NANJING, China—

Today is Valentine’s Day, so let’s think about love for a moment.

We are selfish beings. To love is to consume, to take the best of someone—their bodies, their youth, the best years of their life—all for yourself.

We are generous beings. To be in a relationship is to consent to sacrifice. In Germany, this is sometimes expressed by volunteering to be eaten by another man who posted an online ad seeking someone to eat. Rare, perhaps, but poignant.

In Jiangsu Province, the duck was generous. A creature born to sacrifice, neither too clever nor too quick to avoid the blade. The people of Nanjing have famously relied on the kindness of these ducks for a thousand years. And so in that city, this duck found its last and truest form disassembled in this melamine bowl.

Duck blood and vermicelli soup: Mung bean noodles in a lightly salted broth. Duck blood, curdled, cut into blocks. Then added with intestines and liver. Everything that works so well together in a duck’s life—the blood brings oxygen, the liver cleans the blood, the intestines wring nutrients to feed them both—works in harmony in soup. The blood adds earth, the liver adds smoke, the intestines bring the texture of snapping branches underfoot to them both. In the forest of herbs there’s a glade, a salted pond, and the duck swims contentedly in it, inside out.

And so Nanjingers are generous lovers themselves. They don’t insult the body of their partner. They would never tear a duck apart with machines and toss everything that is not breastmeat into some industrial vat to be used in glues and cosmetics and animal feeds. Instead, they use everything save feathers. And, as a good traveler, I tried to be as my hosts. I was tender to the soup. The soup was tender back.

Happy Valentines Day from Roads and Kingdoms.