by Lauren Mote
Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched?
Not by one individual; try about 35-40 tired, sweaty and aggravated people anxious to get home after the daily grind during a Friday afternoon rush hour, trapped underground in Toronto’s busiest subway system… why were they watching me?
The invention of the Apple iPod was a hideous thing really… as you’re listening away to your music and reading your favourite book, you have no concept that people are actually around you. Basically you have subconsciously excused yourself from the public. What you see: your vivid imagination, the wheels of your think tank rolling, brilliant ideas forming, knowledge enhancing,… who would have thought 30 minutes on public transit would be so gratifying? What they see: where is that damn annoying humming coming from? is she nuts? who is she talking to? she’s clearly talking to herself, maybe she escaped from the hospital, do her parents know where she is?
I tend to gently whisper, not talk loudly to myself; it helps me convert what I have read into my own words before it’s locked away in the vault. Secondly, am I singing or humming to myself? yep. People find this equally annoying. Hold on though, what am I reading anyhow?
Here’s a glimpse into my physical self on the subway. We have just reached Union Station, the busiest station for loading and unloading passengers; near the Financial District, with links to Toronto’s “out-of-town” commuter trains, the Roger’s Centre and countless restaurants and theatre shows. So now I have painted you a brief picture. I am sharing a three seater with a woman on my left, reading the instructions to a scrabble game, but she has no scrabble game with her; she’s bag-less. The second passenger, to my right, is a slightly awkward Bay St. suit, reading Time Magazine and I reckon he’s probably checking stocks; very intense. Maybe he lost millions today; he’s biting his bottom lip profusely. I am in the middle. Backpack between my legs, iPod is playing “Here I go again on my own” by Whitesnake, and my book opens to page 128 entitled, “Humane Meat Production” (H. McGee; On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen). This chapter is really riveting.
At one point in time I was a vegetarian, and now I cannot get enough of meat. The most exciting part about food, especially about meat, is learning how the items we love arrive on our plates. How did the AAA rib-eye arrive on my chopping block? So I start reading away, humming softly to various bars of Whitesnake. At certain parts of this chapter, I find I am having a moral dilemma, followed by a series of contradictory thoughts. This shows on my face; grinning, then frowning, and finally I appear to look relieved. Then, I do the same series of facial expressions again, but this time with vocabulary. Yikes. “…free range foie gras, how? So the ducks run around for 20 minutes by a fence, and then the ducks prance back to the barn for their feeding tubes? Humane, humane… oxymoron.” I think at this point the woman with her scrabble instructions becomes slightly more intrigued in foie gras then how to make the word CAT earn 100 points on the game-board. My monologue continues; “…if different countries and organizations are trying to legislate laws that maintain humane procedures for animal production, why don’t they just stop the slaughter? Simple; yes, that would mean that meat-eaters, like me would have to eat grains and turnips. Fine; but how can you call animal murder of ANY-KIND humane? This makes little sense to me…” I thought quietly to myself on this subject for a moment. Would one human that killed another human call his or her slaughter humane? Of course not; unless the victim explicitly requested death because they were terminally ill? We read about this quite a bit actually. Still, there is a separate chapter on Mad Cow Disease and Bird Flu to help determine for me if there is truly such a thing as humane termination, even for animals suffering a terminal illness of a physical of mental nature. This becomes ethics, and frankly, I am a food writer, not an ethics student.
The Bay St. suit is soon replaced by way of reaching his stop, or to change seats because he finds me or my muttering unsavoury. He is replaced by a mother, with her daughter seated firmly on her lap. I quickly catch glimpse of them both reading my book. Now, another conflict arises; I am now presented with a choice in better judgement. As Lauren the citizen, do I close the book to avoid the little girl asking questions about the death of animals, which leads to the premature analysis of dinner tonight; or do I keep it open because I am selfish, have a lot of research to do and live in a free society where the little girl is going to find out anyway? I think the best way to find out about something unpleasant is from a stranger, by accident with no malicious intent; that’s how I found out the true identities of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. The conclusion appears in the mother’s favour. My stop is here, and to prevent unnecessary collisions with other passengers, I will close my book and promptly save my page.
After I left the subway, I felt compelled to write a story depicting my brief 30 minutes on the subway. It was interesting to see what kind of a reaction “everyday people” had of any “everyday food enthusiast”. Perhaps that little girl did return home with her mother, and instead of asking the predictable question “where do babies come from?” she asked the unexpected question, “Mommy, where does my steak come from?”