I have eaten heart and lived to tell the tale. You probably have, too, if you’re so into food that you’re reading a dating column on a food site. (Thanks for reading, by the way.) Now that the culinary world has become obsessed with exotic meats and nose-to-tail dining, it’s no surprise that people are willing to eat just about anything these days. Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, has made a career on the idea that if something looks good, you should eat it.
Regular viewers know that the “you should eat it” part isn’t just reserved for food that looks good. His mantra should really be: “If it looks like you could potentially swallow it, go ahead and give it a try.” Which brings us back to heart. I’ve eaten heart and lived to tell the tale, but I feel really weird about it.
The heart is symbolic for so many reasons. It’s emblematic of love, it literally keeps us alive, and according to Carson McCullers, it’s a lonely hunter. The heart is also an organ that links us to every other bird and mammal on the planet. I’ve been a carnivore my whole life, but there’s something sacred about eating an organ that is vital to the survival of so many species. It’s irrational, I know, and hypocritical to boot. Clearly, a pig can’t survive without its chops and a cow can’t exactly keep going after a ribeye-ectomy, but there’s something inherently different to me about eating organs versus eating muscles.
Side note: My hang-up may be tied to roughly one million viewings of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That movie came out when I was a little kid and after watching it on VHS so many times, I came to associate heart eating with scary underground Indian ceremonies. Not exactly the best connotation. Moving on.
My negative associations started to disappear when I tried the anticucho corazon from Ricardo Zarate, the Peruvian chef of Picca and Mo-chica that I can’t shut up about. Translated simply, it’s beef heart on a stick. And it’s good. Really good. If I didn’t tell you what it was, you’d just think you were eating a super-tender piece of steak. So why does it matter that it was heart instead of short rib?
The answer lies in the act of eating and eating consciously. It’s ridiculous to pretend that eating is merely an activity of the mouth. Chewing is, sure, but eating is a total body experience. You can’t separate your mind out of the action any more than you can regulate how your body distributes the nutrients as you digest. The heart, to me, is sacred. Same with brains and blood. While Mario Batali has brains on the menu at Osteria Mozza, that doesn’t mean I have to like them. There’s just something too carnal about devouring brains and hearts and blood (oh my!).
Zombies and hardcore foodies have no issue with a diet of vital organs. I, on the other hand, can’t wrap my head around the concept. I’d like to think that an animal’s heart functions mostly like my own. It’s responsible for sustaining life, but it’s also the source of desire and love and every other emotion that seems valid if not rational. I’m happy to eat steaks all day, but from now on I’d rather leave the heart untouched.
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