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The Flavor of Duck

I'm afraid I'll bore you, I have a complicated thought, about food, relationships, and happiness.

Lately, all the food I eat tastes like nothing. I might as well be fueling a lawn mower, or eating dirt like a plant for all the joy eating gives me. That might be part of why I'm thin. My mom would say my slight build is because I'm unhappy, and when I find a good man I will find joy and gain a lot of weight. Well, she wouldn't say that, but she would talk around it. She wouldn't say skinny people are unhappy, anymore than you would call large people lazy. That would be unkind.

Once an army field manual about leadership told me that eating, singing, and enduring hardship with other people builds family-like bonds. It seems odd that I could learn to love someone, I don't care about because I sing with them. Do I become friends with people I eat with? Why is it, that people we spend are hardest times with are the most dear to us? If I turn this thought inside out, it might explain my apathy for food. I don't directly earn the food I eat. There is no sacrifice, no scraped knee climbing a tree for an apple. There is no dirt on my hands for my potatoes, or blood on my shoes from butchering meat. I haven't endured hardship to eat, so my food may taste good, but only to the receptors on my tongue.

. . . . . 

I was an hour into my shift at the convenience store. A tall white-haired man is at the counter buying pink stomach medicine.

"I hope you feel better soon," I say as I'm ringing him up.

"This stomach problem, my buddy did all the duck hunting this morning because I had to stay close to the toilet," he said.

"Ohhh, I'm sorry about that. I wish I could go duck hunting, but feeling sick would take the fun out of it," I said.

"Do you want a duck? Or a goose?" he offered.

"It's six or seven hours before I get off work, and I don't think my boss will let me keep them in the cooler. I don't think I can take them," I said.

"It's cool enough outside, just leave them out," he said.

"Ok, yeah. Just a minute." I rang up a few other customers and asked my boss, Haribjan, to cover for me.

The hunter opened the hatchback of his friend's Subaru. The dark eyes of a black Labrador shone out of a kennel carrier. The white-haired hunter rummaged around in the gear and pulled a beautiful green headed duck from cooler. The duck was warm and limp.

"A mallard drake," he said. As I admired the beautiful dead duck, he handed me a second duck. "A mallard hen," he said. I smiled at him.

"What were you doing?" said Haribjan. I told my boss about the ducks as I washed a smear of blood off my hands.

"I won't pass up a duck," I said.

"But ducks are pretty, and they fly, and . . ." his voice trailed off as he searched for words.

"They are delicious, so I've heard. I've never eaten a duck before," I said. "I suppose I'll just handle it the same way I would a chicken. I've cleaned and butchered chickens before." He winced.

"You know I don't eat meat," he said. Haribjan is a Sikh from Northern India. He wears a turban. I think maybe his religious views have something to do with is diet. I normally don't eat much meat, but that's a topic for another essay.

Ringing up customers, cooking pizzas and keeping all the little systems in a convenience store wiped down, stocked, faced, and running smoothly is energy draining work. The available food is poisonous.

In the last half-hour a man asked me if I knew where the marshmallows were. His toddler was clomping around the store. When I found a big bag of marshmallows, the little boy ran to me. In his smile was joy and the warmth of a hug. You know how little ones can make you feel when they are happy.

I looked forward to the end of my shift, because I was tired. The thought of boiling water to dip the ducks in, to get the feathers off, and I don't have a pot to boil the water in, and all the thoughts about preparing the ducks made my mind ache with weariness. I drove toward my house with the heat off. My face was chilled, but I thought, that's good, the ducks will stay cold.

I went to the bar for a cold beer before I tackled the ducks. I sat between two friends, a waitress and logger. The waitress asked how I was going to cook the ducks. I began telling her my masochistic duck preparation plans.

The logger said, "Why don't you just breast them? There's hardly any meat on a duck except the breast meat. Skin the duck like a rabbit, and fillet the meat off the breast like you would a fish." I could have kissed that crusty old logger because his advice was so precious to me at that moment.

I picked up some small potatoes, pearl onions, carrots, and celery at the store, before I carried the stiff, cold ducks into the house. Within an hour the meat was baking with vegetables, in wine, with rosemary. It was ready to eat at midnight. My home smelled so nice.

I have not tasted something so good in a long time.

Many people do not like duck meat. I can understand why. Its flavor is somewhat like beef liver, and the texture is a bit like a tough steak. What tasted so marvelous wasn't the duck, as much as it was the relationship I developed with my food through the hardship of preparing it.


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