Hello, my name is Kasia and I am a beefaholic. No, this isn’t a new 12-step group for people addicted to the drunk drive-thru fly-by, frantically cramming their faces with burgers after last call. It’s that I eat way more red meat than all the alarmist magazine articles are suggesting is good for me, and definitely way more than is politically correct these days. We often see articles bemoaning the obesity crisis next to advertisements for fast food burgers next to articles on the benefits of eating organic vegan diets and paleo diets and probiotic diets and Jesus diets and cabbage soup diets and pretty much every other conceivable diet imaginable – all of which are supposed to help us live longer, happier, healthier, more productive and more environmentally sustainable lives. Until some other scientist or nutritionist or personal trainer or self-help guru tells us otherwise and starts another new diet trend. But more often than not, red meat is considered a “bad food” and eating it runs contrary to a healthy lifestyle (Assigning moral weight to particular foods is a whole other kettle of fish, for another time, so for now, let’s leave it).
While I’m not sold on the idea that red meat is completely anathema to healthy eating, there’s no doubt that red meat is higher in fat and cholesterol than fish and poultry or other vegan and plant-based protein sources. It has been linked to heart disease. But none of that will ever change for me the fact that it’s just fucking tasty. And I don’t have a great track record when it comes to putting “the healthy choice” in front of the pleasure I derive from eating wonderful, flavourful food that makes love to my taste buds and gives them the orgasmic tingle.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that healthy eating and vegan/vegetarian food cannot be pleasurable, flavourful or orgasmic. I’m just saying that if I were to give up red meat for “health reasons,” I would worry about regularly falling into a zombie-like trance while drooling uncontrollably at the thought of the the steak with fois gras butter on top they serve at The Marc, or the Beef Shawarma Wrap they serve at La Shish or the Sgt. Pepper burger they serve at Original Joe’s with guacamole and mushrooms added or… well, you get the picture.
I grew up a tried and true Alberta girl, and that means Beef and plenty of it. Where I live, beef is a core economic industry. Eating beef has become associated with having pride in our province’s agricultural roots. My parents were both raised in the UK, where beef is both less plentiful and more costly than here in Alberta, Canada. Especially back in the 50s and 60s. My mom told me stories about how, on the rare occasions her family could afford a piece of prime steak, she’d stand around waiting for her father to give her a few bites of the succulent deliciousness. Moving to Alberta in the 80s, married with a kid, she couldn’t get enough of the quality (cheap!) beef available.
Summer always meant Mom’s BBQed steak, grilled to a perfect medium rare. She loved to BBQ so much that it wasn’t uncommon to find her out on the deck with the temperature hovering at freezing and frost on the ground, the sky growing darker as the snow approached, trying to soak up the very last vestiges of BBQ season before another long and bitter Alberta winter set in. When it got too cold to BBQ, we had beef stir fry, hearty spaghettis with meat sauce made out of ground beef, and her wonderful roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.
On the first of my mom’s birthdays after she passed away, my brother and I went out for a nice steak dinner, just the two of us. Because in Mom’s mind, a damn good steak was always a great way to celebrate. Whenever I cook roast beef or throw a nice juicy-looking sirloin tip onto my grill in the summer, I always think of her (even though I haven’t quite managed to master her technique of grilling the perfect medium rare – don’t worry, Mom, I’m working on it). When I taste that BBQed steak, I taste the joyful memories I have of my mom and the family dinners we enjoyed together in summers past.
Contrary to what the beauty myth and the diet industry would have us believe, there is more to food than how many calories, grams of fat and carbs are in it. There is more to food than whether it will makes us lose or gain weight, or whether or not it is considered “healthy” by the latest craze on the nutrition blogs. Food is also memories, it conjures up impressions of family and friends, of good times past. Food is sensual pleasure, allowing us to connect with our senses of taste, smell, sight and touch.
For me, a perfect medium rare steak will always be more than a slab of dead cow or a heart attack on a plate – it will also be memories of my mother and what a master of the grill she was. Likewise, a decadent burger will always be more than the potential to disrupt my precarious relationship with the number on the scale – it will also be a symbol of a great date night with my boyfriend. And I imagine I will be happier, healthier and more sustained enjoying the foods I love in the company of all my senses than I would be obsessing about if it’s “bad for me” or if it will make me fat.
And now… I think it’s time to go make a burger!