is called). On the european side, maybe a rabbit stew with the deep-fried bunny ears. The usage of deep fried bunny ears with other rabbit dishes are almost endless -- absolutely mouthwatering.

I took the bait though and visited your "blog", I can only say it needs work.

Helen

Well said Rob. We are all hypocrites at some point or anihter in our life regarding food, just as we are in other aspects of our lives...and it is human nature...and we just have to live with it and do better next time. Being aware of the sorld out there is half the battle.
I don't get it...some people cook and blog about beef tongue (which is yummy btw) and nobody screams....and cows don't have a better life than caged animals...blows me away.
Be who you are...can't please everybody..thank g-d!

Helen

I meant "world out there...'

Susan from Food "Blogga"

Point well made. So much of what we consume has political/social implications. We live in a complex, oftentimes unfair world. That should not excuse us from knowing the reality (however unpleasant)of the choices we make or preclude us from doing our part to make it a better place.

vanessa

i've always admired your adventures in food and while i did find some of the images disturbingly beautiful, i'm glad you did it.

in any event someone has to take the first step. be that different soul and try something else, this is what knowledge is about mais non? experimentation, play, learning... it doesn't have to lead to a repeat but we're all better for knowing. everyone draws their line in a different place... it's a personal choice but it should always be an informed choice.

TBTAM

WOnderful set of posts - and wonderful commentary. Not to mention great looking cookies...

erica

Hee Hee Hee,

how funny is this? Hats off to
you Rob, for not caving in!!!

But why do so many of the comments in the other post focus on asians "eating everything." I live in the mediterranean right now, and anybody who knows anything about mediterranean cuisine and french cuisine for that matter knows that the entire animal/ fish is used. Here too, they eat everything. And that of course is logical if you think that many of the peoples of this region were peasants. What is everyone out there thinking, that the villagers in sicily, spain or greece slaughtered the animals, feasted on a medium rare tenderloin and threw the rest of the animal in the garbage?

elarael

The idea about living on earth is to do so with respect for all life. If our chocolate comes at the expense of another's well-being, then it isn't in integrity to eat it. Why create guilt for yoursself? Just take responsability and do not eat it. Simple. Then again, how do we know what alternative exists for those kids if they are not working on a farm? How do we improve the lives they do have from here? Buying from the several ethical companies that exist right now, is one way. Writing to Valhrona, etc...is another. Communication as a consumer is vital to the solution. It can be done during a single commercial break. Postcard it to them. Then you help eliminate any cause for guilt to exist.

Eating anything that would only go to waste otherwise is simply the most honorable thing to do other than compost it, perhaps. In the US, many of us have options that allow us to make a politically powerful choice. I will not eat anything that could contain GMO's. It's challanging, but I am doing it. I don't agree with factory farming crops or animals and so I don't eat those either. I know I am priviledged to have those options and I take full advantage of that for myself as well as for the sake of those who aren't in my position.

Eventually, everything we eat will come from a place of respect. It is up to us to honor the life we take as we eat.

Leslie J. Hartley

"Eventually, everything we eat will come from a place of respect. It is up to us to honor the life we take as we eat." (from the last post I read before posting)
With all due respect, which part of an animal should be treated as garbage in a sham show of respect for the life given? Ideally, we should eat it from it's little pink nose to it's fluffy tail and use it's skin for sinter gloves and hats. Any not consumable or convert-able should be ground, mashed and macerated as fertilizer for new life.
I feel for those who empathize so strongly that their reactions become hystrionics. We are so coddled in this country that it actually addles our senses! A bunny carcass with no legs and pelt removed is not still cute just because it retains it's ears.
Finally, anyone who outwardly blanches at, or worse condemns, eating the whole animal may as well crap on the plates of billions of people around the world living a subsistence lifestyle. And save a poop for your great-grandparents, too - or just ask them how much food they wasted when they were your age.

Patrick

"Let's consider milk. How many hormones are in that glass? Bovine growth hormone can only be used in the United States, but it is perfectly legal to export milk from hormone-injected cows to countries around the world, including Canada."

Nice post, and I agree completely with the spirit of it, but I hope we can be careful not to perpetuate myths about milk -- ALL milk has hormones in it, including bST. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, there are no significant differences in the concentration of hormones in milk from bST-treat and non-treated cows. As the article you link to points out, bST concentrations are the same in milk from treated and nontreated cows (and bST is not physiologically active in primates anyway, or orally active in *any* species for that matter). Differences in IGF-1 concentrations are infinitesimal, and again physiologically irrelevant.

Stephanie

Good points. We see what we choose to see. Thanks for pointing it out.

Tanna

Danielle (habeasbrulee.com) sent me and I'm so glad.
Sorry you've gotten so many vituperative comments.
When I was growing up, my grandmother kept rabbits that I played with in the fall and she skinned and cooked in the spring. Her fried rabbit is one of my best flavorful memories. I wish I could duplicate but a lot of it dependended upon bacon from their hogs.
Thank you for an excellent write up here!!

Lady Lavender

Rob, excellent response. Bravo. I'm intrigued that no one has pointed out the fact that the price of meat is offset by the amount of "by-products" the slaughterhouse is able to sell, including the skin and fur. There are *many* rabbit fur coats. And what about all the "lucky" rabbits' feet people like to carry? Where do you think they came from?

So, for all those making nasty comments, how many pairs of leather shoes do you own? Your waller is leather, right? Your belt? What about the interior of your car? How many cows died for that? And how many rabbits do you think it takes to make a stole, much less a full coat?

