she who keeps this diary

25 January 2006 - 10:39 AM

Respect the pig

So, indeed, French women do get fat, after all.

There's some consolation, if only in the form of schadenfreude, in that.

Actually, I don't hate the French, though that's an unfashionable position in the U.S. right now. I am probably at least as guilty of cultural snobbery and as excessively fond of elegance as the French, as a people, are alleged to be, so hating the French puts me in uncomfortable psychological territory. Furthermore, while I have met obnoxious, rude, snotty French people, I've also met charming, kind, generous French people who were delightful to be around and did not mock my unfortunate semi-Quebecoise accent. It's hard to hate people whom you know to be pleasant.

Besides, hating people takes energy and I've got little enough of that to spare as it is.

I have an idea that this 'epidemic of obesity' about which the French have become agitated, and the Americans have been agitated for some time, is linked to the fact that most of us are cut off from our food supplies -- that is, we don't live on farms anymore, mostly only see beef on styrofoam trays in the supermarket, not on the hoof, and the same for lamb and pork and chicken. Likewise most of us don't grow vegetables other than the occasional tomato plant. We like food, and we eat it, but we really have very little invested in it. If I were going to revert to the kind of psychobabble jargon I used to hear around OLPA, I'd say our disconnection from the food supply leaves us without a sense of ownership in it. If you don't have that sense of ownership, you likely lack the corresponding sense of pride, and thus McDonald's prospers in France as in the rest of the world.

It doesn't help that many of us in the post-industrial West have jobs that involve us sitting on our butts for 8 hours at a stretch, instead of, say, mucking out the barn. Yes, we could get off our duffs and go to the gym, but for me at least, the gym is not fun. Whatever the gods were thinking when they brought me into the world, it was not 'athlete.' I spend a great deal of my day doing things which either Must Be Done or are The Right Thing To Do and I do not intend to add the gym to one of those lists when it brings me no joy.

That said, of course I should spend more time in the garden, doing heavy housework, and walking the dog. But I'm getting off track.

For Yule, among some other things, the Viking gave me Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines which is (mostly) a memoir of the making of his FoodTV show of the same name. It's a very funny book (I giggled madly the whole time I was reading it), but Bourdain also has some serious points to make about the business of food and eating, two of which may be relevant to my point here. The first is a recounting of the slaughter of a pig in Portugal and the subsequent feast; the second was the experience of a vegan potluck event in California. The striking thing for me at least was the respect accorded to the pig in the first case (which was not any kind of squishy new age thanking the pig for allowing the Portugese farm family to cut its throat and turn it into black pudding and roasts), and the total lack of respect for the vegetables in the second. Yes, slaughtering the pig was a brutal, bloody scene, and yes the animal was frightened and didn't want to die. But the family which slaughtered it treated its carcass with respect. It became pudding and roasts and hams, sausage casings and stew. Yes, they ate the tripe, and they took pride in cooking it in a way which both tasted good and didn't pretend that tripe was something else.

Compare that with the vegan potluck, which was outstanding for its lack of interest in vegetables as vegetables. Is there something inherently awful about, say, cauliflower that it has to be gooped up with imitations of dairy products to be edible? Tofu is, of itself, a legitimate foodstuff and can be prepared in ways which are tasty and nourishing without disguising the fact that's it's bean curd. Why require it to be turkey, or a hot dog?

That's the problem, really. We live in a culture (and this is not just in the US, but everywhere, now) which no longer respects food as food. It's all about 'daily values' and 'anti-oxidants' and the rest of that twaddle. If you enjoy a meal, it's an indulgence, and treated as a moral failing. Yes, the quality of our diets affects our health, and yes, broccoli is better for our cardiac condition than bacon. But when we reach the conclusion that the time has come to set aside bacon and take up broccoli, why can't we do it with respect for what broccoli is, rather than cooking it to oblivion and covering it with soy cheese, or making it disappear into some kind of homemade V-8 in our overpriced juicers? I think it's in part that we didn't grow that broccoli, nor did we raise the pig.

verso - recto

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