Staring down a porcupine will make even the most carnivorous-at-heart lose their appetite for meat. Let me clarify: you are at a dinner party and the porcupine in question is a loaf molded out of 100% raw ground pork and spiked with raw onion quills. Around you people gleefully dig into the marbled rodent and spread the uncooked pink atop a variety of bakery fresh rolls. A dash of pepper. Top with onion quills. Mmmm. Am I right?
No, this is not an episode of Bizarre Foods America. This is a popular menu item found in normal foods Germany. And what the hot dog means to Chicago and cornbread to the American South, Germans devour raw spreadable minced pork, locally known as mett, along with a mouthful of pride. Yes, Germans love meat, especially of the hacked and minced pork variety, and while their per-pound/per-person meat consumption dips slightly below their American carnivorous cousins, from the outsider looking in, it appears the Germans have a slight edge over the U.S. in meat peculiarities. Mind you, I have nothing against the Deutschland’s beefy enthusiasm, I could wax on endlessly about the stylings of the perfect Chicago hot dog, but when you are a “stranger-in-a-strange land,” or a different meat-eater-in-a-different-meat-eating-land, you begin to take notice of the oddities of cultural taste.
Take for example, the ubiquitous bratwurst. Yes, you can find the beloved white sausage roasting on backyard grills or at tailgating parties across Football U.S.A. But in Northern Germany a run-in with the bratwurst is a daily occurrence. You find them sizzling on street corners, roasting along the banks of the Weser River, broiling outside of Weserstadion, crackling in front of bars, rotating on spits in gas stations, greeting you at the doors of Ikea, being sliced at swimming pools, hawked in train stations and turned, poked and prodded at festivals, local parks, playgrounds and promenades.
People shovel in bits of brats with toothpicks, dip them in curry ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise or chomp down on the near foot long roasted sausage using a mini hand-roll merely as a glove to safely handle the fiery hot meat. Still not convinced? Pan across the long horizon of hog heaven at any local supermarket and try to quickly order from a dizzying display of sliced meats in a variety of colors, shapes and diameters. And be careful not to gloss over the many choices of wursts and headcheese, including the one smiling back at you with the grinning face of Mickey Mouse.
It seems the devout followers of the Atkins’ Diet may discover Shangri La in Northern Germany. Meat consumption is an around-the-clock affair. And while the local bakery does compete for attention at breakfast time, they too have added protein to their menus to cater to the more carnivorous kind. Meet the frühstück platters. One order includes a basket of rolls, slices of cheese and a large variety of sliced deli meats. For months I have stalked the streets of Bremen, searching for a stack of syrupy pancakes with a side of crispy hash browns. Instead I have learned to settle for a basket of rolls and a plate stacked with havarti and slices of salami and ham. But it is a long stretch of time between breakfast and lunch to go without meat. Not to worry, Germans have found ways to squeeze more meat-eating opportunities between meals. Competing for the consumers attention amongst chips, candies and chocolates are aisles and endcaps dangling a vast array of snackable dried salamis. Wrapped in plastic wrappers like chocolate bars, one can stuff their pockets, or briefcase, purse or backpack with these salamified snacks. And the most recognizable of these treats is the über popular BiFi. BiFi is a piece of jerky-like salami entirely socked away in a white roll. Think a much plumper Slim Jim hidden underneath a somewhat fresh Hot Pocket roll.
A mighty tasty snack I might add, and if you zap a few in the microwave for thirty-seconds, splurt some spicy mustard on the side, you have an incredibly unhealthy yet surprisingly delicious meal. Yes, the Germans’ affections for meat runs deep in the North, and nothing says love of meat more than a heart-shaped salami for Valentine’s Day.
It was a tough choice but I opted for the chocolates and flowers and handwritten poem over the romance of summer sausage.
Where does the Germanic love affair with meat begin? Is it environmental? Are young children indoctrinated into the meat-eating culture by their parents or by the marketing power behind a seemingly cute bear named Bärchen Streich who innocently introduces spreadable meats and sausages to the younger palate.
I do realize all cultures and carnivorous creatures for that matter have their own unique relationship with meat. And while I haven’t begun to research the genetic predisposition for meat-eating amongst humans or poured over global meat consumption rates amongst various age groups throughout history, what I do know is this: when my one-year old daughter first arrived in Northern Germany she became obsessed with meats of all kinds.
I know I do not have any scientific evidence whatsoever that our move to Europe caused our daughter to treasure meat above all other foods. But nevertheless at twenty-one months she already had developed her own peculiar meat-loving habits. A trip to the supermarket always involves our daughter proudly chirping “Meat! Meat! Meat!” while dumping armfuls of sausages, salamis and packages of ham into the shopping cart. Strolling past the local butcher again elicits her catcalls of “Meat! Meat! Meat!” and upon entering she is treated as a celebrity and immediately handed a baby-fist sized hunk of wurst, which she of course devours with delight. At times I have to hurry by the bratwurst stands, knowing her little mouth will begin to water when the beefy aroma hits her wee nose.
While I am not concerned about her affinity towards meat, I do notice the effects of meat on her physical development. Like most babies she enjoys biting mommy and at times daddy. She is beginning to develop muscular baby biceps and she enjoys carrying hefty toys, baby furniture, and Big Wheels throughout the house or at the playground. During a Father’s Day brunch, I left for the bathroom and returned not before hearing a loud crash outside. Apparently our daughter was finished eating and decided were we too, and from her high chair flipped the table on its side shattering plates and cups and sending our entire meal to the pavement below. Has this high intake of protein and iron turned her into überkinder?
Her carnivorous oddities does pose a bigger question: will her experience as a toddler eating amongst Germans affect her tastes and ultimately her identity in the years to come? What is identity anyway and can it be formed by the food we eat? In later years will she wax nostalgic about bratwursts, BiFi snacks, schnitzel, or fresh bakery rolls smeared with raw ground pork? I don’t know. The thoughts continued to fuel my walk home as I munched on a late night Döner Kebab filled with perfectly grilled slices of pork and slathered with crunchy kraut and a delicious cucumber cool tzatziki sauce.