So, unless people plan on wearing a lot less skin and fur, they need to lose their squeamishness over eating the Easter bunny.

bazu

I agree with everything that you say in this post, which is why I didn't comment on your bunny ears post. I agree that crying over one kind of meat while eating another is wrong. I also agree that every single food choice we make has political, ethical, and environmental ramifications. Which is why I am a vegan who only eats fair trade organic chocolate and thinks of people who eat any part of a rabbit as part of a decadent, dying breed.

I have to disagree with you on two points, however:

1. this IS a cause for activism (in the first world, we can't afford to be blind to the consequences of our choices, culinary or otherwise.) How can you have true awareness without activism??

and

2. why yes you CAN make chocolate chip cookies without eggs, wheat, or refined sugar. I thought you, a foodie, would know that for sure? Please look at my blog, or any of the other 1000 vegan food blogs out there for delicious cookie recipes.

Look, I'm not trying to change the way you eat- I know that every rabbit I rescue at a farm sanctuary is off-set by 10 rabbits that you and your friends eat. I'm just asking that you not disparage the possibility that living and eating otherwise is possible, enjoyable even.

colochef

Amazing. Clap clap.
I showed this to my vegetarian brother(who choose so, cuz he hates how animals are treated and slaughtered) and he is now thinking of not eating at all, lol.
seriously nice post.

RIC

It's astonishing to see all the misconceptions about how rabbits are raised in the US...and for that matter, elsewhere in the world. I've raised rabbits and used them for meat for some 25 years now, and here's the real deal:

Yes, they're raised in cages. Rarely are the cages too small or the animals unhealthy--the tiny cages some point to are TRANSPORT cages, used only for that purpose, to keep the rabbits from injury should there be a sudden stop or accident. Healthy rabbits make healthy meat and plenty of healthy youngsters.

Commercial rabbitries are very clean as a general rule and the rabbits are kept as healthy as possible through good maintenance practices rather than through the administration of drugs. (In countries other than the US, this can be quite different, with medicated feed being the rule.)

Thanks to you, Rob, for making use of yet another part of the rabbit!

Many places these days use:
Meat
Fur (can be with offal or used for crafts)
Feet (either trinkets or in with offal)
Heads, ears, bones, offal (pet foods or fertilizer)
Blood (biological/pharmalogical use)

Rabbits are amazing. They are incredibly useful; they can be used for meat, for pets, for research, for...almost anything!

Oh, and for those concerned about slaughter? They're NOT aware when they are decapitated in any slaughter plant I've ever heard of in the US or elsewhere. They do NOT get 'skinned alive' and I can't imagine doing so.

Yes, there is reflex muscle movement; the uninitiated may think that the animal is still alive at that time--but it isn't. Even experienced eyes can nearly miss the move that results in humane stun/death, cervical dislocation, seen in some of the YouTube videos. Extremely fast and humane.

So don't berate Rob for eating rabbit ears--if I didn't have dogs and cats who love the things, I'd be trying that recipe today!

Backyard Breeder

I breed meat rabbits to provide unmedicated, ethical and healthy meat for my family.

I have 2 does and a buck and every year I enable about 80 baby rabbits to have a great life(my animals are also much loved and spoilt pets, the fryers doubly so) and when you add it all up, I provide 24 years per year of treat- and play filled rabbit time which otherwise would never have happened.

You decide who loves animals more -- PETA or people like me!

Ps.: The reason you find it hard to get hold of rabbit ears is that we keep them as treats for the dogs!

Ben

Thank you so much for your truth about food and the lack of knowledge most people have about the attrocities that go along with most 'staple' foods. Though I am not one to be at the forefront of any line to grab offal or another other 'odd' part of an animal I can say I appreciate them and their usage and understand that a wholly organic sweetbread is better than any hormone-antibotic-pumped bovine steak. Props on the post and keep up using the odds and ends of animals.

lynseyriv

Hmmm... Do you understand my trainable potential Sorry, for off top, i wanna tell one joke) What's the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids won't eat broccoli.

Ann

What a well-researched and thoughtful response to the rabbit ear comments. I think everyone should be more aware of their food choices, not only for personal health, but the health of the planet, other animals, workers, and so on. Every food choice we make has some consequence, like it or not.

Jordan Spizikes

To perform either comfortably, you don't need to have to possess the literary sensibility of terrific authors, but you do involve to do particular things, a few of which we will consider it inside approaching paragraphs. Usually, regardless of what I do, I all feel twice of them.

Frostbytn

I was looking for a simple recipe for fried rabbit when I stumbled into this. This comment is only 4 years late but I'm going to make it anyway.
When we used dogs for hunting, we had 40 of them. Now we have them as pets and we only have 2 and they are neutered.
Once animals become pets, they become a useless expense.
I do not like factory farms, the animals I raise have as much room to run as I can provide and are happy and healthy until the moment the cease to exist.
As a pet, they would grow old, over weight, acquire health problems and eventually die a slow death.
Growing up, I learned how to care for animals, I have seen so many babies and too many deaths, but I learned that is what life is about.
Most farmers take very good care of their animals, no farmer I know of enjoys seeing anything in pain and they know that unhealthy animals do not make them money.

Frostbytn

I was looking for a simple recipe for fried rabbit when I stumbled into this. This comment is only 4 years late but I'm going to make it anyway.
When we used dogs for hunting, we had 40 of them. Now we have them as pets and we only have 2 and they are neutered.
Once animals become pets, they become a useless expense.
I do not like factory farms, the animals I raise have as much room to run as I can provide and are happy and healthy until the moment the cease to exist.
As a pet, they would grow old, over weight, acquire health problems and eventually die a slow death.
Growing up, I learned how to care for animals, I have seen so many babies and too many deaths, but I learned that is what life is about.
Most farmers take very good care of their animals, no farmer I know of enjoys seeing anything in pain and they know that unhealthy animals do not make them money.

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