Children horrified to learn they've been eating rabbits disguised as chicken: 'We always ate rabbits in the old country'

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

When my mother and her siblings were children, they didn't get a say in what my grandmother cooked for dinner. They weren't allowed to have likes and dislikes; they weren't even allowed to have preferences.

If my grandmother cooked dinner, there were two options. Eat it or go hungry. Well, my grandmother didn't expect her picky eaters to go entirely hungry. They could still fill up on thick, crusty bread from the bakery on the corner and bright yellow Portuguese butter imported from the old country. However, they couldn't simply select something else for dinner if they didn't like the course of the day. There was no opening the fridge and making a ham and cheese sandwich or a tuna pocket. My grandmother wouldn't allow it.

One morning, my mother peeked inside the refrigerator while my grandmother was still asleep. It was the only time she could open the fridge without getting in trouble. Like the cupboards in the pantry, the refrigerator was solely my grandmother's domain.

My mother saw something unusual in the refrigerator that she didn't recognize. It didn't look like chicken. Would it taste like chicken?

She woke up her older sister, who said, "Oh, don't tell me we're having rabbit stew for dinner. I hate when she cooks rabbit stew for dinner and makes believe it's chicken."

My mother felt horrified. She wondered how many times she had eaten rabbit in the guise of chicken.

At dinnertime, my grandmother served up portions of mystery meat that my mother now took to be a rabbit.

"Are you making us eat rabbit again?" the oldest of her children asked.

My grandmother scowled at her and shook her head. "It's chicken," she said. "If you aren't hungry for chicken, then your chicken can go to someone else who wants it."

"Wait," the youngest sister said. "Isn't this chicken?"

"The number of times your grandmother repeated the word 'chicken' made us all awfully suspicious," my mother told me. "I had a funny feeling my older sister was right, and my mother had been feeding us all rabbit meat all along. I just couldn't fathom eating a hippity-hoppity little rabbit. They're just so cute."

My mother decided to pass on the "chicken" and fill up on bread and butter instead. Her older sister, who had known about the ruse for some time, decided to join her in refusing the rabbit stew. Their younger sister, wide-eyed and horrified at the realization that she'd nearly been served rabbit, also joined in abstaining.

My grandmother called them ungrateful and continued filling plates with the meat that had clearly come from a rabbit and not a chicken. She admitted it was rabbit and told them that rabbit was expensive. Furthermore, it was perfectly healthy and normal to eat rabbits.

"We always ate rabbits in the old country," my grandmother said, "and no one complained then."

My grandfather and my uncle ate their rabbit stew with gusto and enjoyed second helpings, thanks to the three girls' refusal to eat their share. Even my grandmother scarfed down her rabbit stew with reckless abandon.

That left all three girls with their bread and butter, which had plenty of calories to sustain them until their next meal.

What do you think? Is rabbit stew a delicacy or anathema?

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