The Inimitable Todd and I go to the Union Square Farmer’s Market to pick up something for dinner. We’re food nerds, he and I. He loves to cook; unfathomably, it relaxes him. I grew up on a farm and am snobbish about the notion that when I eat something, it should taste like it had something to do with a plant or animal in the not-too-distant past. We both grok that shipping apples to Brooklyn from Africa or chowing down on burgers that are really mostly corn that is really mostly petroleum maybe isn’t the best plan in a world of finite resources, and we are blessed with the economic privilege to do something about that.
So we’re at the Union Square Farmer’s Market looking for something for dinner. And, since it’s Union Square, I have an eye out for improbable birds.
Up in a tree is a shaggy lump which is not at all improbable; a Red-tailed Hawk. Red-tails are the ubiquitous hawks of North America, thanks to their high degree of adaptability. If a thing is smaller than a Red-tail and moves, the Red-tail will probably try to eat it; if the thing is larger than the Red-tail and sits still, the Red-tail will probably try to build a nest on it. Kestrels, house cats, carp, grasshoppers? On the menu. Saguaro cacti, building ledges, trees of all kinds, the Unisphere? Home sweet home. As a result, the Red-tail has a population estimated at up to a million individuals at any given time.
So. We buy some pork chops from pigs raised at the Queens farming museum, where a Red-tail probably soared overhead looking for rats attracted to feed spillage. And we buy apples from New Jersey, where a Red-tail probably perched in one of the taller trees and scanned the orchard for Robins slower or stupider than the rest of the flock. We buy potatoes and onions from upstate, where a Red-tail might have picked off a tasty nightcrawler or a young, foolish raccoon or a confused field mouse turned up by the plow. And all the while, above us, the Red-tail eyed a stupidly brave squirrel. His dinner, when he gets it, will have ours all beat for being local.