30 September 2012

Turkish Delight

While wintering in southern France, I attended a Turkish film festival. I tried a piece of Turkish delight, partly to be polite and partly because I assumed any food with the word “delight” in its name could be nothing short of delightful. (Although admittedly the "Turkish" part should have tipped me off.)

I immediately puked in my mouth, and the vomit tasted so much better than the Turkish delight that I was actually able to swallow it. Fool me once, Turkish delight, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I will never make that mistake again.
According to Wikipedia, Turkish delight is "a
family of confections based on a gel of starch
and sugar." Please. I like my starch pure.
 Do not go gentle into that Turkish delight
But rage, rage against the urge to bite!

29 September 2012

The Egg

In Powers of Horror (which, full disclosure, I have not bothered to attempt to read because there is no point in attempting something if you already know you will fail), Kristeva defines the abject as something that horrifies and repulses us, but also attracts us. It is located at the imaginary border between subject and object, and to confront the abject is to suffer the breakdown of this border, and thus a breakdown of our concept of our own identity. We draw imaginary borders between our self (subject) and what is not our self (other) by ejecting what is not us in the early stages of development (i.e. we eject the mother and draw a border between our self and her)--but it can never be fully expelled and remains on the periphery of our consciousness. Because the breakdown of this border would bring us back to a primordial state--a state of assumed “wholeness,” prior to the separation of subject/object (you guys, WOMBS! Do you see where I’m going?)--the abject at once compels and repels us. To give in to the abject is to submit to a kind of reckless abandon, or jouissance if you want to get fancy about it; therefore “one thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims--if not its submissive and willing ones” (Kristeva 9).

How can anyone eat something that looks like a wart?
Kristeva likens the abject to corpses, shoes found at Auschwitz, shit, and most relevant to our purposes here, certain foods (in this case, skin on milk):
“I experience a gagging sensation and, still father down, spasms in the stomach, the belly; and all the organs shrivel up the body, provoke tears and bile, increase heartbeat, cause forehead and hands to perspire” (2 - 3).
Eggs are my milk-skin.* Eggs inspire in me a kind of horror that is not realised in any other kind of food. While I can watch another person consume an egg with an air of removed disapproval and rapt interest, if I am confronted with the possibility of having to eat one myself, I am gripped by an anxious nausea and brought to the brink of tears.

The only kind of “good egg” is a baked egg. Eggs can be used to make meringues or cakes and other delectable treats, but that is the extent of their purpose. All eggs that stand alone as a meal unto themselves are “bad eggs.” 
Oh my God. Look at this. Look at how revolting this is. It
looks like one of those creepy wild mushrooms you sometimes
encounter in the woods that are always bursting apart, and your
first reaction is to panic because you can't understand why nature
would create something so horrifying. THESE ARE BORDERS
Of the various ways to prepare an egg, scrambled seems to me the most harmless. The process of scrambling destroys  any semblance of the egg’s original form and we are left with clods of yellow, rather than the truly terrifying egg/yolk dynamic. Boiled eggs, although perhaps easier to digest visually, strike me as the most offensive to our nostrils and taste buds, and the process of peeling the shell and slicing into the liquid that is now solidified is panic inducing. The poached egg specifically is where we approach the abject, and actually comes to symbolize it: the tenuous border that contains the yolk is as tenuous as the border that separates the subject/object and is just as easily transgressed.

Despite my totally rational fear of poached eggs, I nevertheless feel myself drawn to them. If I am with someone who is about to consume a poached egg, I cannot tear my eyes away and feel compelled to watch the first instance when the fork punctures the bulb of the yolk and the yellow liquid oozes forth, disrupting any former boundary between white and yolk. What’s more, every once in a while, I want to engage in this depraved act myself. I want to revel in my own depravity, just as I have watched countless others do before me; I want to observe as my own identity oozes out of itself and as meaning collapses.

But I have resisted because we must remain vigilant against the abject and struggle to retain some scrap of meaning and concept of our self if we are to survive. And for the record, I have eaten eggs before. I have eaten fried and scrambled eggs, and I remember with stark horror the one day a week my mum would prepare a poached egg for breakfast, and I would beg her to cook it to the point where the yolk could no longer ooze. Rumours have been circulating that there was a time in my life when I devoured eggs with apparent relish, but it was a time before the mirror stage and before I entered into language and the symbolic order, and please God, don’t let me go back there.
*Someone should be turning this sentence into a meaningful piece of art.
Ugh! On toast!? Thick yellow liquid soaking into crispy toast?
That's disgusting.

Scrambled, fried, poached, or boiled,
Our identity the egg has spoiled.
It lures us towards its traps,
Towards the place of meaning-collapse.

More than the shoes found at Auschwitz
Or the corpse pocked with bloody slits
It complicates the subject/object,
And that is why the egg is abject.

