Fear Of Food

Richard O'Mara

December 18, 1990|By Richard O'Mara

I AM AFRAID of my food. It has come to that, to the point where eating has become a dangerous endeavor, almost but not yet so perilous as not eating. Talk about a predicament.

The enemy of the moment, according to the results of a study published in Boston and last week strewn all over the front pages, is red meat, which is now said to include lamb and pork. Experts say it will do unspeakable things to you.

This ''enemy'' has been the pleasurable companion of my life, host at a thousand barbecues. I have over the years dispatched more T-bones and joints than Bayer has aspirins; my gustatory history has the clutter of a Neanderthal cave.

In addition to a Himalaya of beef, I've consumed mutton, moose, caribou and, just last year, wild kudu. And once, but only once, I ate meat from the flank of horse. It was all red, stringy, dark, contributed to my corporal being, and satisfied some non-carnal appetite I cannot describe yet which tells me that I am a believer in the wholeness of meat's nutrition. Rough, long-lived gauchos eat only meat; the Arab warriors who rode with Lawrence, an old Australian who was with them told me, ate only meat, kebobs.

With George Orwell, I am suspicious of all food cranks who survive on defenseless plants, fixed things that can't run away. I distrust their constancy, especially in love and politics. People who consume great amounts of fiber often achieve clockwork regularity but end up with a view of life that is, well, constipated.

I have heard the argument that red meat encourages a bellicose temperament. A radical feminist wrote not long ago in a vegetarian magazine that, according to her research, wives are more frequently battered by brutal husbands following a meal in which meat is not served than one in which meat is served. That could prove either point, it seems to me: that meat encourages violence; that vegetables encourage violence. Most likely it proves neither.

I recall that when I was very young my mother in her wisdom warned me not to give the cat raw meat. ''She'll take to scratching,'' she said. But try giving a cat carrots. Literally, it would rather die.

All the above is only anecdotal and purposefully overdrawn. It proves nothing. It is only designed to cast doubt on the exaggerations about nutrition we are bombarded with almost every day, to ameliorate the oppression of that vast, unorganized conspiracy aimed at making us all afraid of our food, for whatever purpose, I am not clear.

This is a neurotic nation. It is full of dark angels in white lab coats who, fattened by huge grants, labor with the passionate intensity of all misguided people; they constantly confuse physical conditioning and correct diet with the idea of well-being. Well, they should learn that to have the first is not necessarily to have the second.

Now they tell me red meat will get me in the end. I think they might have struck a nerve. Colon cancer. The words burn on the lips. I'm perfectly prepared to laugh at religion, but being a modern man, I'm intimidated by science.

Finally, I think, they have made me afraid of my food.

And yet the more I think about the alternative meats proposed, the more second thoughts begin to stir. These alternatives -- skinless chicken and fish -- are such unpalatable and pallid prophylactics that maybe the cat's choice deserves further consideration.

Have you ever seen how chickens are raised in a modern poultry factory? It is a ghastly thing to behold, truly a chicken's idea of the inferno, if chickens could have ideas. They are hot, loony, avian bedlams; they are feathered congestions of perpetual and brainless pecking violence. Chickens kill each other regularly. They are cannibals. No life, brief as it is, could be so squalid and without meaning as that of a chicken raised for food. Even the more leisured birds of the barnyard, egg producers, are so stupid they won't get off the road with a truck bearing down on them.

Can it be good to eat an animal so moronic? Isn't there a danger that the most salient characteristic might be passed on? And fish? Who knows where they have been, or what they swim through, wide mouths gaping and taking it all in?

If we still believe we are what we eat, that, it seems to me, is food to really be afraid of.

Mr. O'Mara feeds daily on outrage and scandal as The Sun's foreign editor.

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