There might be many ways to skin a cat, but there are no good ways to tell people that what you're eating is rabbit.
The conversation goes like this:
"That smells delicious. What is it?"
People will still be your friend -- for the most part -- but you'll forever be changed in their eyes. And I understand. I felt this way when my mother announced this past Christmas that she had read the entire "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy.
I could barely look at her.
When Whole Foods started selling rabbit last summer, bunny advocates were said to be "hopping mad." That's what one news agency called it. "Hopping mad."
Members of the House Rabbit Society wrote to the grocery chain: "Most people now know that rabbits are intelligent, funny, curious and emotionally engaging animals, whose role in millions of American households rivals the family's dog or cat. Our supporters do not want a cherished companion animal to be slaughtered and sold at Whole Foods."
I knew none of this, of course, when I bought my first rabbit at the Whole Foods on Hilton Head Island -- especially not the thing about the emotional engagement of bunnies. Not that it would've changed things. I'm a carnivore. Rabbit is an option.
Somewhere around the butcher counter, an employee was handing out samples of the most complex-smelling stew with layers upon layers of earthy flavors. Rather, she was trying to hand out samples. Most interactions went like this:
"Would you like to try some rabbit stew?"
At the checkout counter things escalated, but this is where things often do for me. It's the place where I try to be quick and anonymous. It's the place where cashiers want to discuss what I'm buying.
Someone recently called this practice "validating purchases." It's the moment in which the cashier at any given store seeks to engage you or make you feel good about the money you're about to spend. Most people probably call this "friendliness." I call it "for the love of God stop asking me if the food I'm buying is good. It is. Or it should be. Or I don't know."
Cashiers asking whether the thing you just picked out is "good" is a phenomenon around here. I used to think it was mandated. I pictured the HR videos. "Talk to the customer. Ask her if the ice cream she is buying at 9 p.m. along with that container of Tums is good. Practice. 'IS THIS GOOD?' Say it louder. Hold the container in the air."
But I called the media representatives of Whole Foods and Publix, the two stores I go to most regularly. Turns out their employees are just pleasant people who want to make conversation. Go figure.
At the checkout on Rabbit Day, the cashier didn't ask me if what I was buying was good. Instead, she related a story to me: Her son's pet rabbit had just been run over by a car.
"MAYBE THIS IS HIM!," the bagger said, holding up my 3-pound frozen rabbit so that the cashier and bagger at the adjacent counter could see.
"IT'S A RABBIT!" she told them.
"SHE'S BUYING A RABBIT?!?" they shouted back over the intercom before sending a man in a tricorn hat out to his horse so he could warn the town.
I wasn't able to get anyone to try the rabbit stew I made with NOT THE CASHIER'S SON'S PET RABBIT. I cannot overstate this enough. It wasn't him.
But it was the best dish I've ever made.