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The Piglet2013 / Quarterfinal Round, 2013

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

A Girl and Her Pig

April Bloomfield

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VS
Burma: Rivers of Flavor

Burma

Naomi Duguid

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Judged by: Kurt Andersen

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Kurt Andersen is the author of three critically acclaimed novels -- most recently True Believers, and the earlier bestsellers Heyday and Turn of the Century – as well as the books Reset and The Real Thing. He also writes for television, film and the stage. In addition, he's host and co-creator of Studio 360, the Peabody Award-winning public radio program, and contributes regularly to Vanity Fair and The New York Times. Previously, he co-founded Spy, as well as Very Short List and Inside.com, served as editor-in-chief of New York, editorial director of Colors, design and architecture critic for Time, and has been a staff writer and columnist for The New Yorker

The Judgment

I began cooking pretty seriously when I was in primary school, and as an adult did all the cooking in my household for 25 years (ending with my wife's unsolicited offer to take over for the next 25), so I haven't depended much on cookbooks since the olden days. And until now, I had only used any given cookbook the way one does -- a recipe at a time, every few weeks or months or even years. Spending hours over just a few days studying cookbooks cover to cover was a new and odd experience for me. 

I'm afraid I couldn't help but judge Burma: Rivers of Flavor a little bit by its cover -- specifically, by the cheesy title and jacket copy ("the dazzling cuisines of this faraway land"). That mode, it turned out, continues inside: this is a cookbook that wants to be a travel book too, with sidebars chronicling lakes, internet cafés, temples, indigenous cosmetics and the military regime. The good 29-page glossary would've been enough extra information for me. (Seeing entries in a cookbook index between "noodles" and "nutmeg" for "nuns, Buddhist" and "nuns, Catholic," however, was amusing.) The pretty photographs of Burma and the Burmese tend toward generic postcard shots.

As a result of my Burma meal, I now have the ingredients to prepare Burmese meals for the rest of 2013, because the two recipes I chose required me to hunt and gather special things (chickpea flour from the health food store, dried shrimp from an awesome Chinatown grocery) and then to make them more special -- to toast sesame seeds and the chickpea flour, to hydrate and grind the shrimp into powder, to transform shallots every which way. 

I like shallots, but who knew they were a central feature of the dazzling cuisines of this faraway land? My Green Mango Salad used shallot oil and (delicious) fried shallots, and Mimi's Bean Soup with Tender Leaves used one-and-a-half-cups (!) of raw-ish minced shallots. Both dishes were terrific, recognizably Southeast Asian but distinctly not Vietnamese or Thai.

All cookbooks, I've decided, should be designed without jackets: score for A Girl and Her Pig, with its cool and slightly disconcerting cover portrait of the author wearing a dead little swine around her shoulders like a pink stole. In fact, the book is well-designed throughout, with charming decorative drawings and excellent food photography. (Although after a 20-plus years of stylishly shallow-depth-of-field close-ups, isn't it time for some clever new ubiquitous food-porn trope?) And the editor might have told the designer that the recipe for beef pie didn't really require six lavishly illustrated pages, and that two dozen routine photos of the celebrity author were several times more than necessary.

But I like the way Bloomfield's plainspoken regular-girl voice comes through strong, such as her description of being a blotto English teenager, her "eyes squinty like two piss-holes in the snow." Her dishes are mostly like that as well -- simple (what she calls "rustic") but tasty, vivid, and idiosyncratic, pub food rethought with care and originality. My dinner of Carrot, Avocado and Orange Salad and Sausage-stuffed Onions was delicious. And hereafter I will cook oatmeal with half water and half milk, and feel unwise for buying (inevitably crappy) tomatoes in winter. 

Even though both of these cookbooks contain around 100 recipes, both feature tomatoes and chiles prominently, and each succeeds on its own terms, they are entirely dissimilar, an apple and an orange that in a perfectly sane and just world wouldn't be judged head to head. But here we are. A Girl and Her Pig is the better book, and more than Burma: Rivers of Flavor, made me a slightly better cook.

 

And the winner is…

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

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Do you Agree? (53 comments)

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over 3 years ago BoulderGalinTokyo

I hoped Burma would make it to the end of the Piglet.

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over 3 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

So interesting. I eat meat, chicken, fish (everything, really, except Korean fish balls) but feel some distress while eating quail and rabbit. Quail are so small and rabbits are bunnies to me. I don't agree with my own visceral reaction but haven't been able to get quite past it. Thanks, Kitchen Butterfly and others, for your comments. We live in a culture that can afford to choose not to eat some of the food that is available to us, not everyone can.

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over 3 years ago krissi

A Girl and he pig is one of my favorite cookbooks!

