To try Jarrett's recipe for gaeng om, a soupy, herbal Thai curry to accompany grilled meats or rice, click here.
As I cut into a pale, pink tenderloin from a grass-fed cow, my Thai friend Pim aired her discontent.
"These days, people work for the cows in Thailand, rather than the other way around." Pim is a vegetarian, and she wasn't feeling very good that day. But it wasn't the beef that was bothering her.
For the past 18 months Pim had been working with Hmong refugees from Laos, who had sought shelter in northeastern Thailand. The night before my cooking lesson, these Hmong were abruptly sent back to Laos, over the Friendship Bridge that spans the Mekong River two miles away. They were repatriated as dawn broke. That morning in Nong Khai many people were angry, afraid, and confused. So Pim and I didn't discuss what had happened. Instead, I sliced a slab of cool meat into strips, and listened.
"The other day I was going to work and I saw a man pull over into a field. He took out his machete, and started to cut the grass, piling it in the back of his pickup truck. When I passed by a few hours later, he was still there, still cutting, covered in sweat. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me was getting food for his cow. In the old days in Isaan, cows would work for us, plowing the fields and keeping back the grass, and when they got old we would we eat them. Now we bring grass to them."
As I massaged pepper, garlic, and salt into the meat, I turned over the idea of the slaving farmer in my head. Of the privileged cow on my cutting board. I thought about the convoy of Hmong refugees being returned under darkness, over that bridge down the road. It was a gloomy day in Nong Khai.