Signature dish

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am


My stepdaughter, who's spending part of the summer in Hong Kong with me and my husband, has asked me to teach her how to cook a few dishes before she goes to boarding school in England. Although she now eats everything, she had grown up in a pescetarian household, where the diet included fish but not meat. She is especially interested in learning how to prepare meat, since she has never cooked it before.

I bought a couple of fresh chickens and demonstrated how to cut them into parts, first chopping off the head and wingtips to save for stock, removing the legs and wings, then breaking up the carcass. She was calm about the whole process - I know many adults who would have been more squeamish.

We had a discussion about vegetarianism and the killing of animals for food. I realise the practice is not necessary - we can get enough protein to remain healthy by consuming grains and other foods instead of meat. I'm aware of the environmental impact of raising animals for food - that it's inefficient because it takes a large quantity of grain to raise a smaller amount of meat, and it's not good for the planet because of problems with the disposal of their waste and the ozone-depleting gases that livestock emit.

And still, I choose to eat meat. Why? Because I like the taste of it. I eat other foods, too; after all, I'm an omnivore, not a carnivore.

Most of the vegetarians I've met have been fine with others who don't embrace their food choices; it's been a long time - thank goodness - since someone lectured me on the ethics of eating meat. I respect their dietary choices as well, and if we dine together, we make sure the restaurant we go to has a good selection of non-meat dishes.

Vegetarians are vegetarian for different reasons: some because their religion prohibits meat, others because they don't like the taste, while yet others cite ethical or environmental reasons.

The problem I have with some people who consider themselves vegetarian is that they practise different degrees of the diet. Some of them eat fish, while others have the occasional bite of chicken, yet they still call themselves vegetarian.

True vegetarians are easier to understand and respect; it's black and white - they won't eat 'anything with a face'.

But those who eat fish or chicken aren't vegetarians, and there's hypocrisy when they call themselves such (not all are like that, of course; some fish eaters rightly call themselves pescetarians, while those who eat chicken usually just say they avoid red meat). But fish- or chicken-eating 'vegetarians'? Why are those animals considered fine for consumption, when others are not? They have faces, and if cows and pigs have souls (as some believe), why wouldn't fish or chickens? Besides, the environmental impact of eating fish and chicken isn't any lower - ocean resources are being depleted because of overfishing, and chickens emit waste and gases.

Eat what you want, justify it (in your own mind) - but please, if you eat fish and chicken, just say you do, and don't call yourself a vegetarian.