Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Travelers' Tales Guides, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Paula Lee is a food writer, architectural historian, and backwoods cook. She is the author of Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse, Gorgeous Beasts: Animal Bodies in Historical Perspective, and Game: A Global History, in press. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Humanities Institute at Arizona State University, and other institutions.
Read an Excerpt
Parishioners believed he could heal them with his hands. As a kid, I knew my father was different, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a preacher. His legs were shriveled down to bone and he walked funny, sometimes with a cane. His face beamed. He forgot to eat. He liked Maine, because the rocky terrain reminded him of home. At first, there were four of us, and then there were five: my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, and me in the middle. My older brother and I fought mean and hard, locked in a death match from the day I was born. Blissfully oblivious to the slugfest, my baby sister sat back and let the adults fuss over her. She was the pretty one. Together, the three of us practiced our musical instruments, spoke English at home, and got straight As in school. We grew up ringing church bells every Sunday, pulling down the ropes and flying up into the belfry. My sister and I sang in the choir as my brother pummeled toccatas and fugues out of the organ. There was Sunday School, bible study, and neighborly visits to the nursing home, but the part I liked about church was Christmas, and the fancy food.
I could cook before I could read. I could read before I was four, because I was mad that my older brother was Sacred Cow Oldest Number One Son, and he got to do everything first. From birth, I knew the weight of karmic injustice, and I knew what that meant thanks to those theological discussions at dinner. Not only would I never be older than him, he would always be smarter. And a boy. His Korean name began with "Ho," which in English means "Great." Humph. What's so great about him? “How come he gets to be a Ho?" I would howl, a pudgy ball of rage stamping angrily on tabletops. "It's not fair! I want to be a Ho!" Sure, he could make electric generators out of Tinker Toy sets, but I could make layer cakes, and I had friends. So there. Cakes win.
With ‘Auntie’ Ima the babysitter, I baked coffee cakes and apple pies. With my mother, I made mondu (dumplings) and nangmyun (noodles). The church ladies taught me how to knead dough and whip cream. I didn’t eat the goodies that I made. Nothing about me was sweet, including my teeth. My great food love was meat, the kind of meat that demands a sharp knife and a taste for blood. We never seemed to have much. I suppose we were dirt poor, but so was everyone else. Poor was normal. Poverty was too. Instead of plastic reindeer glowing on front yards, winter meant gutted deer hanging off porch roofs, hovering lightly in the blue air, black noses sniffing the ground. I’d extend a searching hand, flicking away flakes, and stick my nose in where it didn’t belong. Like magic, the deer’s length and heft became food and it was Good, the body and blood of Amen, a serving of flesh tying the community together through the violence of hunger.
Deer and hunter walked the same paths through the woods. I wanted to follow them.
Sunday dinners at the parsonage, guests would discard the gristle, the cartilage, the marrow, and the rind, all the stuff that pale priests and thickening colonels refused to touch in mixed company. I’d serve and clear the table, acting the perfect hostess as my baby sister sat there, cheerfully basking in her cuteness, and my savant brother played young Christ before the Elders. Back in the kitchen where no one would see me, I’d grab bones off dirtied plates and gnaw off that bulbous white knob at the end, my favorite part, a tasty tidbit that only appeared after the commonplace had been excavated. Lollipops for carnivores. It wasn’t meat that I really craved. I loved liver and heart, along with the tangled tissues that connected the big sheets of muscle together. The offal fed to animals was the stuff that I wanted chew, because I was more contrary than Mary, not halo Mary mother of God but the stubborn one that ruled Scotland before she lost her head.
So, Miss Mary Mary, how does your garden grow?
Oh, very well, thanks to the corpse of my murdered husband fertilizing the marigolds.
Nursery rhymes mask vicious politics. So does a well cooked meal.
A giblet was a meat pacifier, rubbery and melting at the same time. It resisted. It put up a fight. I cherished its toughness, as I gnawed and glowered in the kitchen, a fat feral gnome surrounded by the aromas of love and yeast and holy ghosts I did not believe in.
It does not matter if you believe in God, my father said with infuriating patience. Because God believes in you.
But I’m an iconoclast, I protested loudly, trying out my interesting new word.
So was Martin Luther, my father responded placidly. You’re a protestant through and through.
No I’m not!
Yes, you are.
And so I was boxed into a corner.
