The sun set a little after seven today. Every year I around this time, at the end of the summer, I feel a little tingle of melancholy when I first notice the shortening of days. Among other therapeutic benefits, gardening helps me to keep in touch with the changing of seasons as it takes place every day. Our calendar may mark four distinct seasons in every year, but the transitions between them happen little by little every day. This can be seen by carefully watching the life cycles of vegetables and other plants.
It is entirely possible, even likely, that we might yet see another heatwave before the end of the Summer, but last week there were a few days that Autumn could be felt creeping in to New York City. The sun was nowhere to be found in the gray sky, light rain fell intermittently and the wind prematurely shook leaves from the trees.
A little before sunset today I climbed the stairs up to the rooftop garden to water the plants and gather a few things for tonight’s menu. Conscious of the upcoming dinner that I have planned, I was careful not to pick to much in order to conserve the bounty. I have been planning this dinner for some time now. Ever since I started growing things on my rooftop back in 2005 I have been dreaming of the day that I could create an entire meal made from home grown ingredients. This Tuesday it will finally happen. I have invited a few friends including the publishers of Edible Brooklyn and Brewmaster Garrett Oliver, to come to my home and partake of a feast that I not only prepared, but grew from seed, raised from birth, dug from the ground and cut with my own shears.
Last year at about this time a couple of friends of mine came by the restaurant for dinner. It was his birthday and she was treating him to a tasting menu. They called to make the reservation early in the afternoon so I had enough time to gather a sampling of what I had growing up on the rooftop. In anticipation of their arrival I began preparing a nine course meal. Each course highlighted a different homegrown ingredient, but no single dish was composed entirely of homegrown ingredients. At the time that would not have been possible unless I was cooking for vegans with small appetites. The protein was what would have been most obviously missing. Slow roasted pork with homegrown tomatillos and tobacco would not have been much without the pork.
For the past five years I have been getting closer and closer to my goal of preparing a meal depending only on what I myself have been able to produce from my miniature urban farm -and it really has been only this year that I have begin calling it an “urban farm.” To fill the last, and most important place on the plate I needed a protein, so after much thought at the end of last year I began raising rabbits. In the city you are not allowed to breed chickens -roosters are not permitted due to noise ordnances. Guinea pigs were my second thought, but I decided against them because they are not hardy enough to live through a New York winter. Raising rabbits was the third idea that came to mind, and that was what I went with. They are quiet, hardy, relatively clean and above all tasty! Furthermore, as the stereo type suggest, they breed relativity easily. The only foreseeable problem is that they are cute and fuzzy and I am not looking forward to the day that I will have to slaughter them.
Shit… I eat rabbit meat all of the time. Rabbits can’t be too hard to kill.
After all, if I can’t bring myself to do the killing, maybe I shouldn’t be eating the meat? I’ve never been one to reap what I couldn’t sow. As a teenager I was vegan for a total of about five years. I made the decision to adhere to that type asceticism not because I couldn’t bare the thought of killing an animal, but more so because I was horrified when I learned how livestock was raised on factory farms.
As an adult, and a professional chef, I have felt it necessary to seek some sort of compromise. An alternative menu that includes some sustainably raised meat. I chose a career in the culinary arts, not activism, but I still can’t go about doing what I do with out a conscience. While it is not ridiculous for people to call me a hypocrite because I have gone from being an animal rights supporter to an eccentric urban-pseudo-homesteader who raises and slaughters his own bunnies, I must say that I feel I am doing more for the advancement of animal welfare than someone who chooses to ignore where their meals come from. In the current state of industrialized agriculture we have gone to great lengths to separate ourselves from the sources of our food. Most of us detest cruelty to animals and it is for that reason that we would like to forget where our meat came from. But, if we forget that the meat on our plate was once a living animal we turn a blind eye to whatever cruelty that animal may have suffered. Knowing where our meat came from and being able to trust that the animal was raised humanely is the only way to insure that we are not through our eating habits supporting cruelty to animals.
On Monday when it comes time to kill the rabbits that I have been raising I know that I will have a hard time doing it. When the knife is in my hand, if my hand shakes too much and I am unable to do it I don’t think that I will be able to continue eating meat.