Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Raw and Bloody: More Meat

My previous post, "Raw Meat," was actually supposed to be about making my own dog food, but for some reason, my mind wandered, and I let it. So here's more about meat, specifically raw meat.

The first time I heard about a diet of raw meats and vegetables for dogs, I was living in Atlanta. It was dusk, and Linus and I were out at one of the larger dog parks in the area. A gentleman at the park, probably looking for someone with whom to talk, started sharing newfound information with me as our dogs circled our feet, each other, and the park. 

"I did not know you could give raw chicken, including the bones, to a dog," he started abruptly. 

"I didn't know that either. I thought they couldn't eat chicken bones," I responded, coolly. 

"They can't eat cooked chicken bones because they will splinter, but raw chicken bones are softer, easier to digest."  

"....that makes....sense," I sort of half cared. The dog park is a funny place. One can go unnamed but for his or her dog. 

Two years later, in Chicago, scraping the bottom of my mental health barrel, I decided to start giving Linus raw food. I kept letting his regular food run out because I couldn't decide the healthiest and most cost efficient choice of kibble for him, and I was suffering from pretty severe anxiety about everything, money especially, but I didn't want to feed him cheap food. I didn't want his butthole to feel the way my butthole did after eating a whole box of Oreos as dessert to my Al Pastor least not all the time. 

Plus, it made sense to me. I was feeling horrible and inadequate about my current job as a dog owner, and I figured that if I took the time to pay attention to his diet, to really watch him closely, especially his poop, I would have to give myself a little bit of credit. 

So I bought a whole chicken that was on sale at the hipster grocery store down the street. It was an Amish chicken its life, it drove a horse and buggy and wore a cool hat.

When I got home, I unwrapped the chicken and dumped it in a bowl, blood and all. Linus stood in the doorway to the kitchen, head tilted, nose in the air. I stood back from the bowl of whole chicken, head tilted, nose crinkled, cogs turning. I gingerly took the hind leg in one hand and began to prod the skin with my knife. 

Cutting apart a raw chicken is a completely different ballgame than cutting apart a cooked chicken. A knife is no good for a raw chicken. It's skin, muscle, and sinew are all softer, but stronger, not broken down or dried out. I could tell it had been alive at one time, and I saw all the parts of the whole, preserved in the cold until this moment, lying in a bowl in my kitchen. I felt like a fraud.

I don't think I've grown out of the "validate me!" stage of being an only child. I think sometimes people expect more from me, that I'm supposed to satisfy everyone else's idea of my life. I'm supposed to do crazy things, and be that story you can't stop reading. Yet, here I was, standing in front of a whole raw chicken thinking, "I hope I don't have to touch this for too long" 

However, the knife was getting me nowhere, so I put it down, took a deep breath, and dug in with my fingers, ripping the flesh while I closed and opened my eyes like I was watching a horror movie that I wanted to see but at which I had trouble looking. It was exhilarating.

Linus stood in the door to the kitchen, eyes sparkling, glistening pearls of puppy drool pausing on the edge of his lips before dropping to the pool at his feet. 

I managed to rip off a leg and thigh combo for the first meal, and when I placed it in front of him, he looked at it, licked it, looked at me, and then proceeded to eat it with a similar level of trepidation to my own.  

It didn't take me long to discover the power of kitchen shears or the fact that chicken could also be bought pre-cut with the flesh still on the bones, and Linus kept not dying, so I pressed on, all the while, keeping a close eye on everyone's favorite part of dog-ownership: poop. 

To his meat regimen, I eventually added a rice and vegetable combination which he refused to eat without a little tuna mixed in with it, but for some reason, probably sodium, that made his poop slimy, so I kept searching for the answer to getting him to eat his veggies. Then, someone reminded me that I had a food processor (thanks, Mom).

Old Faithful

Now, he eats chicken legs and beef necks. I keep the leftover bone pieces from the necks and boil them with his brown rice. Then I throw them away and food process the rice with spinach, carrots, sweet potato, chicken, and the best part: chicken livers and hearts. He loves it. LOVES IT (pro tip: chicken hearts from the Rico Fresh across the street smell like farts). 

Now Linus is soft, slender, and spoiled, and I no longer allow myself to feel like a terrible mom. I usually eat about a box of Oreos a week and then yell at myself when the inevitable happens, but I'm still on a journey. 

On the worst day of my depression, I called my mom and cried that I didn't think I could take care of Linus any more. I couldn't even take care of myself. 

But I kept tearing into the flesh, breaking down the bones, and allowing them to be a part of another cycle, of something new. I stopped being afraid of the blood, the muscle and sinew, the violence.

My therapist told me it was self-care, that taking the time to be conscious of the attention I give to my dog would force me to see it, to believe it, and to find peace within it. 

If you have ever experienced the bottom, been torn down to the laces of your own shoes with no concept of an idea of how to begin to get back up again, or if you have ever had one of those free fitness evaluations at a gym you just joined in your neighborhood, you will understand the feeling. In order to build strength, you must break down your muscles. They must literally be torn, and this will hurt without exception.

Rip apart a thing that was once alive before you cook it. You are a version of that, but you are alive...despite. You are torn down and apart, and you can still feel the twisting and snapping. It will be hard to get up in the morning, same if you do these things called Frankenstein squats that include jumping, squatting, and hovering with your arms like a monster created by a mad scientist that just wanted to be loved. Getting up, sitting down, climbing and descending stairs, all of these things will hurt you more than you ever thought possible the day after, and the day after that, etc, but you will get stronger.

That pain is your body's torn apart tissue slowly healing itself, working to mend and prepare for the work again. The pain exists to remind you, although life seems to be a slow and savage night, you can trust that your insides are rebuilding to be even better equipped without having to be told to do so. The body serves the brain, the brain protects the body, and this happens without anyone willing it to happen, just as the earth turns and the universe expands. 

Your body exists to do the work, to heal, and to do the work again. What is the work? Slowly, methodically, and compassionately taking care of your body, your bones, and taking the same practice with you in the care of those you love, for they will, in turn, take care of you. 

And that is all that matters. 

P.S. Gluten makes Linus's butt itch. He's THAT dog at the restaurant.
P.P.S Now, all I have to do to be legit, is to start raising and killing my own chickens. All I have to do.