So, You Think You're a Carnivore?

Photo: A Male Lion

Purely from a taste standpoint, very few things are as tasty to my tongue as  tender Steak Diane with a nice glass of cabernet. But because I try to minimize my consumption of meat, I occasionally have to explain my near-vegetarian diet preferences to a dining companion. This is usually the point at which said friend or date will feel the need to verify that they, in fact, will be consuming meat. The testimony to their preference of carnivorous indulgences is usually accompanied by some sort of grunt or chest thump - sometimes self-consciously and with a hint of guilt, and sometimes provocatively, with a combative edge.

The funny thing about most people I meet who behave this way is that while they'll happily tear into a fillet mignon with bare hands and a smattering of A-1 sauce, the thought of eating breaded-and-fried calf testicles with garlic aioli makes them turn a little green around the gills.

Frankly, I'm of the opinion that if you can't dig into a big bowl of menudo, then you're not a carnivore: you're a musculutarian. Yeah, I said it. If you're a real carnivore, you don't pick and choose the bits of the animal that you find the most acceptable; you have to go for the whole hog. None of this prissy "Oh, well, I really only like the white meat" or "I only eat the shoulder". Nah, that ain't right. In for the penny, in for the pound, as it were. 

If you are going to contribute to the death of countless animals through your consumption of their flesh (and hey, that's your right), you should at least try to eat as much of the animal as you possibly can. Waste not, and all that. It's not so much self-righteous as it is old-fashioned; you know, in the olden days, they found a use for every part of the pig except the squeal.

This philosophy extends beyond merely being adventurous (or guilt-ridden); pig's feet are cheap AND delicious. Tripe has an amazing texture and absorbs spicy sauces like you wouldn't believe. Liver is so versatile (and nutritious) that you can add bits of it nearly everywhere. Tongue is exquisitely tasty if cooked correctly.

Just because you've never enjoyed chicken feet before doesn't meant that you can't start now. There are some dishes that your average American or Canadian might balk at that are actually quite good, and if you do have the opportunity to try them out, be it while traveling abroad, dining with someone with less conventional tastes, or upon seeing just how affordable chicken hearts really are at your local supermarket, well... give it a shot for the following reasons:

  1. Bragging rights. If nothing else, your less adventurous friends will think you're a stud for eating sheep's eyeballs at an Afghani restaurant.
  2. Hey, you eat sausage, right? Do you know what they put in sausage? You think you're too good for pig's lips or something?
  3. Every self-respecting meat-eater should be brave enough to accept responsibility for the pain that their eating habits cause. I'm not saying this with a judgmental tone - I'm being as earnest as I can be. We all need to be aware of the impact that our lifestyles have on others. Recognizing that there is more to a living animal than a delectable tenderloin is a part of this process. When you dig into a heaping dish of haggis, you are recognizing the the animal that gave its life for your meal is made up of more than chops. Either that, or you are really, really drunk. Or both.

Here are some things I've tasted over the past few years that I have found to be utterly delectable, AND cheap:

Gizzards. There used to be a stand at the Public Market in Seattle that sold little bags of deep-fried gizzards, and my visiting family members would devour them like they were going out of style. It turns out that they were, because I can't find the guy who used to sell them, but if you ever get a chance to try them anywhere else, I highly recommend them. In fact, I've taken to fighting my dad for the turkey gizzard every Thanksgiving. You can easily fix them yourself if you have a deep fryer or a deep enough pan and a good deal of vegetable oil. When fresh, they really are a treat.

Tripe (cow's stomach lining). Tripe is the man ingredient in menudo, which I simply adore, and it's also a common ingredient in Chinese hotpot, which I love to enjoy with big groups of friends for special occasions. Also referred to as "honeycomb", tripe has a unique texture that reminds me of a thinly-sliced calamari; a little chewy and very satisfying. Pig tripe is also quite good, but of a vastly different texture.

