Luckily, wine doesn’t come from fermented animals, otherwise vegetarianism would be a most forlorn option.
Lismore. Saturday, 6.20pm
I’m staring down a chicken.
Well, part of a chicken.
It’s hard to tell what part of the chicken because the bit of chook I’m staring at is covered in brown stuff. It could be a leg. It could be a head, but I can’t see eyes staring back – which is reassuring if you’re in a restaurant staring at the chicken korma on your table, as I am.
Even though I stopped being a vegetarian some years ago when choosing from an indecipherable Asian menu, I’m having second thoughts about my meat-eating ways. I’m not immune to the cruelty of live exports, the torture of battery farming, and the largeness of the carbon footprint that a carnivorous human makes.
And I really do like chickens. Perhaps they shouldn’t be cooked.
At least not overcooked.
Overcooking makes the meat dry, and is there anything worse than dry chicken? (No. Just ask Matt and George.) Chicken flesh should be moist so that the fibres of its dead muscles separate easily when bitten into. Such exquisite texture is best complemented with a sauce that facilitates delivery of the young bird’s flavour to the palate. A creamed cashew sauce, like the one my chook bit is wearing, is perfect.
I like living chooks too. (Living is a good way to keep a chook fresh until needed.)
The chicken korma is nested in a little silver bowl beside a larger silver bowl of white rice. Next to the rice is a bottle of organic shiraz.
Luckily, wine doesn’t come from fermented animals, otherwise vegetarianism would be a most forlorn option. (Imagine tofu without wine.) The pop of a cork being pulled, followed by the glug, glug, glug of the first pour has always triggered a rush of pleasure in me. Sure, the scratch and squeak of a screw cap isn’t the same, but hey, these are tough times.
Outside the restaurant, Lismore CBD is mostly empty. Due to a million regulations, people can’t live in Lismore’s centre despite all the funky potential living spaces above the shops. So, when the retail day is done, the CBD drains like a bath, leaving only a ring of people whose living options do not extend to housing. After dinner at the soup kitchen, they find nooks and doorways in which to shelter from the cold airs that rise from the river. Then a wave of freshly showered diners washes in from the suburbs to eat chicken korma and discuss the various plating styles in My Kitchen Rules.
A group of teenagers, their faces blued by smartphones, peers into our restaurant and giggles its way to Red Rooster.
My dinner partner and I clink glasses. To the future.
I’m uncomfortable about the future.
I’m not exactly fiddling and I don’t think Lismore is burning, but more and more I feel the empire crumbling. Obsession with food seems to be a characteristic of failing empires, along with B-grade leadership, environmental neglect and animal cruelty.
The ancient Romans appreciated tasty birds (as well as deforestation and skewered lions). As that civilisation degenerated to rule by businessmen, the Roman elite developed a penchant for lark tongue and nightingale heart. These beautifully presented titbits, prepared by the skinny poor for Romans corpulentus richus, added an exciting element to those end-of-empire dinner parties and were usually served warm before the orgy.
Oh dear. Nightingale hearts.
I can’t eat that chicken. I am not an Earth destroyer. All life is precious. No more chicken korma karma for me.
A new scent fingers my nose. Cayenne and chilli. Mmm. There’s another silver bowl on the table. I look in it. An eye looks back.
Oh dear. Yum.