Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Whole Food and Bifurcated Guilt/Pleasure: respecting the food chain by engaging the chain?

Whole Protein - Whole Food - and Personal Denial. Recently i was in france where i had the pleasure of going to a fish market each day to bring home fresh seafood for lunch. What gave me pause is dealing with entire creature corpses. That experience somehow changes one's sense of food a bit, doesn't it?

squid in the sea (image source
 Perhaps people who have hunted or fished their dinners are well familiar with this effect of holding something in one's hand that was so obviously alive and that must now be more or less dissected to be prepared for consumption. Makes one think about this notion of "whole food" perhaps in a somewhat different way.

Some of the catch at a fish stall looks no different than it does at the store: big steaks of halibut or salmon where there's very little in evidence that this was part of something resembling a fish, or to tell one slice from another beyond color. One vendor used the sword of the sword fish as a clever marker to indicate the cuts you see here are from guess what? a sword fish.

The rest of what's on offer at any of the fish mongers i visited however did look very much like the creatures themselves. Fish with eyes in front of their giant heads rather than at the side are some of the most disconcerting - looking very much like "what am i doing here? i never thought it would be like this" Very large snake like eels lie in buckets. Clams glisten and oysters piled up create entirely new if temporary rock formations. Are those shelled creatures still alive? Did that eel just aesphixiate? Does one bash it on the head?

WHOLE, WHOLE Creatures. While we brought home whole fish like brill - often one of the folks at the stall would have cleaned, gutted and beheaded the thing. The sense of whole creatureness was not quite as present. But then, i had the opportunity to bring home squids. This is a whole creature. I did not catch it - i do not know how it is made dead before being placed on crushed ice for sale, but it was certainly clear that this was the whole being. Eyes, body, mouth, tendrils. A carnivore perhaps itself. Did it aesphixiate? looking at fishing sites, they seem to suggest post catch just put the things on ice. So freeze and aesphixiate? I hate the enthusiam i hear in these sites suggesting it is "great fun" to go catch squid And then put them in a cooler. To aesphixiate. I dunno.  I digress.
squid home from the market

 Back in fwance, the fishmonger put three squid i've pointed out into a bag to take home. There they are. Hardly take up any space at all. Relatively cheap protein, fresh. Very whole.

As said i didn't catch these creatures but i am now holding them, whole, in my hands to prepare for eating. It suddenly felt solem, which i suppose only shows both how seldom i deal with whole whole food of the once animate kind, and how removed i am just generally from the whole food chain.

 Preparing squid has several parts - removal of the head lets one get at the body in order to remove a spine that is very much like a crushed clear plastic straw. With this removed, the guts are relatively easy to pull out with a finger from the body. The eyes and beak are also removed. Then the body is skinned, the fins removed to be scored a bit separately. The tendirls may likewise be prepared further - scraping off the suckers - and then the tube of the body is cut into the familiar rings seen in calamari.

squid unsquidded in preparation for cooking
 There is something salutory about breaking down a squid in this way. This whole thing was in the sea recently; now it's in my hands; on the cutting board, these rings no longer recognizable as what it was - now it's in the fry pan, the plate, me.

Consider the Source I don't quite have a handle yet on the whole experience here, but i do think handling truly *whole* food of the post-animate kind is important. Or let me rephrase - it offers an opportunity to get grounded: today i eat the fish; tomorrow the fish eats me?
 At least dealing with these squid, it was made very obvious to me what i was doing. Would that be different if that were the more visible case with the other omnivore acts?
little left to resemble the whole creature now
Animal Ignorance How many of us know anymore from what part of a pig is the meat cured for bacon? where on the cow is the part that become ribeye? It wasn't till i was doing anatomy that i got my god, i'm eating leg muscle. I don't know what i thought meat was, but it put the quads and hamstrings in a whole different light.
i'm not saying anything spectacularly new: Michael Pollan has written about distance of ourselves from the food supply and has, i think also written about the experience of taking a creature from field to table. I understand there are boutique butchers where one learns to break down a carcas - i'm not sure if one actually has to kill and clean the beast - because a carcass ready for butchery just doesn't look like an animal anymore - think all those sides of beef that get punched in Rocky. No doubt there's likely some kill to clean to butcher boutique in California if nowhere else. And good for them. Bet it costs a fortune too. The privilege of getting close to a process that was just normal to some of our elders.
Getting Closer to Real: mixed feelings. I guess from my experience, i'm finding that it's one thing to read Michale Pollan talk about the value of getting to know one's food directly - especially the mobile kind. It's another to actually have the whole thing in one's hands, unmaking it. I felt vaguely horrible taking apart the squid while simultaneously enjoying the process of preparation - of being able to understand the anatomy in order to preapre the meat. It's like sensing both a hot and cold tap both on and not blending - it's very odd. Makes the pleasure of the meal of a slightly different flavour.
I find myself looking for WHOLE proteins in a new way - and wanting to challenge myself - rather than let myself off the hook , as it were, - anytime approaching post animate food sources. Eat less with more care perhaps?

How 'bout you?

1 comment:

hanna said...

It is better to know what are the foods a person is eating. For me, it is important that every details is enlisted and who's who or which one will benefit me and my body better. As a person with zinc deficiency, I am very careful on those food that I eat especially those seafoods. I never eat lousy or any junk foods that may harm my immune system and weakens my body. Engaging on the chain to be more knowledgeable and healthier is very good.


Related Posts with Thumbnails