This week I read a very adorable and kind of sad study that I thought warranted a blog post of it’s own. The study revealed that chicks who are the runts of the litter and struggle in early life grow up to overeat and become fatter than their less stressed out siblings. In the same way that babies with insecure caregiver attachments are predisposed to develop eating disorders or obesity in adulthood, birds with a rough start are also more likely to be obese. I don’t know why this story touched me so much, but I’ve not been able to stop thinking or telling people about this. Part of the reason is that the younger-siter in me is particularly sympathetic to the distressing image of a tiny, hungry, baby bird trying to squeeze past it’s aggressive older siblings to get some food, but it also made me think about a idea I’d never really considered, that animals can have eating disorders too.
Eating disorders, in the same way as gambling or drug addictions, are a behavioural strategy designed to cope with emotional adversity. I had assumed that obesity and eating disorders were exclusively to the modern man, mainly because it seems as though you have to have some level of consciousness in order to be influenced by the societal pressure to be skinny or subliminal advertising to buy fast-foods. But apparently this is not the case, as I’ve now learnt that animals do indeed suffer from similar eating disorders. In fact, cats have been shown to develop anorexic symptoms after a family member (both human or feline) has died. There’s even a anorexia equivalent diagnosed in pigs called Thin Sow Syndrome. If a pig is overcrowded or placed in crates that are too small, they can reduce their food intake and over-exercise causing them to lose significant amounts of weight, which often results in their death. This, again, is a behavioural response to an emotionally distressing environment.
This notion that animals can use dietary restriction as a means to cope with emotional distress can actually tell us a great deal about similar human behaviours. If pigs or cats respond to stressful life events by reducing their food intake, doesn’t this demonstrate that human eating disorders may too be largely underpinned by emotion, rather than cognition? The root cause of these disorders is not a dysfunctional thinking pattern or habit, but a dysfunctional response to adverse emotion.
Even stranger is the new report that animals are also getting fatter. This isn’t just a result of owners over feeding their pets, as animals in the wild are also much larger than they were 30-40 years ago. So without doing or eating the things that are supposed to be making humans fat, animals are suffering from a similar problem. The parallels between humans and animals eating patterns struck me as rather alarming, given that obesity is considered to be a producted of the current chaotic, obesogenic environment. This must mean that as well as the increased sugar intake and sedentary lifestyle we attribute to the high rate of human obesity, there may be another environmental factor unrelated to human diet. For example, the presence of chemical carcinogens in the atmosphere may not only be giving us cancer, it might also be making humans, and animals, obese. Alternatively, the rise in temperature could be causing a reduction in calorie burning behaviours, such as shivering.
A very cute but rather rotund orangutange.
After realising how much we can learn from animals about human eating behaviours, I thought it only fair to show my appriciation by cooking up a delicious dead cow…I’m very much kidding, it’s an unhappy coincidence that this blog, which raves about how interesting animals are, is accompanied by a meat recipe. On the whole, I do mostly try to avoid eating animals but I think it’s actually impossible to resist eating onglet once you’ve tried it. If you’ve never had onglet (the cheap but absolutely incredible) underbelly of the cow, go out and by one immediently. Unless you are vegetarian. Not because of your morals or anything important like that, but because trying onglet may actually prevent you from remaining a vegetarian. Seriously, it’s that good.
I’ve also gone for a slighlty more complex dish this week. It’s Thanksgiving-inspired but my friend and I thought we’d try and go masterchef-style. It’s acutally not as hard to make as it seems, there are just quite a few components. If this recipe seems too much fuss I would highly recommend making the parsnip puree for any Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration – it is melt-in-your-mouth-levels of delicious.
Onglet with honey-roasted parsnip puree, charred asparagus, chesnut crumb and mushroom sauce (serves 4)
4 portions of onglet (you can use flank steak if you can’t find onglet)
1 bag (6-7) parnips
1 whole garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 punnet mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 tablespoon flour
300ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon red wine
1 bag chestnuts
For the steak:
- At least an hour before cooking, massage the the steak in olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Wrap in foil and leave.
- 20mins before you want to eat, take the steak out of the fridge. Heat a griddgle pan of butter until very hot. Sear the steak on each side for 2 mins. Take out and leave to rest for 20mins.
- After the steak has been left to rest, heat another very hot griddle pan with butter and cook the steak for 2mins on each side, basting with the melted butter as you do.
- To check the steak is cooked, take off the pan and slice through the middle. If neccesary, cook for longer depending on how you like your steak.
For the mash:
- First peel and halve the parsnips. The blanch in a pan of boiling water for 5 mins.
- Roast a whole garlic by chopping off the top and removing the outer layer. Place the garlic in foil with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
- On a baking tray, coat parsnips in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 50g honey. Roast for 30-40mins, until very soft.
- Set a few aside and roast for a futher 10mins until crispy.
- Heat a pan of 50ml milk until boiling.
- Blitz the milk with the remaining parnips, 3 cloves of roasted garlic, 50ml of honey in the blender until very smooth.
- Season well.
For the asparagus:
- Heat a griddle pan, add a splash of olive oil and then char the asparagus for around 10 minutes until soft to your liking.
For the chesnuts:
- Make a slit in each chesnut and then roast on a baking tray for 30-40mins
- Once cooked, de-shell the chesnuts (a very annoying job)
- Blitz the chesnuts in the blender to a crumb.
For the mushroom sauce:
- Chop the onion and fry in olive oil until soft.
- Add finely chopped mushrooms and 2 minced garlic cloves (can use what’s left over from the roasted garlic).
- When the mushrooms are soft, stir in 2 tablespoons of plain flour to make a paste.
- Season well.
- A little at a time, stir in 300ml of chicken stock. Add a splash of red wine.
- Leave this to reduce for 10-15mins – stiring occasionally.
- Seive the mushrooms, keeping both the pulpy- part and the reduced sauce for the dish.
- Smear the parsnip mash at around the middle off your plate
- Place a whole roasted parsnips across the mash
- Arrange the chesnut crumbs in a line at a right angle to the mash
- Slice the steak and place 3-4 slices on top of the crumb.
- Add 3-4 asparagus parallel to the steak
- Take the mushroom pulp and drizzle over the asparagus
- Drizzle the whole dish with the mushroom reduction.
- Season with pepper and enjoy!