Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Of Diets Most Diabolical

Penned upon the 14th of October, 2012

This post originally appeared on the BryonySeries blog.

For a number of years, I have been a practising vegetarian (a curious expression – a non-practising vegetarian would, I suppose, be one brought up in the faith, but who now only forgoes meat at Easter and Christmas.) Meatless diets have been prescribed throughout history, by different persons and with different reasons. The Shelleys condemned the eating of flesh as causing disease and madness, including the social maladies of crime and tyranny. Many religions advocate against, limit or forbid the consumption of meat, ranging from the absolute reverence of life held by Jains to the pre-Flood vegetarianism described in Genesis. H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, with its description of captured humans used as a sort of cattle by the technocratic Martians, caused some popular revulsion to meat-eating, though the author’s intention was more a metaphor for Britain’s colonial expansion – but then, the reading public is terribly sensitive about its food. Upton Sinclar had a similar experience when describing the meat industry in The Jungle, I believe.

Compared to these varied schools and creeds, my own motives for vegetarianism are… astonishingly poorly thought out. They are, in part, moral: the receiving end of an industrial process is no place for anything with a brain. They are partly ecological – a perception that an overall reduction in demand for meat would be a good thing for the planet. Partly, it’s because I know that without an absolute restriction, I wouldn’t have the willpower not to gobble down every deep-fried burger strudle which passed across my plate, particularly given that I wouldn’t necessarily know where it had come from. And, of course, some of it is simply a groaningly literal matter of taste. Now, you may have noticed that at least three of these concerns could be allayed by restricting myself to meat which I had secured myself – by hunting, for example, or at a traditional farm. Quite right, which leaves only the personal side of the equation: my sentimental discomfort with feasting on some doe-eyed creature who never meant me a moment’s harm.

Obviously, the problem is irrational, but the solution is rationality itself: I should eat only malicious animals! Creatures whose designs against me are even now being spun; who would themselves, given half a chance, serve me up as rissoles. Why, such a diet would not only be perfectly justifiable, but is practically essential for my continued self-preservation! The only trifling objection – scarecely worth mentioning, really – is that it’s questionable whether any such animal actually exists. Indeed, the overlap between those species which A: are mentally capable of understanding right and wrong, B: could pose a threat to me, C: are not justly protected against predation, owing to dwindling numbers, habitat, etc., and D: are edible, let alone tasty, is likely incredibly slight. In the face of this, there’s only one thing to be done: if no candidate creatures exist, then I shall eat creatures which do not exist. Thus, I outline: the principles of a mythitarian diet!

There is no shortage of mythical beings who bear us ill will; indeed, the very names “ghouls”, “goblins” and “bogeymen” are synonymous with, well, ghouls, goblins and bogeymen. Not all of these are edible – banshees, for example, are famously hard to trap and harder still to hold (not least for the municipal noise pollution restrictions.) The stony skin of the troll is impenetrable to mortal cutlery, while tasting the flesh of the wendigo puts the diner at considerable risk of becoming a wendigo, which is why it is rarely seen served in the best restaurants. Despite these drawbacks, fantastical meat is in surprisingly common use; many readers, for instance, will likely have eaten a Cornish pasty made with the traditional filling of diced onion, swedes and spriggan, or even participated in the gathering, plucking and carving of jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween.

Mythmeat has a culture all of its own, which seemed daunting when I first made the transition away from mundane meat. Centaur and gremlin are stock fare, found on every table, but bunyip is emerging as an affordable meat with a range to please the gourmet, comparable to the rise of beef in the American diet in the 20th century. The inner cities have seen something of a fad for corner-stand breaded ogre cutlets, which are easy to eat on the go, but prices are rising as ogre feed (children, mostly) is proving hard to secure in quantity. Now, vampire – vampire is an unusual case. It was never to everyone’s taste – no matter how much you cook it, it always comes out rare – but the animal-rights crowd don’t like to eat anything which was recently a living, breathing creature, while the fresh-food crowd don’t like anything which wasn’t. It’s not even remotely sustainable, but a boutique industry has sprung up providing vampires which have felt the chill of undeath just long enough to forget their last shreds of humanity, without yet being twisted into something foul and chewy.

Naturally, when discussing moral or political issues, one must cast up the usual caveats: unlike a teacher on exam day, I cannot pretend to have all the right answers, every generation sows the seeds of the next generation’s rebellion, and so forth. Perhaps, one day, the image of a bucolic gnomeherd stomping through a field full of scampering gnomes, all waving tiny pitchforks and swearing like sailors, grabbing them up by their little red caps and stuffing them into his sack, will come to be seen as comically backward. We must live in the house of cards we’re dealt, to mangle metaphors, and as things stand, the best source of nutrition for many communities – particularly where crops are poor and grazing land scant – is to knock a faerie on the head and get in the icebox before it turns to soot with the dawn. I’m not saying there isn’t excess and waste – the number of sky-buffalo killed for their wings alone is an outrage – but the ecological cost is minimal, and the pixie dust produced as waste is easily treated and recycled for use by the medicinal and aeronautical industries.

Well, thank you for hearing out the ramblings of a chap with mermaid stains on his cuffs! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my dessert has just disappeared, so I’ve got to go will it back into existence. I -do- believe in coulis, I -do-, I -do-!

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