Around the age of eight, I read Anna Karenina, the greatest novel ever written about a French-speaking Russian adulteress. I didn’t grasp the big themes, but for reasons I could not explain, the story of her tragic affair put me off meat for almost two decades. (Leo Tolstoy, I later learned, was both a devout Christian and vegetarian who drove his wife crazy. I suspect that had something to do with it.) My parents did not understand my decision to become a vegetarian, especially since the fresh flesh of animals was the only food group I could safely eat. From almonds to zucchini, just about everything else produced unfortunate effects, ranging from discordant fits of sneezing to bouts of hyperactive screaming. Some of my earliest memories are of intense itching and being swaddled so I wouldn’t claw myself to bits. Using an old-fashioned washboard and wringer, my parents rinsed out daily dozens of cloth diapers dripping with diarrhea and frowned in confusion when my perpetual rash got infected because I was allergic to detergents.
Fish? Allergic! Cats? Allergic! Sunshine? Allergic! Etc. For all that I was a surprisingly functional little kid, but being allergic to everything sets up a relationship to the world that is inescapably adversarial. You cannot take anything for granted, including God’s purported benevolence as he watches over the (hmmm tasty?) sparrows. Me, I was being eyeballed by the Almighty of Abraham, the judgmental Old Testament God that was busy smiting sinners and turning unworthy women into pillars of salt. Sulkily sucking my thumb ( not allergic. Safe!), I used to imagine that I was Lot’s wife reincarnated, which explained both my liking for salt as well as my instinctive aversion to marriage. It pissed me off that she was “Lot’s wife” instead of, say, Veronica or Betty. These things register when you come from a culture that keeps the family unit sorted by calling you “Oldest Daughter.”
And yes, I know that Christians don’t reincarnate. That’s for Buddhists. Sorry.
Korean parents don’t understand “vegetarian.” In general, survivors who immigrate due to war find it odd when someone rejects a perfectly acceptable food group just because. What, no Spam with your eggs? But you love Spam! Dried squid is good! American chop suey is good! Aigu, aigu, my mother wailed. What is wrong with Oldest Daughter? No eight-year-old has a food philosophy. Refusing to eat meat was just something I had to do. In retrospect, I am glad that my father was assigned to churches in tiny towns where psychiatrists did not practice, because in rural America, food allergies are still namby-pamby liberal myths, setting me up for exceedingly vexed relationships with human authority figures who insisted on making me eat home-grown tomatoes and hand-caught lobsters and did not connect the dots when I began crossly exploding into hives. Adding insult to injury, most of my allergies weren’t fatal. That would have been interesting. No, mine were the kind that merely damned me to the perpetual motions of misery: wiping snot off my nose, knobbling watery eyes, watching my tongue swell, lather, rinse, repeat. Boring!
My dream was to get away from grownups telling me to stop sneezing. My mantra was self-sufficiency, and I started going after it as soon as I was able to crawl. The faster I could learn to fend for myself, the sooner I could set out on my own. I started by running the back roads of Maine, observing the quirks of the local ecology: fiddleheads to eat, pine cones for weapons, and beer cans worth money if you redeemed them. I ran to get out of the house. I ran because I was jumping out of my skin. I ran so I could be alone, running on restless legs that walked in and out of homerooms, kicking bullies in the schoolyard and slamming my brother in the shins. My sister just sat back and watched me fight, blinking bewildered black eyes and sucking contentedly on cookies. She could never figure out why I was so furious all the time. She was born with grace. Predictably, her Korean name, Young-Mi, means "flower." Mine is Young-Nan. It means "egg."
“Young Mi-ya!” my mother would call up the stairs to my baby sister. To me: “Young-Nanny! Young Nanneeeee! Wake up your sister! You’re late for school!”
“Not ‘Young Nanny’,” I’d glower, and pull my snoring sister out of bed. As I got her ready for school, my blissfully sleeping sister would drool lavishly on my hand-me-down shoes.
Having a crippled older religious man as your father means your parents start out gods with feet of clay, and they become mere mortals as soon as you’re on solid food. The emotional launch into adulthood starts long before biology catches up with you. By the time I was teenager, between convulsive bouts of school, I’d begun waddling around small continents in sensible shoes, carting around my precious packet of toilet paper, sunscreen, and a jar of antihistamines. Disappearing for months and years, I burrowed into cities such as Florence, London, and Seoul but mostly Paris, a place that bears remarkably little resemblance to the romantic fantasies spun about it. This was fine with me. I wasn’t looking for love, drugs, yoga classes or any other “girl” narratives attached to stories about free spirits bravely traveling alone. When your trips abroad are being paid for by your father/divorce settlement/publisher, you’re not free. You’re expensive. Besides which, I grew up foreign in a native country. From birth, you’re an alien being, a world traveler by default: dropped down the chimney by migratory storks.
