December 2, 2019
Food for Thought
As we move into the holidays, a season increasingly known for the food with which we mark it, I wish to give (for it is the season of giving) you some food for thought and have you think about, well, food. Not so much about the food itself, but our relationship with food. I am not intimating that I wish to be intimate with a cheese danish (Should that be capitalized? It is named for a country and coincidently does contain cheese. This point will be important; you’ll see.) but more as we categorize food as a nomenclature. I will show you what I mean.
If I were to sit down for a nice chicken salad, whether it be the kind we spread on a bagel, or the chopped or stripped, grilled chicken kind, curled up with a good book over a nice bed of greens, (Let’s face it, we dress our beds with sheets and blankets, so it is appropriate that our bed of greens receive a nice dressing as well, perhaps Italian (See, this is capitalized.] My favorite Italian dressing? Armani, I should think. I’m a well-dressed mountain man.) where was I? Oh yes, anyway, if I order a chicken salad I expect a certain amount of chicken in my salad. If I’m going to have a ham sandwich, I most certainly expect to have ham on my sandwich. I expect my salmon cake to contain salmon and my crab cake to contain crab. So, the Ides of March and twenty-three stab wounds not-with-standing, I really do not want any Caesar in my Caesar salad. Would it be appropriate to expect that my chicken Caesar salad contain portions of a Roman emperor of less than brave demeanor? And, speaking of Italy, my meatball sub contains meatballs; my turkey sub contains turkey. So, if you are ever invited to the Donner’s for a party (Too soon?), be extra weary of eating the Italian sub. Doesn’t it seem slightly morbid and somewhat cannibalistic to eat a sheppards pie?
I will be honest with you; I use ground turkey in my sheppards pie, so no sheppards were injured in the making of this meal. Truth be told, I use ground turkey in any dish that calls for ground beef (stop judging me. You know you are.). However, I must say that I am beginning to grow somewhat concerned over the ongoing psychological stability of turkey. Turkey just doesn’t seem to know its place anymore, as we find turkey masquerading as all kinds of meats: turkey ham, turkey pastrami, turkey sausage, and turkey bacon. (I guess I shouldn’t be too concerned about the mental and psychological wellness of my foods. Sure, my bacon may have had medical and other problems, but it states clearly on the package that it is now “cured.” That is a relief.) For the most part you do not see the other consumable beings with whom we share the planet acting as other animals. I mean, yeah, occasionally chicken will try to emulate the larger, more successful cousin, the turkey, but is often the case, they just don’t have what the other has (My cousin became the CEO of a major corporation; I became a bohemian mountain man; case in point) . There are no beef turkey breasts, lamb turkey roasts with stuffing. No, all the ungulates, hoofed animals (amazing some of the things that stick with you from biology class), are happy to remain themselves.
This menuable (I hereby coin this term.) self-awareness held by the eatable fauna (turkeys and chicken excepted: oh yeah, and there are those fish that, for some reason, like to pretend that they are crab meat. I just do not understand food these days. In my day, by golly, if a fish was borne a fish, it bloody well stayed a fish, and a turkey knew its place as Thanksgiving dinner. Damn liberal foods! It just ain’t natural, I say….), is not always shared by the consumable flora (more terminology left over from biology class. The late Dr. Blaugh would be so proud….).
