If I were to add a fourth item to my Guide for Good Blogging, it might go something like “Always link to stories about mountain oysters.” I’m not going to adopt that rule but I will link to Ian Knauer’s Atlantic piece in praise of partaking of the testicle and of offal meats in general:
But who really practices true nose-to-tail eating? How many among us delight in brain, or tendon, or testicles? These nasty bits, although they have a small following, often go ignored. But in the religion of head to tail, it’s the brains and balls that promote the eater from politically correct do-gooder to enlightened food guru. And, for the record, balls (when cooked the right way) are delicious. […]
Here’s a video demonstrating the peeling, puncturing, roasting, and slicing of a pair of deer testicles. It features Trent, Steve, Greg, and Elvis.
If you’ve come as far as where the video begins, then the hard work is done. Bread and fry the slices of balls as you would prepare fried green tomatoes. Most importantly, you can feel good about yourself as an eater knowing that none of an animal has gone to waste. Welcome to true food enlightenment; feel free to bask in the salinity.
Be sure to read the whole thing for expert advice on how to avoid the unpleasantness of mountain oysters exploding in your oven, a terrible mess to have to explain to one’s life partner, roommate, or maid.
I agree with Knauer that eating offal is a fine thing. Seared fois and crispy sweetbreads are two of the most delicious foods on Earth; I wouldn’t put either of the testicle dishes I’ve had on the same level, but they can be tasty too. However, should one really feel virtuous about eating offal?
These odd parts of animals are not often eaten by humans in the US, but that doesn’t mean they go to waste. I’m not an expert on meat processing, but my guess is they’re sold off for secondary uses like dog food, industrial feed, and lots of other products. Modern farms are anything but inefficient.
So what happens when more people start eating mountain oysters and such? One effect is that demand for offal goes up, raising its price and therefore raising the value of the entire animal. And when demand goes up, so does production. We’re reducing waste in one sense of the word, but we’re also sending more animals to slaughter, using more resources to feed them, and putting more of their methane into the atmosphere.
However there could be an offsetting substitution effect too. If people are eating offal instead of more expensive cuts of meat, that could reduce the value of whole animals, resulting in fewer animals being killed and less resources used in their production. On the other hand, the substitution effect could work the opposite way if people are choosing an offal-based appetizer to their steak dinner instead of the salad they used to eat.
I don’t know which of these effects will outweigh the others (and if anyone has any hard data, please let me know, because I’m genuinely curious). If consumers substitute unwanted offal for more expensive meats that would almost certainly be a good thing, but is that what they’re doing? Or is our new love of offal going to make our society more carnivorous, not less? If the latter we can enjoy foods like mountain oysters because they’re tasty and different, but it would arguably be more virtuous to simply eat less meat in general.