You should see what I do with chicken. Some might say it’s almost beautiful: buy whole, brine, roast, eat, reconfigure & serve again, boil for broth, put the bones in the compost and take the rest outside for the crows to pick at. Rest assured, that bird did not die in vain.
I read the paragraph above with a mixture of pride and horror; pride in the bushwhacking, economical rigor I employ to feed my family accompanied by horror in the ruthlessness required. Yes, hands are dirtied. No, it is not pretty. I was a vegetarian for sixteen years but late one night or early morning on Bourbon Street in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, my husband-then-boyfriend lured me to the other side with a street-vendor hot-dog. Why did he do this and why’d he insist on pulling out his camera and snapping that shot of me, bleary eyes half closed and red lips wide open, greasy wiener floating toward my mouth? Was he annoyed by my vegetarianism or did he just want to see my mouth stuffed full of meat? Who knows, but I guess I was willing because I never looked back.
Once I was repulsed by chicken and now, I toss it to the crows with my bare hands. Today I feed crows but who knows, maybe I one day I’ll eat one.
No. Never. How could you even think that!? Well, maybe if the big earthquake happened, buildings deflated like jumpy castles after the party and highways rolled back into the ground from which they came and we suddenly found ourselves on an island, surrounded by sharks. If we crunched up every last morsel and then the prescient plants grew legs and scuttled off and my kids were standing there looking at me with their big wet eyes, then I’d eat a crow. I’d brine it in rosemary and roast it just right.
The older I get, the more I realize how reality can shift any moment. Once, I swore I’d be a red-lipped, party-going vegetarian forever. Now, I know I should never say never because it guarantees I’ll end up eating crow.
An idiom (like “eat dirt” or “eat your own hat”) meaning humiliation by admission of wrongness or having been proved wrong after taking a strong position. Eating crow is presumably as nasty as being proved wrong is emotionally hard to swallow. The exact origin is unknown but probably came from an American story (1850) about a farmer:￼
Once upon a story a farmer let some travelers stay at his house but they–city kids on holiday– were used to something fancier. They said the beds were buggy and the food was crap and finally the old guy got so tired of trying to please them that he complained. “What a fuss you’re making. I kin eat anything.” “Can you eat crow?” said one. “Sure I kin eat crow. I ain’t fancy.” Another said, “I bet you a hat you can’t.” The bet was made, a crow caught and nicely cooked but before serving, they sprinkled it with chewing tobacco. The farmer sat down, took a big bite, and began to chew. “Yes,” he said, “I kin eat crow (he took another bite and grimaced), I kin do it (burp; heave), I kin eat crow; but I’ll be damned if I’ll like it.”
Ironically, the crow probably would’ve tasted okay if those smug city kids had left it alone. The moral of the story is not that crow tastes nasty but that the world will conspire to make you eat your words and it’s more amusing if you gag and struggle. In other words, our burning desire to be right brings out latent sadistic (the city kids’) and masochistic (the farmer’s) tendencies.
The other day I was rushing out to an interview and didn’t have time to finish the job with the chicken so instead, I took out the whole plateful of bony scraps and plopped it in the middle of the road. When my man saw the heaping pile he, careful to keep his face as straight as possible, asked me what it was for.
“For the crows, of course.”
“You don’t really think they’re going to eat that mess?”
I looked out my car window at the small mountain of scary, hairy parts gleaming white and viscous in the sun. “Of course they will. Crows know their way around bones of all shapes and sizes.”
“But your crows are spoiled. Bet they won’t touch it.”
I didn’t accept his wager. I didn’t shake on it, I didn’t say a word, I just gave a tight toothless smile that said you’re an ass and drove off.
But when I returned, that pile of chicken was still there, completely untouched. Well not entirely untouched since by then several cars had flattened it into a clot of pinkish slush but untouched by the crows who were sitting up on the telephone wire looking down at me out of the corners of their eyes like I was some city slicker trying to pull a fast one or some country yahoo who didn’t know the first thing about proper food.
Inside the house, my man looked up from his computer. “How’s it going?”
“Fine. All good. Everything’s a-okay…” and backed myself into the kitchen where I banged some pots together and pondered how to get rid of the mess before he saw it. I didn’t want to give him any more reasons to crow (in the cocky sense of the word) because truth be told, he’s usually right and I’m routinely putting my foot in my mouth (why must shame always involve putting dirty things in my mouth, I want to know) and so I brainstormed other options: Clean it up. Do I really get down on my knees in the street and clean it up? Couldn’t I sprinkle some peanuts over the mess because crows like peanuts but then I’m just making a bigger mess, aren’t I. Maybe I could borrow the neighbor’s dog to clean it up but with my luck, the bones would choke him, and then I’d have some godzilla crow to swallow. I could get the hose to disperse the pile but then I’d have an enormous oily slick of carnage outside my house and what would the neighbors think?
When it was time to pick up my youngest from school I again faced the huge puddle of repulsive pinkish goop and it hit me: Yes, it was going to happen, I was going to have to put that shit in my mouth, I was going to have suck it up, one way or another. I looked up at the crows and shook my head. Walking to school, I dragged my heels like a sulky child and on our way home I invented every distraction to delay the inevitable: oh, hey, look at that funky mailbox and lets see if we can walk this entire block without stepping on a crack and did you know it’s unlucky not to name every ant you see? I didn’t want to see the look on her face when she saw the mess I’d made but she was hungry and I was tired of dodging the inevitable and so we went home.
We turned the corner and there it was. Not a heaping pile of parts, no clot of bird mush, not even an oily puddle, no, just a wet-looking mark on the cement where the mess used to be. The crows had just been biding their time, waiting for the cars’ tires to deal with the bones so they didn’t have to, and as soon as the bones were pulverized, the crows descended for the feast.
Being wrong doesn’t have to hurt. It’s okay to be wrong, especially if you can do it with dignity. When I was a kid, I read Ayn Rand and thought she was really cool. I truly believed I’d never have kids and that teaching would be the perfect career for me. When I first met my husband, I told myself I’d never want to date a guy that clean and nice and good-looking but you know, these are things a person can get used to and I’m very happy, especially when when he cooks us bacon for breakfast.
Okay, being wrong doesn’t have to hurt, but being right tastes much, much better.
And for the record, my crows are not spoiled, they’re smart, and I’ll eat crow if I ever eat a crow. I’m not sure if I’ll eat chicken for awhile, either.
Here’s a short clip showing how savvy urban crows use traffic as an eating utensil:
This is my 22nd post about my attempts to make friends with the neighborhood crows. To see more, click here