In cities called Cosmopolitan, everyone is born of a bird. We are all the same kind, fine in our feathers but naked in our skins. Not all birds fly. Not all birds can.
There is no homing device in my head.
My mother prayed I’d run into a nice Korean boy and start making legally wedded babies. My father hoped my peregrinations would put me on the road to Damascus, where I’d see God’s truth and start preaching His word, writing letters to the Corinthians and voting Republican. I was St. Paul’s namesake, after all. My parents had been expecting a boy, because apparently I’d been one in the womb. That’s what the baby doctors told them. I chose to disagree. Given my conversion when I saw the light, my destiny was to become an apostle. Failing that, my father was thinking accountant. A good career choice for girls.
Ah, but in Latin, Paul also means “little,” which is what I ended up being. Or rather, very short. Sometimes wee, mostly Weeble. The wobble was incontestable.
I knew my mind, and it was strange. It disagreed with my body, and my body struggled to get away. Amazingly, wherever my body went, my brain went too, barking, “No meat for you!”
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Prologue: What it’s like growing up a Korean-American preacher’s kid with food allergies in rural Maine.
Chapter 1. Chase. I am in Paris, France, when I meet John via an internet dating site. I move in with him but refuse to marry him.
Chapter 2. A Liver with Onions. John’s family in Maine feasts on a deer shot by his brother Patrick, who brings a new girlfriend to dinner. The entire bunch is conservative Republican. I am a liberal. It is a problem.
Chapter 3. Bite Me. John’s father shoots squirrels from the kitchen window. I ponder the implications of squirrel meat for the 2008 elections, and discuss Korean food made from acorns.
Chapter 4. Sex Ed Chicks. Baby chickens arrive at the house. The rooster proves to be very loud. John hands me a rifle and tries to teach me how to handle it. I am a very bad shot.
Chapter 5. The O in the No. John sights in a rifle by shooting at political signs. I object to this. He shoots them anyway.
Chapter 6. Coyote Mobile. We chop the head off a sick chicken. The headless chicken keeps running for a very long time. The carcass gets hung up for the coyotes, which ignore it.
Chapter 7. Girls in the Man Cave. I go to Cabela’s to buy arrow tips and ammo. I end up buying candy instead.
Chapter 8. Playing Possum. John’s brother Patrick builds a bonfire and accidentally burns off all the hair on his head. A beagle disappears, and a coon hound puppy is given away.
Chapter 9. Hiking the Appalachian Trail. John and I scout for moose sign, otherwise known as “looking for moose poop.” We stumble onto a mama grouse and a pair of naked lesbians in the woods.
Chapter 10. When Worlds Collide. John runs into a black bear, and my estranged brother arrives from California to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. Both the bear and my brother survive the encounter.
Chapter 11. Bard the Joint. I cook a grouse, and shoot skeet in the front yard.
Chapter 12. Don’t Pee Near the Tree Stand. A tree stand is a portable balcony for deer hunters. Hunters sit and wait for the deer to walk up to them. This method does not seem to work.
Chapter 13. Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet. We are Hunting Wabbits! We take the beagles out for a rabbit hunt, and spend hours hunting in the winter woods. We do not get any rabbits, but we work up big appetites.
Chapter 14. Vampires Suck. Patrick shows me how to skin a fresh rabbit. I experiment with rabbit recipes.
Chapter 15. A Coozy Story. It is Christmas, and Patrick proposes to his girlfriend by hiding a ring in a coozy. John and I go for a snowmobile ride and get stuck in deep snow.
Chapter 16. Don’t Shoot the Deer in the Ass. John misses a large buck. Frustrated, he buys hunting widgets such as a “buck grunter,” scent patches, and doe urine. To my great surprise, the widgets work: a buck walks up to his tree stand, and he shoots it.
Chapter 17. Blood and Guts. The men dress the buck in the woods. It is messy and intense. They show me how to hang and skin a deer.
Chapter 18. Suet for Chickadees. I butcher the deer. Unexpectedly, this experience gives me a different perspective on my mother’s death.
Chapter 19. Fish Heaven. John goes fly fishing with his son. I get munched by mosquitos, and think impolite thoughts about life in the woods. Patrick and his girlfriend Christie elope.
Chapter 20. Ham Supper for 227. A whole pig gets roasted to celebrate their wedding. Coyotes steal some of the meat. John’s father finally says something nice to me.
Epilogue. The dog dies.