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over 3 years ago MRK

all very subjective...who is the reviewer and what do they bring to the table should be a plus or a negative and as we read all of it...we can decide for ourselves; Mr A is not in a position to decide which is a better book except as for him and I can decide for myself. I enjoy ALL the dialog...it is "food for thought".

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

But Mr. Andersen isn't deciding for himself. He is deciding which book proceeds to the next round. Or not. On the basis of being a not especially informed cook.

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

P.S. I would regift A Girl and Her Pig.

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over 3 years ago healthierkitchen

Just a side note - I attempted to buy Japanese Farm Food yesterday and discovered it's sold out everywhere from my local independent book store to B & N to Amazon. Backordered from the publisher. I have no way to know if the Piglet has anything to do with it, but I would like to get a copy!

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over 3 years ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

The rules for me: when I think the reviewers blew it, I remember that it's all in fun. When I read the comments, I remember that it's all in fun. Uninformed review? Fun. Testy comments? Even more fun. Finding a new cookbook that I didn't think I could possibly need. Oh my goodness, that's fun.

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over 3 years ago MRK

you are right

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over 3 years ago ericarw

yes! I agree

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over 3 years ago sel et poivre

Piglet is certainly not James Beard, and while it is 'fun' to follow, it is in no way an innocent little cookbook competition. The sales of the books featured could well be influenced by the outcome of the judgements. So please Piglet, you dont have to stop being fun to take things a little more seriously, especially when a cookbook's reputation is at stake. Surely a little criticism (or whining as some may call it) from members from your own community couldnt hurt much could it? We can still respect the reviewers but Piglet should also respect the opinion of those who make Piglet even more interesting and worthwhile, us yours truly, followers and members of food 52.

Ps: i could not agree more with boulangere.

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I agree: the repercussions of the Piglet could well extend beyond the all in good fun element.

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

P.S. I already own Burma, and have also given it as gifts. If I received A Girl..., I would regift it.

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over 3 years ago sel et poivre

Yes and it is a shame really that all criticisms are brushed off all in the sake of "fun".

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I am a cook, and when I look for a new cookbook it is with a discerning eye. One of the last things I need is another one. I frequently receive them as gifts, and end up re-gifting 99% of them. I really couldn't care less whether or not it has a dustcover; for crying out loud, it's what's between the covers that matters. I love, love, love a cookbook that is a good read. The nose-to-tail stuff is not news, so A Girl and Her Pig has a whiff of i've just discovered the wheel to it. And that cover photo is semi-interestingly polarizing - you love it or you hate it, whatever. To a cook not accustomed to using cookbooks, I can see why it caught Mr. Anderson's fancy. I own several of Naomi Duguid's books, and both read and use the hell out of all of them. Her research is impeccable, her story-telling absorbing, and photography wonderful. And her books are never, ever regifted.

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over 3 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

I'm glad many commenters will go ahead to buy the cookbooks they like, even if they haven't won the 'round'! The Piglet is much needed culinary education for me, and I'm glad to see all the passion behind all the cookbooks.

Lets keep respecting the great community that food52 is, and the choices of reviewers they've made, as well as respect the reviewers opinions. We don't have to like it.....only respect it!

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over 3 years ago Andrea Nguyen

Andrea is a cooking teacher, food writer, contributing editor at Rodale's Organic Life, and a cookbook author; her latest book is The Banh Mi Handbook.

Well said. One of the cool things about the Piglet is the opportunity to get an eclectic set of reactions to cookbooks. It's a fun competition as well as social commentary and conversation. How often do we get to hear from a person who's not into cookbooks but is forced to used a couple and report his experience?

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over 3 years ago Rhonda35

I agree, Kitchen Butterfly and Andrea Nguyen. The one thing that has struck me during this year's Piglet is the mean-spirited undertone of some of the post-review comments. Food52 has always fostered a positive, supportive community. Let's continue that tradition with respectful commentary in regard to the Piglet cookbook reviews.

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over 3 years ago ATG117

Agreed. I appreciate all the reviews and the point of view each reviewer brings to the table, whether or not I prefer the winning book. As long as one presents reasons for their pick (for which their is no right or unanimous criteria), I believe they've done their job as reviewers, and thus contributed to food52.

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over 3 years ago healthierkitchen

Absolutely, Rhonda!!

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over 3 years ago thirschfeld

Andrea, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Asian Tofu. It is next on my list of purchases and has been since Christmas.

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over 3 years ago Andrea Nguyen

Andrea is a cooking teacher, food writer, contributing editor at Rodale's Organic Life, and a cookbook author; her latest book is The Banh Mi Handbook.

