Monday 2 June 2008

Chickening out...

"What is for tea, Mummy?" asks Amelie, as her Mother appears at the dining room door with dinner bowls.
"It's one of your favourites, sweetheart: chicken, vegetables and rice" announces Nini.
She places the bowls down on the table, leaving each of us to approach our meal in our own traditional way: Nini daintily manipulates her fork with the poise of an artist adding the final touches to the canvas of their masterpiece, whereas I attack my food with all the elegance and grace of an industrial gravel harvester going to work on a quarry face. Neve starts the meal as she starts every meal: by pouring half of the contents of her beaker into her dining bowl and stirring it vigourously. We have become wise to that habit now - her previous culinary creations of 'roast lamb and mashed potatoes a la Ribena Toothkind' and 'fishfingers and spaghetti hoops in backwashed apple juice' were so nauseating they put the rest of us off our food, so her teatime beaker now only ever contains water (and only a little at that).
Amelie looks down at her bowl, then cranes her neck round and gazes out to the back garden.
"Eat up Ami, it tastes like yum" I say encouragingly, employing the phrase she always uses when she enjoys her dinner.
Amelie continue to stare into the back garden, clearly lost in thought. I follow the line of her gaze across the patio, over the new vegetable patch, and through the scrubby hedge to the neighbours garden. There, on the border between our two gardens, is their new chicken run, filled with young hens that Amelie has spent at least an hour every day this week cooing over and hand-feeding stalks of grass to...
She looks back down at her bowl.
"Mummy," she asks ,"why do we call 'chicken' the same thing as 'chickens'?"
Ah, I think. This might get tricky.
Nini squeezes her bottom lip together while she thinks what to say.
"Well..." she begins, and then pauses to look at me with a raised eyebrow, which clearly means: 'Feel free to jump in here if you want to cover this one off....'
I slowly open my mouth, as if to speak, and then deliberately fill it to capacity with a forkful of rice, which means: 'I think you'll find she specifically directed the question to her 'Mummy' - and that's you...'
Nini narrows her eyes slightly, which I take to mean: "You had better back me up, then..."
I look away pointedly, which means ' Might do - but I'm keeping my options open to see how it all plays out.."
Nini clears her throat.
"Chicken", she says, "is called 'chicken' because it is the same thing."
Amelie looks at her in complete incomprehension.
"I know it is the same word," she says, "but why is it the same word when they are different things?"
There is a pause while Nini gathers her thoughts. I suddenly the feel the need, for the first time in some 35 years, to slow down and carefully chew my food, thus preventing me from being able to speak. A silence descends over the table, broken only by the faint slurping of Neve filling the lip of her bib up with handfuls of mushed food - a revolting process that faintly reminds me of a pelican storing fish in its gullet to later regurgitate into the mouths of its young, and which would normally never pass unrebuked...
"It is the same word because it is the same thing" says Nini, before getting down to the core of the issue: "Chickens are for eating."
Amelie looks down at her bowl, horrified. She turns a piece of meat over with her fork, as if looking for evidence of a beak.
"Oh..." she says, in the tiniest voice. She look back out at the neighbours chicken run with squinted eyes, as if trying to count the occupants.
"It is not one of those chickens" says Nini, hurriedly. "Those chickens are for eggs, and as pets. Nobody will ever be eating them."
Amelie rallies a little at this. "Good" she says, and starts to push all the chicken in her bowl to one side, along with any vegetables and rice that might have come into contact with it.

"That went well, I think?" I say later, in a shamefully transparent bid to show solidarity with the whole 'animals-are-for-eating' message.
"That was Waitrose chicken. I hate throwing it away" replies Nini mournfully, as she scoops all the food Amelie didn't eat into the wastebin.
"I think Amelie handled it very well" I say, brightly.,
"Good food is expensive...she had better not go all vegetarian on us, I'm not having that...."
"I think you handled it very well" I add, trying a different tack.
Nini puts the bowl down and turns to me. "Thank you" she says. "But just so we're clear; when she asks why she has three sets of Grandparents, I'm going to sit her down, tell her it's a great question - and that Daddy will explain everything when he gets home from work..."
I mull this over, and quickly decide that "You get an extra set of Christmas presents" is a much easier message to sell than "We eat your childhood friends."
"Deal" I say.


Misterimpatient said...

Amelie sounds like my brain, sometimes. Having been, in the past, a vegetarian, each time a eat meat these days, I feel a pang of quilt. I'm thinking of picking one month and trying out a Vegan lifestyle.

Today my daughter and I were out and she made a special point of avoiding stepping on caterpillars because she didn't want to hurt them. I mentioned chickens and cows, which she is quite found of too. Well, she didn't have a personal relationship with those creatures. God help you if your neighbor ever decides to eat on of the hens whose production level has dropped off.

Anonymous said...

you can still afford to buy chicken from Waitrose?

I'm sure my freshly boiled bowl of gravel and rabbit droppings is just as tasty, and at a fraction of the cost!!