Author: David Tam McDonald

“A young fringling, Madame,” the waiter said with surprise and unconcealed offence, “is a delicacy like no other, I assure you. The taste is close to a sweet potato but with a satisfying umami undertone. The texture is sublime. Creamy and soft, hardly like a meat at all. And perfectly smooth, perfectly. The internal organs, simply liquefy during baking and there isn’t a trace of them in the finished dish.” The waiter clicked his lips shut, having delivered the final word on the palatability of fringling, the cute and utterly delicious alien vertebrate which the world was going nuts for: baked or fried. Fringling was among the first species brought back to Earth by the Zoo Rover space programme and whilst most of the alien species were sequestered in labs and research institutes, fringlings had been quickly monetised and the population was thriving. They were good-natured and enjoyed a tummy tickle, so were popular pets, but most lived on farms, where they were well fed and sheltered until they were fat enough to be slaughtered as alien delicacies. Whole fringling, baked or deep fried, had become wildly popular in restaurants whilst the off cuts were used in Fringling Fricassée by fast food carts. Fricaséed, the flavour was somewhat overwhelmed by garlic, and the texture obliterated by over cooking, but the combination of alien exoticism and alliteration made them a hit on the street food scene.

“Dad please!” I said, slightly ashamed of the childish whine in my voice. “Please don’t order the fringling. I couldn’t stand to watch you eat one.”

I had begun to wonder if people should be eating fringling. Animal rights activists secretly filming fringling farms had evidence of them using language. I’d seen one video where a pair looked like they were having a lover’s tiff; in another one a fringling held court whilst three others listened, rapt, to its squawks and warbles, before collapsing in what looked very much like tiny hysterics. A guy on the internet, who had a fringling as a pet, posted a picture of it sitting up on hind legs with a can of beer, comically oversized, between its legs, and drinking contentedly through a straw. He claimed his fringling used its trunk, about as long as a human thumb and more dextrous, to open the cans, and that it preferred pale ale to lager. The anecdotal evidence was overwhelming: fringlings were pretty smart. At least as smart as a stupid human.

I composed myself and lowered my voice; “Dad, you should not eat fringlings, they have feelings and emotions. It’s wrong. Why don’t you just have a steak?”
“Darling,” he deadpanned as the waiter filled his glass with the wine he’d recommended for pairing with fringling, “cows have feelings too. If we eat cows then we can eat fringlings.” The waiter nodded in encouragement and began to fill Mum’s glass too.
“Cows aren’t intelligent like fringlings though. I showed you the videos Dad: they can do maths.”
“Well arithmetic darling,” dad said, “it’s not like they can do quadratic equations. Simple arithmetic. Dolphins can probably do simple arithmetic too.”
“Yes, but we don’t eat dolphins Dad, do we?” I said, sensing victory.
“No, WE don’t,” said Dad impatiently, “but some people do, and perhaps we’d all be happier if we spent less time judging people for what they eat.” Dad unrolled his napkin, smoothing it out on his lap meticulously.
“But Dad- “I began again, and I couldn’t help the whine in my voice.
Dad cut me off. “Darling, it is my birthday and I am going to eat a fringling and that is the end of it.”