Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Recently, Dexter, our Rhodesian Ridgeback and elder son, started turning his nose up at the Pedigree food he was being served. Dexter is not picky. He’ll wolf down anything and seems as happy with a fresh bone as old scraps excavated from under a rock. Yet somehow Pedigree, the only dog food we’ve seen on shelves in Dar es Salaam, didn’t meet his exceedingly liberal standards. So we decided to make (rather, have made) real homemade food for Dexter. Hillary went online and found a trove of dog food recipes, a count even surpassing the number of vegetarian Passover recipes I had scoured a few weeks ago. (No comparison of, say, gefilte fish and dog food even remotely intended.)

We learned that the food should be 40% meat, 30% vegetables and 30% starch. Being the wimpy vegetarian that I am, I asked Judith, our wonderful housekeeper, to accompany me to a butcher. We went to Namanga, a part of town near us crowded with small stores where locals shop. Namanga is far less expensive than the mzungu-serving shops in our neighborhood.

Hillary tried to make the case that buying meat would be less expensive than manufactured dog food. Her assertion sounded familiar, and I somehow remembered her logical argument that “expensive Italian shoes” that would last were also a sound investment.

At the butcher, rather than the myriad choices that I expected to be bewildered by – shoulder or flank, sirloin or ribs, chuck or brisket -- two options were presented. Judith pointed to one window, with hunks of carcass speared on huge hooks, and said “cow”, and pointed to another window with smaller red glistening carcasses, and said “goat”. There seemed to be more flies swarming the cow window, so I took that as some sort of Zagat’s guide and picked beef.

The butcher pulled a carcass chunk off a hook, put it on a tree stump in the corner of the store, and cleaved a chunk off. He put it on the scale and it tipped 2 kilos, the amount Judith had specified. As he tried to charge us more, Judith, fully in command, directed him to cut a bit off and made sure it was from the less desirable end.

I, as have many friends living in a nice urban Whole Foods-served region, have railed against the separation in our daily life from our basic food sources. Our food is typically shrink wrapped and prettified so we have no idea of what it once was. As the cleaver was hammering down, with three dull thuds, through the side of beef, I truly appreciated the beauty of the shrink-wrap machine.

Judith roasted the meat with potatoes and carrots. Dexter, always eternally loyal just to me, now won’t leave her side.

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