Monday, September 23, 2013

food dilemmas

our blog camp goes to MIT course continues, this week with further readings on food paradoxes. i allowed myself to be inordinately annoyed by one of the readings - cheap meat: flap food nations in the pacific islands by deborah gewertz and frederick errington. annoyed by the insecurity of the academics writing it, insecurity that led them to constantly justify and repeat themselves throughout in a most off-putting way. perhaps i am too far from academe now to appreciate the capricious ways of gaining tenure. it mainly just made me think they were really insecure, which weakened their thesis somewhat. and it's sad because their thesis is a good one - put simply, it's that there is power and economics behind what's available on the shelves of our grocery stores. and if you're poor and powerless and live on a remote pacific island, you just might find yourself eating the fatty belly (or flap) of a sheep.

i was so irritated by the book that despite the many readings ahead, i went off-syllabus and started reading margaret visser's the rituals of dinner. this was appropriate because this past weekend, we engaged in our own yearly dinner ritual - the annual gathering we have with the swedish side of the family, to eat crayfish, sing silly drinking songs in swedish and drink too much snaps and wine and beer and catch up with everyone.

i suppose at one time, these crayfish parties came about because crayfish were in season and could be caught in the waterways of sweden. now, we get them frozen in a dilly brine from china. all we do is thaw them out, arrange them nicely on a big serving dish, throw on some fresh dill and serve with homemade bread, aioli and an assortment of beautiful savory tarts.

we wash them down with plenty of seasonal beers and snaps and wine for those of us who prefer that. we sing swedish drinking songs and toast and we talk and laugh and see members of the family that we pretty much only see on those occasions. and it's a wonderful ritual and we wouldn't miss it for the world, even if the crayfish do come from china these days. we don't even talk about that, actually. even tho' we are otherwise people who buy organic and eat in season and go in for paleo new nordic hay-infused homemade yogurt, the fact that our crayfish aren't local is a topic of which we don't speak. tho' it should be a dilemma for us, it's not. because making it so might get in the way of our yearly gathering and we love that ritual. if we couldn't have the crayfish due to the food miles or the potential pollution to which they've been exposed in their chinese homeland, we might not get together at all. because although it's not all about the crayfish, somehow it's all about the crayfish.

i can't help but feel even more strongly what i thought in the very beginning of this course, that, especially in the so-called first world, we all engage in our own brand of logic when it comes to food and our food choices. we can justify it all, or we can just ignore and choose not to more closely examine the things that don't necessarily align with the way we see ourselves.

interestingly, on the subject of those fatty belly flaps from our reading, it seems that at least here in denmark, those on the cutting edge of the culinary world (e.g. noma and the new nordic food folks) are making those cheaper, fattier cuts of meat trendy - you can order pork belly in fine restaurants these days, so these things change just like spring and winter fashions. and once the flaps have gone upscale, what cut of meat will be left for the pacific islanders? and what about the chinese who would like to eat their own crayfish?

there are so many food-related dilemmas, it could almost put a girl off eating. naah...

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if you'd like to check out what the others in our virtual course are thinking about these issues, go to the flipboard magazine i've created - it's called food & culture, i've flipped all of our blog posts into one iPad-friendly flippable magazine for your reading pleasure.


Spilling Ink said...

Yes, indeed there was a time when we went out fishing for the crayfish in August when they're in season. We would lay the traps in the evening, baited with fishheads, and then come back in pre-dawn and get our haul which was then carried back in big buckets.

Mum and my aunts would go about cooking them in big pots (lots of salt and dill in the pot) so they could cool down before evening when the feast begun (lots of schnapps and silly song singing!).

Aaaah! Those were the days!

julochka said...

there was one year where we had fresh, local ones, but to be honest, they're so expensive that none of us can afford enough for 20-some people! plus, they can be hard to find, even if you could justify splurging.

did the ones you caught come from lakes or the sea?

Spilling Ink said...

They came from lakes. We had a lot of them where I lived (inland in Småland) but they were in steady decline in the 80s - I think it was due to disease and also acidic water due to pollution (the so called acid rains). "Homegrown" crayfish were expensive back then and we used to get them from Turkey frozen but if you knew someone who had fishing rights in a lake somewhere you could get lucky. We used to catch them for fun in the lake when we were kids but we had to let them go plus they were never really all that good at playing pet with you!

I'm jealous of you though even if you had Chinese imposters ;) - it's a very important feast for the Swedes you know!

Haddock said...

Nice clear pictures. Like those small glasses.

rayfamily said...

Pork belly is becoming popular here too. We actually cooked it in our dinner club a couple of months ago. Yes, good point, I wonder what is next if the first world decides this is an acceptable meat. What a great family tradition!

Laura Doyle said...

The way you describe your holiday makes me wish we had more such holidays in the states. We have Thanksgiving but that's such a labor-intensive affair. I would like smaller holidays and traditions like this.

And although this is somewhat irrelevant, on a deeper note, I've been dealing with some particularly heavy emotional family issues and the very thing that I've been pondering you said so simply and elegantly. "we can justify it all, or we can just ignore and choose not to more closely examine the things that don't necessarily align with the way we see ourselves." It applies to more than just our food choices. Thank you for that moment of perfect clarity. : )