Food Chain

Morocco differs from many third world countries in that there is not a widespread shortage of food. In fact, there is always an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, and normally at very reasonable prices. Everyday, one sees street vendors pushing carts laden with oranges, strawberries, or various types of melons, depending on the season. Other times it could be eggs, or carrots, or fresh sardines being hawked to the passers-by or sold door to door in residential neighborhoods. Of course, all these products are available at corner grocery stores, in souks (open air markets) and now in large supermarkets.

Occasionally, one sees an unusual variation on this supply chain which can appear downright bizarre to the uninitiated foreigner. I remembered this reality this past week. I met on a downtown sidewalk two men whose appearance suggested they were farmers who had come in from the countryside to engage in a bit of commerce. One carried two chickens in each hand, their feet tied together with string. The other had a total of six rabbits; they too were suspended upside down with what appeared to be a mixture of confusion and/or fear on their faces.

Chickens are readily available at a number of places around town. One tells the proprietor what size is preferred; the live chicken is then selected, weighed, killed and dressed. Usually the customer places the order, then returns in 10 or 15 minutes to retrieve the chicken that is now ready to be cooked. Most of these chickens are grown in large houses by agri-businesses and are considered by most to be inferior in quality to the type the farmer had for sale. I suppose it is similar to the status enjoyed by “free-range” chickens in the states.

We never served, or ate in our home, a meal in which rabbit constituted the protein source. The rabbits the farmer had were not the type one might see alongside a country road at night. These appeared to be of the pet variety, with plush black and white coats. Leanna and Jamey would never have allowed us to prepare a meal when the entree recipe began, “First, kill the bunny rabbit.”

One evening while sitting in a cafe with a friend, a vendor approached and asked if we were interested in the four cow legs, hooves attached, that he had for sale. The legs had been cut off about 12 inches above the hoof. I passed, but my friend negotiated with him and assured me a fine dish could be prepared with them.

Several years later, when Denise and I lived in Rabat, I took a French course at a language institute in the city. One class discussion involved conversation about North African cuisine. My teacher, a very cosmopolitan and sophisticated woman of Algerian origin asked me if I had ever eaten “pattes de boeuf,” the gelatinous dish made from the hooves of cows. My negative response must have been an overreaction, because she chided me for being too narrow-minded in my viewpoint of acceptable fare. She suggested that Denise and I should come to her house sometime to try it, assuring me we would find it delicious.

I am familiar with the lesson Peter learned in Acts 10 about what food is “clean.” Clean or not, to be quite honest, I’m glad that particular invitation is one that never materialized.


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