Thanks, thirschfeld! I hope you enjoy the recipes, personal stories, and remarkable story of tofu. And if you're into DIY, there's that too. A lot of people around the globe helped me out with the book. I'm delighted that tofu -- a somewhat polarizing subject -- has gotten a little bit of the limelight.

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over 3 years ago thirschfeld

Andrea, I am sure it is a wonderful book just like your others. I have made tofu at home multiple times but I am always looking to improve my technique. This year my field will be planted with soybeans and I am interested to try making tofu with beans of which I know their history. I am looking forward to all the recipes too!

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over 3 years ago Andrea Nguyen

Andrea is a cooking teacher, food writer, contributing editor at Rodale's Organic Life, and a cookbook author; her latest book is The Banh Mi Handbook.

Along with the regular block tofu, you can make tofu pudding (dou hua, think soy panna cotta), silken tofu and a bunch of others. There are so many kinds of tofu in Asia that are absolutely fascinating. Going the from-scratch route for making tofu is like making cheese or bread; the freshness is awesome. That said, most recipes in the book don't require making tofu. Just buy it and cook it up, with or without meat. The manipulation methods are fascinating. Enjoy!

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over 3 years ago Naomi Manygoats

"I haven't depended much on cookbooks since the olden days. And until now, I had only used any given cookbook the way one does -- a recipe at a time, every few weeks or months or even years". So he is judging cookbooks why exactly? Things have changed since the very boring layout of Joy... I suppose it makes sense to vote for a book with a dead pig on the cover for the Piglett award, and to be honest I like this book once I get past that, not that I use meat much. But to me Burma brings a whole new cuisine that I was not familiar with, and I love the pictures that gives me glimpses of a country I have not been to yet. I had heard that Bloomfield actually used a ghost writer to write her book.

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over 3 years ago nightkitchen

I love how people are so judgy about the covers. In a bookstore I am much more drawn to cookbooks without dust covers, especially if they have that puffy kind of feel that Jerusalem has. It's just part of the tactile and visual pleasure of having a book, rather than a bunch of printouts stapled together. I don't think KA let that be the overriding factor though in judging the books. He did say one made him a better cook, and I think that is ultimately what you want from a cookbook.

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over 3 years ago ktown

I think Japanese Farm Food has this contest locked up now that she doesn't have to go up against Burma next round.

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over 3 years ago Jddar

I think you could be right about this half of the draw.

I imagine judging between "the Smitten Kitchen" and "Bouchon Bakery" will be a tough call to make. Ms. Perelman is so likable and "Bouchon Bakery" is such an exemplary cookbook.

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over 3 years ago Phoenix Helix

Is it me, or do others feel like many of the comments on these reviews come across as disgruntled whining. This is supposed to be fun! This isn't the James Beard Awards. It's the Piglet, for heaven's sake. I've loved every review, and found this one both fair and entertaining. There are lots of reasons people fall in love with one cookbook over another, and the reviews reflect this diversity.

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over 3 years ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Bravo, BlissfulBaker. Bravo.

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over 3 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

Well said BB.

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over 3 years ago meggraz

Beautiful! Yes!

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over 3 years ago meggraz

Beautiful! Yes!

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over 3 years ago susan g

While I would have chosen Burma, I know it's a book I would read in more than cook from. Covers aside, Piglet judgements are personal, and KA was honest about his choice. He chose the one he would cook from.

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over 3 years ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

And for the second time, the review complains about having to buy dried shrimp! I thought about googling "NYC dried shrimp shortage," but I decided to just shake my head over that one.

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over 3 years ago anntruelove

Is it just me or does Kurt Anderson seem burdened by the task of having to review and cook from each book? I don't think any of the other judges would decribe their experiences with cookbooks as "odd and new". I'm glad to hear both dishes he made from each book turned out well but his overall review felt a bit empty to me.

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over 3 years ago healthierkitchen

I think I have to agree with anntruelove. He does not appear to love cookbooks.

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over 3 years ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

For a second time, the review complains about dust jackets! I'd missed this design trend, so I googled it, and sure enough, Amanda Hesser is on top of the issue at http://www.thefoodsection...

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over 3 years ago rosalind5

Really! Enough about the dust jackets! The cover picture of dust jacket is the only thing that everyone can see (and judge), and it just isn't that interesting to know whether X agreed (or disagreed) with my stylistic opinion of it. I am so much more interested in the reviewers experience when they actually tried to cook from the cookbook.

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over 3 years ago Andrea Nguyen

Andrea is a cooking teacher, food writer, contributing editor at Rodale's Organic Life, and a cookbook author; her latest book is The Banh Mi Handbook.