What may have started decades passed (no, this is not a typo or grammar mistake. I refer to something that has gone by; passed me, as it were.) as the Ritz imitation crab cake recipe may have formed into a gateway emergence of imitation foods. Back when I was a wee-bit of a lad, when we etched our ACTs on clay tablets and SATs on stone slabs, there was a recipe that came on the back of the Ritz cracker box for imitation crab cakes made with, surprisingly enough, Ritz crackers, but there may have actually been some kind of meat in them. I really don’t know. I was a kid; it’s not like I was actually paying attention to recipes. By the 80s, a decade of plastic clothing and nu wave music (imitation punk?), when supermarket bagels were seen as exotic foods, there emerged the Tofu hot dog and the like. These delectable little substitutes, praised by the emergent vegan groups (no judgment here…) had the taste and consistency of ground cardboard stuffed with grass, though lacking the delightful aftertaste, and that was just about as exciting as meatless got. Then, in the early 90s emerged the next evolutionary leap in the science of imitation food, the black bean burger. What was interesting here is that these didn’t actually taste bad, they just tasted exactly like meat doesn’t; they had the protein content of a good burger, and they fit on the bun. (Be prepared to get stared down with the evil eye when you dared to request cheese with yours.). Chased down with a Corona, a little granola for dessert, they were a passable meal, but still not what they were pretending to be, which is meat. (The 90s also gave us flavored coffee, Pearl Jam, the X-Files, and several of Tom Petty’s best albums, so I mean really, well worth the time spent living it. For arguments sake, we will just pretend Barney never existed. That purple nightmare was scarier than the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.) Still, again I digress. I must get back to meat (or the meatless) of the of the original thread, meat without meat. Now, well immersed into the twenty-first century, we lack the once predicted flying cars and still do not live in space, but there is an entire section of the supermarket for meat substitutes; fast food chains are touting their meat-free burgers, and tofu now is but one choice for the meatless hot dog and sausage. Still, these are all basically foods who seem to have come to grips with the fact that they will never quite be what they set out to be: meat. Some foods, however, have yet to reach the psychologically comfortable place of knowing who and what they are. The other day I bought a package of “Meatless Meatballs.” (Let that simmer for a bit.) These are not declared as “Meatless Meatball Substitutes.” The package quite clearly claims them to be “Meatless Meatballs.” This is at least an oxymoron. What next: Waterless Bottled Water; Cheeseless Macaroni and Cheese? I can understand not wanting to sell a product as “Meatless Balls,” way too ambiguous, but still, should truth not prevail? And speaking of truth, should we not address the area of imitation food that is, in my opinion, just nuts, literally. I am referring to milks. I will not lie, (seriously, I am an extremely honest mountain man), I love me some almonds, but for the wonderful flavor and the health benefits, not for their buxom mammary glands. Almonds are not mammals. They do not produce milk. (Before you ask, yes, I use almond milk. I can’t order my “Skinny Mocha” from Starbucks without it.) Now, the wet-nurse exploitation of our snack foods continues with the advent of “Cashew Milk.” Again, cashews don’t have mammary glands; unlike the handy bovine, they cannot produce milk. The idea is quite literally “utter ridiculous.” I will admit, I have trouble condemning the coconut for its milk production: it is bulbous like the milk gland; it is hairy like a mammal, and it actually produces its “milk” without the aid of human science. As tasty and useful as these things may be, there are not really what they claim to be. They are mere imitations of what they may, in fact, aspire to be. Again, should truth not prevail?
Speaking of truth, if you order from the dessert menu, you expect dessert (pudding for those of you across the pond). Order from the drink menu, you get a drink. So, that being said, what should the passing cannibal expect to receive ordering from the vegetarian and vegan menu? Carnivores have always known that those beasts who do not eat meat are tastier than those that do. So, as the world swirls ever deeper into the truly bizarre, be careful what you order at the local pub. You may be getting exactly what you have indicated (if you really wanted it or not: “Waiter, there is a very odd taste to this Napoleon brandy.” “Well, Sir, it has aged since the nineteenth century.”), or you may be getting something parading in cheap imitation of the real. One must be careful, or you may be getting something that is simply an overstatement of the obvious. Just today I came across “Vegetarian Ketchup.” I know that at one time the term ketchup included a wide plethora of sauces, many with meat by-products of some sort, but in twenty-first century America it is a reference to tomato ketchup, which contains no meat or meat by products, so really all you are paying extra for in “Vegetarian Ketchup” is the added adjective. Well, this is the latest Fairly Random Musings of a Bohemian Mountain Man. Stay warm, and Peace….m