Blood. I've had a couple of variations of this, but my favorite is a Korean version known as soon dae. Soon dae is a sausage that is made of blood and vermicelli noodles or rice, rather like Irish black pudding (which is a really good hangover food). Soon dae is served with some slight-spiced dipping salt, and sometimes sliced liver. It is incredibly delicious. The first time I ate it, I had no idea it was made of blood, and there's nothing in the taste of cooked blood that is similar to the taste of, say, the blood that comes out of your finger when you cut it.

Liver. When done right, liver can be a thing of beauty. My grandmother used to stuff piroshki with it, and it was so rich that I never really got accustomed to the taste in large quantities. However, I have found joy in sauces, such as a good bolognese, that have had liver added to them.

Glands. Be they testes, the thymus gland, or the pancreas, animal glands have an interesting texture that always makes me think of a slightly fluffy wonton. I've found them to be fairly affordable in some fancier restaurants, at least, compared to the lobster.

Feet. Cow feet can be used in a variety of recipes. Calf's foot is used to make really delicious savory gelatins. Pig's feet, when braised in soy sauce and star anise, are incredibly tender. Chicken legs and feet are one of my favorite Chinese dishes, but I've never attempted to make them at home. My grandmother also used to make headcheese (also known as souse meat, a sort of gelatin made with chunks of meat and eaten with vinegar), something that was very popular in her village in the Ukraine before the Nazi take-over. I believe that she used a combination of chicken meat and calf's foot, because she had learned how to make the kosher version. I used to hate it as a kid, but now that I'm old, I can see the appeal.

Bones. Every frugal kitchen knows the value of some good soup bones. If you get the right kind of bone, you can always let the dogs enjoy the remainder, but don't forget the marrow. If the idea of eating roasted marrow with bread is too much for you, you can always make that fillet mignon with marrow. Fancy schmancy, eh?

Fish skin. It took me a very long time to appreciate the taste of fried salmon skin, but now that I've been turned onto it, I can't get enough. Whenever I make salmon, which is rarely, I like to remove the skin and broil it until it's brown and incredibly crispy, then eat it over rice with chopped green onions and grated ginger.

Fish belly. The fish belly is the fattiest part of most fish, and thus, the most mouthwateringly melty and delicious. It's often removed by fishmongers and used in other deli dishes or discarded altogether. If you are lucky enough to find sashimi-quality salmon belly, I recommend indulging. Fish cheeks are also extremely delicious, if you can find them.

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Paul Michael's picture

I think Bizarre Foods is worth watching to see some of that in practice. I've eaten Menudo, and turtle flipper, beef knuckle, tongue, black pudding (which is mainly blood and fat) and I'm a big fan of kidney and liver. I come from a working class background, you eat the cheap cuts and offal because most people won't touch 'em.

Guest's picture

Uh, mostly musculutarian here (although in the past I've eaten blood pudding, tongue, ox tail, kidney, and probably a few other things nobody told me about; and I still like liver and bone marrow).

Guest's picture

All of the stuff you listed gets used by someone somewhere. It's not like we go buy whole cows and slaughter them.

I'll take the tenderloin, you can have the cow balls all to yourself. I am still beating my chest like King Kong.

Andrea Karim's picture

It gets sold cheaply and people buy it and eat it. It's not like I'm suggesting that these pieces are thrown out or anything. Mind you, some of them (especially brain and spinal columns) are supposed to be disposed of, but instead are used to make bone meal, which is fed back to the cows in a startling display of forced cannibalism.

Beat your chest all you want. I'll just sit here rolling my eyes at the overcompensating tactics. Real men eat balls!

Actually, I just kind of grossed MYSELF out saying that. But seriously - they're good.

Guest's picture

Good point- I'll try any part of an animal once (I may not go back for seconds though!)
Coming from Ireland, black pudding, kidney, liver, tongue, pork cheek were all regular items on the menu and all tasty.

Guest's picture

I tried cow tripe once and almost gagged. Pork tripe OTOH is more tender and actually quite tasty. Pork kidneys are really good too, but my wife won't let me eat them too often because they're high in cholesterol. I also had a snake gall bladder once. I draw the line at fish head soup.


