Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Side Effects

Meat and cheese:  Is there any combination more straightforwardly indulgent—or more treacherous?

I tried the cholesterol-laden pair twice last week and lived to regret it both times.  The first time was at Le Bistrot du Boursier, which, according to Gridskipper, has some of the best tartiflette in town.  I’d wanted to try the dish of potatoes, bacon and onions smothered with melted Reblochon cheese ever since I’d first heard of it, and I wasn’t disappointed. The potato medallions were pleasantly waxy, the diced onions soft and nearly caramelized, the cheese intensely scented but mildly flavored.  The real point of interest, though, was the cubed smoked bacon—tangy, chewy, sweet.  I couldn’t help seeking it out with my fork.

The tartiflette was delicious, and I finished it, but almost immediately began to feel as though the fat in my bloodstream was congealing and sinking to the bottom of my arteries.  I crossed two arrondissements on foot to try to walk it off, but the heaviness and drowsiness lingered.  I was too full and sleepy to be of much use once I got home, but the tartiflette wouldn’t let me sleep—I woke in the middle of the night, my stomach still slightly queasily full.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but a couple of night later, at Joe Allen in the Marais, I glanced at the American menu and decided it was time for my first hamburger—or, more precisely, a bacon cheeseburger.  I wasn’t all that impressed by the bland ground beef, whose texture I found boring, but the marriage of bacon and cheese kept me eating until the burger was gone.  And, as with the tartiflette, I soon felt as though I had been hit with a sledgehammer.

I have the kind of constitution that has always allowed me to eat more in a single sitting than is advisable, but too much meat affects me differently.  I can’t say I’ve noticed many general physical changes since I started eating meat—I haven’t gained or lost weight, as far as I can tell, and I feel neither more vigorous nor as though I am being slowly poisoned.  But in the short term, meat does things to my body to which I am unaccustomed.  After my first steak dinner, I felt a sort of tingly sensation that I can only attribute to having more iron in my system than I’m used to.  Meat can make me so full that I cannot fathom eating dessert—an entirely unfamiliar sensation.  But nothing punishes me so brutally as the combination of meat and cheese.  The unbearable heaviness that lasts for hours, the sluggishness, the insomnia…I had expected the omnivorous life to keep me up at night for moral reasons, not corporeal ones.

I’m not ready to go kosher, but the unholy combination of meat and cheese has made me reflect a bit about the way I’m used to eating.  I’m used to cleaning my plate without adverse affect, but, health concerns aside, one shouldn’t be able clean one’s plate without adverse affect.  It’s easy to forget while living in the overnourished Western world, but food is precious, and it’s powerful.  If what it takes for me to learn that lesson is an encounter with animal protein’s unpleasant side effects, so be it.

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