A well-worn, even torn, dust jacket means a cookbook was well used. Publishers and authors consider the jacket (paper, POB/paper over board, velvet wallpaper, spot gloss text, etc) with the overall packaging of the work. It's part of the art of bookmaking. Seems like the jacket-less camp argues for practicality.

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over 3 years ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Mr. Andersen: There are lots more things you can do with chick pea flour besides Burmese food. For example, the Provencal crepe called Socca comes to mind, and it also makes some fine pancakes.

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over 3 years ago Bevi

I wonder how well some of the reviewers are acquainted with this site and its members in terms of the depth of culinary knowledge, but as some have said, it's all in good fun. But I also wonder if some of these cookbook authors have felt the reviews were fun :-!

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over 3 years ago Naomi Manygoats

I am sure the winning cookbook will get a LOT of extra sales and recognition as a result of this award, 'fun' or not! So I can only imagine the dismay one might feel if your work was rejected as being cheesy based on a dust jacket!

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over 3 years ago IAmJ

Doesn't seem like a very thorough review. So much focus on the covers. And only two recipes each? I don't think it's fair to judge a cookbook based on 2 out of about 100 recipes.

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over 3 years ago Jddar

As much as I love bacon, the cover of "A Girl and Her Pig" disturbs me so much that I question if I should ever eat meat again. I guess I'm an example of one who is so far removed from the source and methods of how my food is produced that this sort of thing is beyond shocking – it makes me ache in the extreme – that poor little piglet. This is one case where judging a book by its cover would absolutely make me avoid the book. Im really puzzled by my reaction. I'm just a hyper sensitive person. Maybe I should go and live on a farm for a year or two.

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over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I have an almost opposite reaction to the photo -- I think it's great to show that meat comes from animals. I think out grocery store, plastic-wrapped, almost sterile looking packages of meat do everyone a disservice. By not seeing where the meat comes from it allows us to much more easily swallow the inhumane factory production of meat that promotes its relatively low cost. I have no problem with eating meat for the most part -- they are prey species and we are predators -- but I definitely seek out meat that comes from animals raised in more humane situations. Just because they're food, doesn't mean they need to be miserable their whole lives.

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over 3 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Totally agree with you, hardlikearmour. And I think the cover of A Girl and Her Pig is beautiful.

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over 3 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

I don't know a Nigerian vegetarian. Have never met one. I never understood vegetarianism, and its ideals till a few months ago. Excited by quails in Africa, I hurried bought 6 live ones, cleaned them at home (which my children, 9, 7 and 5 witnessed), proceeded to cook them and it all fell apart. My daughter, 9, the acclaimed family meat eater burst into tears - she had seen them alive, dead and now on her plate. She couldn't stomach them. And I too, felt sick.....couldnt eat them. My husband managed them but he said he felt it was 'wrong', the birds were too small.

I was SHOCKED at my reaction, I'd never ever understood people reactions to 'killing' animals. This was the first time I ever had such a visceral reaction.

I havent given up meat but I have embraced more vegetables, and my children have gotten an 'education', and now understand they have a choice on what to eat. Unplanned....but such is life.

The cover of 'A girl and her pig' is honest, if shocking and disturbing to some.

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over 3 years ago Jddar

Hardlikearmour, I agree with much of what you said and attempted to admit as much. Though admittedly, I didn't do so as eloquently as you.

Kristy Mucci, do you really think pictures of slaughtered animals are beautiful?

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over 3 years ago garlic&lemon

I like and appreciate this discussion thread. I eat meat, chicken and fish but I find that the portions of these are getting smaller while my love and craving for veggies is getting bigger. I don't feel well on a no-meat diet. My husband and I make a conscious choice to assign a larger % of our home budget to humanely raised, sustainable meat and fish and as much organic and local food as we can find. I agree that we need to be responsible for our food choices up and down the food chain. The picture on A Girl and Her Pig does just that and has earned my respect.

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over 3 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Jddar, I think the cover image of A Girl and Her Pig is striking and beautiful, yes -- that doesn't mean that I think all pictures of slaughtered animals are beautiful, I was talking about this specific photo.

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over 3 years ago Jddar

Kitchen Butterfly, I certainly empathize with the reaction you and your children had. If I had to slaughter my own meat, without doubt, I'd never eat meat again. Which, when I think about it, creates a moral dilemma for me. Why am I eating meat others have killed? It seems a contradiction to some fundamental part of who I truly am.

Kristy Mucci, although I can't make that distinction, I respect the fact that you can. I guess the often quoted and near cliche, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," applies here.

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over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Jddar -- my comment wasn't meant as a slight toward you! I applaud that you recognize you have issue with the origin of what you are eating. I'm glad the photo has disturbed you enough to consider animals as a food source, and hope other meat eaters have similar revelations.