Guest's picture

I disagree with this idea on one main counter: preference.

I prefer certain cuts of steak over others because certain cuts taste better. Certain are more tender or have better flavor. I'm all for not letting things go to waste, but really, most things don't go to waste. If nothing else, lots of random parts get mashed up together to make sausage or hot dogs, and I love me a good hot dog.

As for the chest beating, I think that's just silly. I know of many vegetarians (my own sister included) who are so due to health reasons. That's fine. I even know some who are vegetarians because they don't really like the taste of meat or the thought of eating a dead animal grosses them out. That's fine too.

I do, however, disagree with the idea that it's "wrong" to eat animals. The reason I state that is purely because it's found all throughout nature. Just the fact that we have canine teeth shows that we should be able to eat meat. If we are wrong for eating a cow, than we should exterminate all lions from the world. If you don't think we should eliminate the lions from the world, then it's hypocrisy. Either eating another animal is fine or it's not. There's no middle ground of "well it's find for the coyote, but not for a human".

That's my 2 cents on the topic.

Andrea Karim's picture

Who said it was wrong to eat animals? I just said I'd rather not. But if you're going to, I think you should go all the way. I understand preferring one cut over another, but if you're trying to save money, I'd recommend looking at less-preferred pieces.

Guest's picture

I'm sorry. I wasn't implying that you said eating meat was wrong. I was just stating my distaste for a particular subgroup of vegetarians. I meant no direct offense or attack on you.

However, I still disagree regarding the "All or Nothing" attitude. My reasoning even applies to vegetables. Do I want Iceberg Lettuce, Romaine or Spinach? I may prefer one or the other which will take precedence over the price assuming the price isn't too extreme.

Another example: I like hot dogs, but you can't substitute hot dogs for steak. They aren't in the same category of meat. Sure, hot dogs are much less expensive, but the quality of meat is apples and oranges. Same applies to different types of meat. Do cow balls taste as good as a decent steak? Maybe (honestly, I haven't tried). Personally, I don't think liver tastes as good as Top Sirloin.

Heck, if price was the only factor in purchasing food, I'd live on Top Ramen. I would probably die of malnutrition after a few months but hey, I'd save TONS of money.

Another example: I like fruit, but I'm not going to eat an orange peel or a watermelon peel just because I shouldn't let anything go to waste. I'm not going to eat the greens on the top of a carrot.

It's not that I disagree with a vegetarian lifestyle. Meat definitely isn't for everyone, but I believe this type of logic is flawed. You can't just apply it to people who eat meat and not to everyone else.

Guest's picture

be vegetarian.

Paul Michael's picture

was one of my nan's favs, and I looked forward to it every time I went over to see her. But I'd eat curried anything.

Guest's picture

Myself, I'm an omnivore.

I see your point. I'm all for using all parts of any animal we kill. But that doesn't mean we have to eat them; there are plenty of uses for those parts we choose not to personally consume, whether because of health concerns, practicality or preference. I use bone meal and blood meal in my garden as organic, petroleum-free fertilizers. (I've never eaten bone to my knowledge, but blood sausage tastes like a scab. Yech.) We use leather for clothing and other purposes. On sustainable family farms, I believe offal is fed to the animals (different animals than it came from) or composted to make fertilizer.

But even most true carnivores don't actually eat everything. When the lion's done with its choice cuts, the buzzards come along and make their own selections, and maggots and bacteria usually have the final clean-up.

Guest's picture

This Scottish delicacy was my entree into the world of nose to tail eating. I can't help but like it; it's good! I won't say I've actually eaten all the bits, nose to tail, but I'm working on it as a moral imperative. Basically, I agree that most Americans are too prissy in their eating habits, and I include myself among them. But I don't think you're going to convince anyone to call themselves a musculutarian. Can't hurt to try to encourage broader eating habits though.

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, don't be sorry! I wasn't offended - I was just clarifying in case anyone else thought I was saying that. So, thank you for being so thoughtful in your responses to this post (all of you).

