Hannah Holmes – The Well-Dressed Ape

A word about the word: A “predator,” in biological terms, is an animal who kills another to eat it.  Although I kill both cows and cockroaches, I am a predator only of cows.  I, in turn, might be killed either by a whitetip shark or bad sushi, but only one of those qualifies as a predator.

The human’s peak predator is probably the crocodile. The exact number of humans that crocs eat each year is hard to pin down, because they tend to hunt in undeveloped areas where humans don’t keep detailed records. Human prey is a good choice for crocs. Our species is big enough to make a hearty meal but fee of sharp horns, claws, and teeth, and small enough to subdue quickly.  As with the other midsize animals they catch, crocs reduce human prey to bite-size pieces by biting onto a limb and rolling their entire bodies in the water until the twisted part tears free. A whole flock of crocks can feed on a single kill, with each animal latching onto a different piece and rolling until the prey disintegrates. It’s estimated they eat thousands of humans a year.

The crocodile isn’t the only reptile to view humans as prey.  The alligator is another, and so is the Komodo dragon.  Each can kill and eat humans of any size, but compared to crocodiles neither puts much of a dent in the human horde.  And then there are the fishes, sharks to be specific.  Most sharks don’t consider humans especially palatable. They might bite one if they mistake it for a flailing fish or seal, but they don’t seek humans out.  A few species, however–oceanic whitetip, great white, tiger, and bull–are happy to harvest humans.  I have seen the whitetips in action, and it’s a haunting phenomenon…

I recently encountered an insightful little piece of work at a conference. In the back of a room full of research summarized on large posters stood a psychologist from Pennsylvania State University.  His poster was deceptively simple but profound: He had combed the globe for stories of “wild beast attacks man.”  Studying 173 incidents, he concluded that humans with no tool in hand died two-thirds of the time, but those with a defensive device of any sort died only half the time.  That’s a big difference in survival rates.  It’s the kind of difference that can shove evolution rapidly in a new direction–an armed direction.  For what it’s worth, chimpanzees also use tools against snakes and other frightful animals.

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Hannah – Almond Crusted Catshark

Do not misconstrue me, Abby, there are acceptable instances of prey-offal.  Eastern Asia boasts some of the most enlightened preparations of oxtail, pigs feet, and other extremities that yon gastronomic adventurer might hope to encounter.  I, for one, shall always treasure my first encounter with ulo, that most expressive of Filipino dishes.  But crispy pig’s head aside, not all gristle is made equal.  And while our tongues are undoubtedly more nuanced than most, I’ve begun to suspect that the common man’s pallet–for all his pork chops and spare ribs awash in bottled caramel pigment number five–senses this truth.  How many receptacles of flour-coated and peanut-oiled avian can one consume before confronting it?  That tang of helplessness, that pungency of submission which no cook can disguise.  There is no hiding the taste of a prey animal.  You chuckle, Henry!  And well you might, God knows we’ve all seen you try!

Of course, and let there be no mistake, humans are also prey animals.  When one is walking alone in the woods and a stick breaks, one’s ears whip one’s head to engage one’s eyes in the search, and one stands as if frozen.  Adrenaline swirls in one’s blood to fuel a superhuman flurry of action, should one need to flee or fight.  One’s pupils dilate, to snare every photon’s worth of information.  If I surprise a deer in the woods, her reaction is the same.  This is the biological imperative of prey.

And on the note of color and shape, I direct your eyes to our centerpiece, which should be kept understated and with no more than one contrasting color.  Oh, and before I forget it, tonight’s menu.

Arugula with diced apples and almond crusted Catshark

Spring black bear steak with a Portobello demi glace accompanied with saffron risotto

Rhubarb tart