A bird in the hand is sometimes worth eating

Mike Royko

January 17, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

Mike Royko is on vacation. In his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This one was originally published in 1980.

A WOMAN STROLLING through Chicago's Grant Park on a recent Sunday was horrified to see two men stalking pigeons.

One man would throw some bread crumbs on the ground to lure the pigeons to him.

When the pigeons gathered, the other man would sneak up on them and slam a long-handled fishing net over one or two of them. Then he would stuff them into a canvas sack.

"They caught more than a dozen pigeons just while I was watching," the woman said.

She asked the men what they were doing. Neither man spoke much English, and they had difficulty understanding her. But finally one of them smiled happily, pointed at the sack, and said: "Eat, eat!"

"Can you imagine?" the woman said. "They were catching the pigeons to eat them. It's unbelievable."

Not really. People have been snatching pigeons out of the parks and eating them ever since there were pigeons in the parks.

The police say the practice has always been most popular among more recent European-born immigrants and some Asians who eat pigeons in their homeland.

When I told the woman that, she said: "Then it must be illegal. And isn't it unhealthy? I mean, they're such filthy little things."

No, it is not illegal to catch and eat a city pigeon, unless it happens to be someone's trained homing pigeon. And in that case, it's doubtful that the owner would know you had eaten his trained homing pigeon. Besides, if the little bugger doesn't have enough sense to go home, then he has to face the consequences.

I asked the Park District's main office if there is any law against catching pigeons, and spokesman Ben Bentley said: "The pigeons go in the park, but we're not responsible for them. We have enough to worry about with muggers without trying to keep an eye on the pigeons."

As for their being unhealthy, that is not true. The city's health office says that there is nothing harmful about eating a city pigeon, so long as you remember to remove its feathers first. And don't swallow the bones. Or the beak.

"Oh, my God, that's terrible," said the squeamish woman who brought this matter to my attention. "They're like pets -- little tame things. How can anyone eat something that's like a pet?"

I'm sure many people share her feelings. And I find their attitude ridiculous. What's wrong with eating something that's like a pet? People do it all the time.

After all, many people keep tropical fish or goldfish in their homes. They feed them, make sure they have enough air bubbles in the tank, and change the water. These fish are treated like pets.

But they will go to a restaurant and eat fried smelts, although these little creatures are just as cute and wiggly as their tropical fish.

People eat ducks all the time, although the duck is, in my opinion, a far more likable bird than the city pigeon. All a duck wants to do is paddle happily around a lake, sticking its rear end up every so often, just like a tourist.

Yet, people who might cringe at the idea of eating a Grant Park pigeon will eagerly plunge their teeth into the dead body of a poor little ducky-wuck.

Or consider the lamb. You won't ever run into a more pleasant, even-tempered, friendly, pet-like beastie than a lamb. There is no record in all of history of a lamb ever attacking a human being. All they do is go baa. Lambs are quite decent.

Compare the temperament of the lamb to that of the cat. Cats are really vicious. They kill little birds, squirrels, tiny mice, and anything else that is defenseless. If a cat doesn't like your looks, he'll sink his claws into your arm. My elderly aunts all swore that if you dared sleep with a cat in the house, he would surely pluck out your jugular vein some dark night. Cats give people the evil eye.

Lambs never do any of those terrible things. But people are always eating lambs. They eat their ribs and shanks and all different parts of the little dears.

Yet, these same lamb-devouring people would turn green if you suggested that they eat a cat.

I don't see why. I've never eaten a cat. At least, not yet. But there are some parts of the world in which cats are eaten when they are available.

They're supposed to taste pretty good, if prepared properly, although I still haven't found a cookbook with a recipe for cat.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not recommending that anybody go to Grant Park and catch themselves a Thanksgiving dinner, although there are many excellent recipes for pigeon -- and I assume that you would cook up a city pigeon the same way as a commercial bird.

Nor do I recommend that anyone eat a cat -- theirs or anyone else's. Whether one eats a cat or not is a personal choice, and I don't want to sway anyone one way or another.

But if you do, there is one obvious cooking tip: Always remember to remove the bell from the cat's collar before cooking. You don't want to make a tinkling noise every time you burp.

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