I would agree that deep-fried cow nuts don't taste as good as top sirloin, but who can afford top sirloin every night? OK, so maybe testes shouldn't be on a daily menu, but liver can be eaten once a week or so. Lots of frugal people will eat less desirably cuts of meat, but even the stuff that seems really weird to us can be great. So, it's not that you need to look at the meat counter and say "well, this chicken liver is cheap!" every single night, but that you might consider working a bit of it into your food instead of steak every now and then (seriously, spaghetti sauce with liver is amazing).

While it's true that true carnivores don't eat every bit of meat from a kill, it's also true that true carnivores don't have much in the way of a conscience. If we're talking about lions, we're discussing animals that will take over a pride and kill every single cub so that they can re-impregnate the females. Not really high when it comes to morals, right? By that token, I can't expect a lion to consider the implications of what it means to not eat everything on his plate. We're entirely different beasts. I do know that lions don't only eat the tri-tips, though.

With that said, an animal brought down on the African savannah IS going to be returned to the Earth in what is probably the most efficient fashion possible. Hyenas and other scavengers will eat the remainders, and like you said, bacteria will do the rest. We eat and live differently than wild animals, though. What we don't finish most often goes into a landfill. If you're a composter, that's great, but most people and businesses aren't.

To the issue of using up every part of a vegetable - I don't cook very often, but I do love me some carrots, and I use the tops for soup bases. Also, I love candied orange peel and marmalade, even though I don't like oranges that much. Anything that I can't use (either through freezing or cooking), I do compost. So I like to think I'm applying the same logic to vegetarians.

I smell another blog post!

Thanks for the discussion - you guys are awesome.

Guest's picture
Big Rob

Beef Tongue...FTW!!! ^___^

Ain't nothing like tacos de lengua on a Sunday morning.

Oh yeah, menudo does wonders when you have a head cold...clears you up quick!!!

Dang it, I'm hungry now...

Guest's picture

I'd love to try all those things... the fried fish skin sounds particularly enticing.... Here's to trying new things.


Guest's picture
Farm Girl

(seriously, spaghetti sauce with liver is amazing).

OK, maybe I need the recipe for this. Once many years ago, when we were young and broke the only thing left of the cow we had butchered was the liver. In an attempt to disguise it, I ground the liver, and spent the entire day cooking it in a spaghetti sauce, only to find that neither of us could get it down. Since my husband had no idea what he was eating, I can't say he was put off by any mental association he might have had with his family's monthly liver and onions dinners. Both of us went hungry that night, and when we talk about hard times, or my cooking failures that night always takes the cake.

Certain things are cheap because they don't appeal to the masses, and often it isn't just the thought of eating it. I find calf testicles very tough, liver and kidney unedable, not to mention that since they filter the body toxins for the previous owner, they aren't great for yours. Chicken feet scare me, have you ever watched were chickens walk? Not opposed to trying something new, but those chicken feet are going to need a bath in Clorox before I dig in.

I do love a BBQ tongue sandwich, and I have never wrinkled my nose at anything put in front of me. However, I am OK with wasting parts of animals that I don't like. Seriously it's like saying that if you order something online for your home, you must also display the bubblewrap and box. As long as I find a use for it, recycle it, donate it to a friend, enrich the garden, I am OK with it.

Guest's picture

Speaking of food morals, if you can get over the weirdness factor, I think that dog is some of the best meat for things like enchiladas. It's really good. I've had it on two occasions in other countries where dogs aren't necessarily considered pets.

Try it sometime if you are in another country.

Guest's picture

I've had cow stomach several times while living in Brazil and while not gross tasting, it was like chewing on an inner tube. I strongly prefer to be able to bite through my meat, than you.

That said, I'll try anything once and haven't been grossed out yet.

Guest's picture

If you're a composter, that's great, but most people and businesses aren't.

To the issue of using up every part of a vegetable - I don't cook very often...

Those restaurants you're eating at aren't using every part of the vegetable. They're even throwing out perfectly good food--not just the carrot tops but the whole carrot, if it's less than aesthetically pleasing, or was left over on someone's plate.

