Ask ME Anything
Ask, eat, do. An advice column for Mainers
After a long, sweaty summer, AskME Anything answer person (me) is ready to tackle some meatier questions—literally—just in time for sweater weather. And appropriately so, because as the days shorten and holidays beckon, it’s time to turn inward and harvest the bounty that you will use to keep you going through the frozen months. Fall is a great time to accept ideas and actions that have come to maturity and set aside dream-seeds to plant for the future. It is the seasonal incubator of change. I’ll do my part to help by finding answers to your culinary questions.
Is there an ethical way to eat and enjoy meat?
-Liz, Portland, ME
Oh, Liz, how I have struggled with this question! From the time I was 10 and first read James Herriot’s book All Creatures Great and Small about his experiences as a veterinary surgeon in the British countryside, I have ruefully ping-ponged between veganism/vegetarianism and omnivorism, never feeling satisfied with any of it—nutritionally by the former and ethically by the latter. As an animal lover, I feel like a vampire eating meat, because I believe fish, fowl, and fauna have consciousness and agency. But, when I don’t eat meat, I am prone to infection and very low energy. There is a reason we evolved as carnivores: meat is nutritionally dense, so you need less of it to thrive. Meat-eaters have, historically, had an evolutionary advantage (Paleo-diet followers can now cheer). But since we are talking ethics here, not nutrition, I will also say that philosophically, there are conflicting sages in this arena. Where one school of thought would say it is more ethical for us to eat “no death” meals, another would say that the sacrifice of one life to nourish many is the most ethical practice on a cosmic scale.
For a long time, I made a fretful peace with my own guilt by vowing to eat only what I could look in the face and kill myself, which meant fish. It was ok for a while, but after one long, brutal evening that involved a life-loving catfish, a hammer, and a nail, I stopped eating fish. I am largely a vegetarian now who eats dairy and—occasionally—bacon (sorry pigs), and I do ethically refuse to eat lamb or veal or anything force fed. In researching your question, I came close to an answer: Yes, you can ethically eat meat, but only if you enter into a relationship with your own values and the animals you are feasting on, either personally by raising and/or butchering them, or by getting to know the people who do. It means foregoing the faceless, plastic-wrapped meat product selection in the chain grocery story and instead buying your meat from a neighborhood butcher, nose-to-tail market, or small sustainable farm. The animals should be treated humanely and ethically during their lifetimes and slaughtered as mercifully and pain-free as possible at the end of those lives—and I include fish, lobster, and fowl.
Preferably, every bit of their sacrifice will be put to use. Author Camas Davis explores this in her memoir, Killing It, which relates her process of becoming a butcher and starting the Good Meat Project (goodmeatproject.org/). This organization inspires responsible meat production and consumption through education. If you aren’t ready to become a whole-animal butcher yourself, buy meat (in modest amounts) at your local farmers’ market or co-op, and get to know the farmer. Learn their husbandry practices.
Alternatively, find a butcher shop like the Maine Meat (MEat) company in Kittery (www.memeat.com/) or North Star Sheep Farm in Windham (www.northstarsheepfarm.com/about/) that produces and sells only sustainably sourced, locally farmed meat. Ask or look for the Whole Animal Program Partner decal on meat packaging at higher-end grocery stores and restaurants. This decal shows support for chefs, craft butchers, and market owners who are committed to making creative use of the entire animal and stands for “all taste no waste.” If you are in a larger metro area, halal shops are also a good source of ethically raised and butchered meat. And if you want to go even further and follow in Davis’ footsteps, you can take a whole animal butchery workshop through Custom Butchery & Ed. They offer classes on farm/homestead butchering, but you must provide the animal and truly come face to face with the death that helps to give you life.
How can I tell if eggs are old?
-Jake, Standish, Maine
My grandmother always told me that you can spin an old egg on its point, but a fresh one will just wobble and fall over. I tried it out to test the answer to this question but it turns out that spinning an egg is harder than it looks. If you have kids and don’t mind a mess, give it a whirl. A more reliable old wives’ trick is to put the egg in a bowl or cup of fresh, cold water. If it floats, it’s old. If it sinks, it’s fresh. The reason being there’s an air bubble inside the shell when the egg is laid. Since the shells are porous, the longer the egg sits around, the more air gets inside, making it float. Here is the key:
Eggs that sink = Fresh
Eggs that stand at an angle on the bottom = Fresh
Eggs that stand on pointed end at the bottom = Still safe to eat, but maybe think egg salad (hard boil)
Eggs that float: Stinkers. Toss them.
If all else fails, crack one open and do a sniff test. If it smells like, uh, rotten eggs, you have your answer!
My kitchen is tiny. How do I set it up and use it so it feels larger?
-Fiona, Belgrade, Maine
Many a fine meal has been cooked on a camp stove or in a ship’s galley, so your kitchen is already ahead of the game assuming you have running water, refrigeration, and a full stove/oven. The shape of your room may vary, but design wisdom for an efficient kitchen workspace recommends the shape of a triangle: Fridge/stove on one wall, sink/dishwasher on opposite wall, counter/storage/workspace on the third wall, or some combination of this. If you have space for an island, you can add some storage and seating, but be sure the placing of it doesn’t interfere with the essential triangle.
A universal tip echoed by Rachel Ambrose, owner of the design store Home Remedies in Portland: “You can’t underestimate the importance of getting rid of clutter. Scale down appliances and dishware to essentials, and only allow everyday appliances (like a coffeemaker) on the counter. Shop more regularly and don’t keep too much spare food around. Pick six of your favorite mugs, six plates, etc., and only keep those. Just wash and re-use.” It’s helpful to be streamlined, too, with drawers and under-counter storage. If you have an extra closet in your hallway, turn that into a dry pantry. Hang pots and pans from the ceiling or on the wall to keep them off surfaces. Place garbage in a container under the sink or convert a lower cabinet into a pull-out bin. Overhead cabinets that loom from above can be switched out to open shelving or glass-fronted cabinets and light, neutral tones (on walls and cabinets) substituted for darker tones.
If you love color, accent your basic kitchen with contrasting colored dishware or kitchen stool cushions. And of course, keep in mind that a small kitchen with a view is a large kitchen, so don’t obstruct any kitchen windows with heavy window treatments or counter stuff. If your kitchen is really tiny, it can be helpful to mentally confine it to culinary activities. Consider it only as a prep, work, and storage space and expand your vision into other rooms for storage, homework, art gallery, and living/eating space. Remember, it is only relatively recently in human history (like the past 40 years) that we all began to hang out in the kitchen.
If you really feel stressed and/or claustrophobic, you can turn to an interior designer like Ambrose to help you. It can be transformational to have an expert come in for an hour and give you tips without committing to an expensive remodel. Home Remedies charges $195 for an in-home design consultation, with a $50 give-back at the store. You will be amazed how big a difference a little professional help will make.
Genevieve Morgan is a Maine-based writer and editor and host of the Spectrum Cable TV show, “The Writer’s Zone." She is also an author, most recently of The Kinfolk (Islandport Press/2016), book three of The Five Stones Trilogy.