My mother cooked dolma last night. Dolma is one of the reasons I could never be a vegetarian. Yes, I know, I know. You could have one of those rice dolmas they sell in London shops, but it is just not quite the same, is it. You stuff wine leaves with rice only when you cannot afford meat.
And I was thinking to myself just how much I love meat dishes. Dolma, kebabs, plov... my favourite national cuisine is almost entirely meat based. But then, I keep questioning how my predatory food preferences go with my love for animals. Because, in case you have not noticed, I am a big animal lover. Fnarr fnarr…
We had relatives up in the mountains back in Azerbaijan. The relatives kept a few cows in the shed. One summer, during our visit, they had Beshka. A very cute, if somewhat boisterous, bullock. As far as I could tell, everyone in the family adored him. Their relationship with Beshka was no different to mine with my dog; except for perhaps he did not sleep in the house. Beshka was their pet. So, imagine my shock when the next summer he was gone. 'Has something happened to Beshka’? I asked in my broken Azeri, ready to express condolences. ‘Happened?’ They laughed. ‘Yes, dinner happened.’
I was horrified. How was that possible? They loved that bullock. He was their baby. I mean, if anyone tried to eat my dog, they would have to deal with me first. How could those guys decide, one day, it was time to eat their pet? Was he misbehaving a little or making too much noise?
I used to blame the barbaric Azeri village folk mentality. But then, I was reminded of this traumatic childhood episode by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, who seemed to be very affectionate with the pigs he kept in his River Cottage. Only until he fancied some pork for dinner.
If I think about that, Beshka was not the only time I witnessed brutal animal slaughter back home. A beheaded chicken running around… A discarded sheep’s head in the yard, still looking at me with its' eyes rolling….Considering such disturbing experiences and my love for animals, how is it possible that I am not a vegetarian?
But I am not. The last thing I think about when I queue up in our butchers’ for some meat for dinner is how it arrived there.
And yet, occasionally, when I see cows in a field, looking at me with such intelligent curiosity (like these guys we came across on our weekend trip to the river)
I remember Beshka and feel a little guilty. Just because a steak looks different in the shop, I still know it used to walk around the field staring at strangers.
Hmm….speaking of which, I wonder if there is any dolma left for my dinner tonight?