I can't personally compost meat (it would attract animals) but if we had any possible way of keeping one of the city's green bins, we would be able to compost any and all uncontaminated organic matter. (I really wish we could figure out a way to get one, but as it is we have space for only a small trash can and a small recycling bin, both shared with our neighbors.) We save any unused meat scraps and carcasses to make soup stock, but sometimes there's just more than our apartment-sized freezer can hold.

Guest's picture

I think I'm a fussy eater, and would almost certainly turn my nose up at some of these, especially the ones I've actually tried before. I already know that I don't like liver, or kidneys both of which are parts of classic British dishes. But black pudding is awesome, and possible the greatest thing if you have a hangover. Have you tried it cold?

Guest's picture

The eating of sexual organs isn't anything tasty so much as leftover superstition of gained virility, like beef testosterone will translate to making a guy more fertile or his dick bigger when it's 2-3inches. Pffle

I'm a proud omnivore happy to eat digest and consume other living beings for my sustenance. Plants, fungi and fish seafood ARE beings too.

Guest's picture

or at least the Dragon-Pheonix Claws.

I remember a dinner at a Dim Sum Buffet restaurant with 9 other friends.

Hitting the line I came across the aforementioned Dragon-Pheonix claws...Deep Fried in a wonderful Spicy Sweet Peking Duck like sauce....I scooped the tray clean and proceeded to enjoy the crispy skin and the sweet small pad of white meat in the center of the 4 "toes" while telling everyone else to never mind when they asked what they were.

When they finally insisted and I told them they were "Chicken Feet" I got 9 strange looks and a collective "EEEUUUWWWW" from them. Needless to say I did NOT inform them about what was in some of the things they were raving about as they chowed down...

The chef was just in to the US after having practiced the art of Dim Sum in Hong Kong for over 25 years...everything on the Menu was Delicacies as served there...everything but the Oink and the Beak went into them...Gawd was it Delicious!!!!

~ Roland

Guest's picture

Why don't we start eating human beings... I mean if we are carnivores..

To take an animals life for your taste is disgusting...

Guest's picture

I get your point, but I don't like the delivery.

I totally understand that you are pointing out unknown (to some readers) and frugal options that many people might have never thought about, but (In *my* opinion) I don't like--or maybe a better word would be "understand"--the hostile way this topic is presented (i.e. "If you're a real carnivore, you don't pick and choose the bits of the animal that you find the most acceptable; you have to go for the whole hog" or "If you are going to contribute to the death of countless animals through your consumption of their flesh (and hey, that's your right), you should at least try to eat as much of the animal as you possibly can.")

To me, those sentences don't say "Hey! Here's a cheap way to feed your meat addiction!", they smack of superiority and criticism.

I agree with WiseMoneyMatters. I don't believe that people should be convinced that they need to eat ALL of the animal, to therefore be a *good* carnivore. Preference is acceptable. If I was raising my own pigs, I might eat or find some other use for every part as my grandparents did. But when I PAY a company for my pork chops, I assume that the company will find acceptable uses for livers and parts that I did not want--like they do with hotdogs, etc.

My serving liver for dinner isn't going to make me a better meat-eater, but it might put some extra dough in my pocket. I believe that is the point that should be highlighted.

Guest's picture

eat what you want and so will I! i sense conflict in your statements. you talk like a vegetarian, but yet you sometimes do eat meat and expect meat eaters to eat the whole animal to justify their decision?? i for one am not interested in eating guts or nuts! you rip the guts out and eat the meat! What's wrong with that? over the years, people in poverty have eaten everything inside. (waste not want not.) now it's become a delicacy or something for "bragging rights" as you call them.

God put animals and plants on the earth for the use of man. the savior himself ate fish! it isn't cruel to kill, or eat animals and it isn't a bad thing to throw out the guts. we are not animals. we are god's children. we grow, raise, and prepare our food.

i don't beat my chest and feel like a caveman when i eat meat. i feel like a human being! I just enjoy the taste, and get full until my next meal. i don't feel the need to overcompensate or justify my actions. the people that do that around you apparently feel uncomfortable with your difference of opinion on the subject and do that to make sure they are on good terms with you or make fun of themselves before you can. (not that you would of course.)

lastly, just remember that B12 is found only in meat and animal by products and you need it for proper brain function. be sure to take your supplements! i often find vegetarians to be a little nutty, so i don't know whether they were that way before or after they stopped eating meat???? anyway, happy eating and less preaching!

Guest's picture

Chicken gizzards (except the liver), feet and tails add flavor to soup and gravy for very little cost (along with the neck and back). I stick the liver in the pan underneath the tail while roasting and eat the slightly-crispy liver as a tasty snack, but find liver overpowers the "traditional" flavor of soups and gravies so don't use it there. A Chinese and a Thai friend both make tasty stir-fry dishes with chicken kidneys, vegetables, and ethnic sauces. Store-bought chicken doesn't usually come with feet on them.

Calves liver gently sauteed in 2T bacon drippings with onions are tasty over mashed potatoes, but beef liver is so strongly flavored it's hard to hide. Our local supermarket often marks it down at the end of the week to $.30 per pound. I cut it into 2-oz chunks before freezing and grind 2-oz liver into a pound of hamburger. Any more than that and the kids can taste it, but at $.30 per pound versus hamburg at $1.99 per pound, 2 oz = $.25 in my pocket!

Tongue and kidney are cheap, but I'm not too keen on steak and kidney pie nor braised tongue. The flavor isn't overpowering to the point of being impossible to hide, however, so maybe somebody has tasty ethnic recipes for these cuts? THAT would be a good wisebread topic!

Tripe? Blech! My mother-in-law used to cook that (as well as beef lung) as a Portuguese delicacy. The flavor wasn't too bad as she marinated them in a tasty lemon-port wine sauce, but the texture is just plain gross!!! Kalimari my foot!!! The texture is like eating a gushy dish sponge!!!

Be mindful of what you may be throwing away. There is nearly 1/4 pound of meat in the "head" of the lobster that most people throw away. At $6.99 per pound for a typical 1.25 pound lobster, it's well worth your while ($1.75) to pick through the head for tiny pieces of meat and simmer the shell for a nice Newburg sauce.

There is also nearly a full pound of meat thrown out with the average fish head/fish frame of an average sized haddock. When you buy your fish at your local supermarket or fishmonger, ask if they have any fish frames for stock. They usually throw these out, so if you time your visits to the store to when they receive and fillet their fish, they will often throw a couple of frames into your fish purchase for free. I like Julia Childs method of simmering the fish head/frame (and skin and eyes) WELL BELOW A BOIL (or the stock will get bitter) for an hour then carefully picking out the tiny bits of meat to make a tasty fish chowder. A full pound!!! I've weighed it several times and am amazed at how much gets thrown away!!!

I make a soup from whatever bones I have, including "second use" bones such as BBQ chicken legs and the bones from pork chops or broiled steak. If you put an acidifier (wine or lemon) into your bone pot and let it simmer overnight, the cartilage will liquify and, whallah!!! You've got your own home-brewed chondroitin to battle arthritis pain!!! I've measured the "waste" meat I pick from soup-bones and it averages 1/2# for an average 3.5# chicken, 3/4# for a Boston Butt roast, and 1/4# (not including cartilage) for a steak or ham.

In the end, I've adopted the position the Dali Lama takes on eating meat. Animals don't want to die, so he once tried going without meat. However, after a time, his health began to fail and he became sick. If you can go without meat, good for you, but if you can't, be mindful of the sacrifice of the animal that gave it's life and eat no more than you need to maintain your health. Enjoy that nice tenderloin steak, but eat a modest 4-ounce serving instead of a 16-ounce beauty.

Guest's picture
Anonymous Coward

"I may not know much about art, but I know what I like."

This whole argument is pointless. Eat veggies if you want, eat only steak if you want. I don't call myself a carnivore, omnivore, or anything else. I eat what tastes good and don't care about how people try to compartmentalize me.

"All generalizations, including this one, are false"