The Shallot

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a shallot as:
  1. a small bulb which resembles an onion and is used for pickling or as a substitute for onion.
  2. the plant which produces shallots, each mature bulb producing a cluster of smaller bulbs.
A pathetic attempt at an onion.
I know because I looked it up. Because I had no idea what a shallot was. The OED also offered this helpful spelling (t)ip: “Spell shallot with a double l.” Anyway, I’ll make this short since the shallot holds no interest for me. Onions are plentiful, so I would never feel the need to find a substitute. To address the second and more admirable point that the Oxford English Dictionary brings up: while I have no need for shallots, I am quite fond of bulbs.

In conclusion, the shallot is redundant and unnecessary.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
My tum lets out a gentle sigh:
A tender inkling for a pie.
But, perhaps, on second thought
There is no time to make the dough
No need for pie, therefore forego
Devoid of food, but full of woe--
Alas! There's only the Shalott*
*Tennyson evidently did not receive the OED's memo.


Nuts can be a difficult category to pin down because there are so many different varieties. In theory, the nut should be the perfect food. It is portable and snackable, and therefore resists strict alignment with any social food practice: one does not need to get dressed up or abide by any culinary custom in order to enjoy a nut. And yet, for the most part, nuts are disgusting. They confuse us with their careful packaging. It is human nature to want to know what lies beyond that hard shell and to get to the meat of the nut’s nature, as it were. When we do crack open the shell, we are almost always disappointed. Although nuts are a varied group--they come in all shapes and sizes--they share one thing in common: none of them taste good and they’re all too expensive for what you get. In fact, the only two nuts worth eating also happen to not be nuts. The cashew, for instance, grows inside of a kidney-shaped fruit attached to another fruit, and is therefore actually a seed and not a nut. Meanwhile, the peanut can be found underground because it is a legume. But I refuse to abide by the laws of botanical science, which try to tell me that a tomato is a fruit and a cashew is a seed. The classification of these foods should depend on their use, and not some science geek who starts all of his sentences with either “Well, actually...” or “Did you know...” For all intents and purposes (and intensive purposes, since the cashew and peanut are excellent sources of energy), both can be considered nuts.

I have chosen to begin and end this post with the cashew and the peanut so that the reader might get his/her hopes up with the cashew, only to have them dashed by the other nuts, and then experience a kind of redemption with the peanut.
The Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk, who was drowned a sea of nuts for
refusing a walnut offered to him by King Wenceslaus.
Cashews: The cashew is one of the few nuts fit for human consumption, and its deliciousness lies in its impracticality. It is born of a revolting fruit, one which I have had the distinct displeasure of actually tasting. The cashew fruit will suck all moisture from your mouth, and with it, the will to continue living in a world cruel enough to create this fruit in the first place. Some people actually eat this fruit, but presumably only the kind of people who are too poor to buy the cashews (likely the cashew harvesters). The singular cashew grows within a poisonous comma-like addendum to the fruit, which must be roasted outdoors before it can be safely ingested. The intensive labour involved in harvesting the cashew and the danger involved in roasting it is a mark of luxury and good taste.

Pecans: Pecans look like wrinkled and diseased vulvas and should be avoided at all costs. They have no culinary value and are aesthetically displeasing and disruptive to the common good. They also lead to the unfortunate pronunciation of “pe-cawn,” which lends a false sense sophistication to what is in actuality a banal and middle-class nut.

Walnuts: Walnuts are sometimes considered “the poor man’s cashew,” as if just placing a bowl of walnuts in your living room will put you on par with your more affluent neighbours, who can not only afford a dish of cashews for company, but are also sophisticated enough to use the word “dish” instead of the unrefined “bowl.”

Hazelnuts: Hazelnuts are not edible and therefore are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Acorns: Like hazelnuts, acorns are also totally inedible. But unlike hazelnuts, they are adorable and warrant our attention.
Although Saint Francis committed himself to living
in poverty, he could not give up his mountain of nuts
and refused to share them. His selfishness was awarded
with sainthood, in true Catholic fashion.
 Pistachios: These “oysters of the trees” are as offensive and revolting as the actual oysters of the sea. They look like a cyst in the process of bursting, or, more horrific yet, an oyster. An interesting parallel can be drawn between the lazy activity of cracking open a pistachio shell and eating the hardened vomit inside to the plebeian activity of sitting on a porch, whittling a piece of wood. There is also a disconcerting dust-like material coating the shell.

Almonds: There is only one appropriate way to eat an almond, and that is to wait until the Grand Forks Art Gallery is catering a social event which prompts your mother to buy a giant bag of pre-sliced almonds from Costco, roast them in the oven to be used in some unknown and highfalutin dessert, and then store them in a stainless steel dish on top of the dinner plates for you to graze on as you drift through the kitchen, waiting for your actual dinner of starches and cheese to be prepared for you.

Chestnuts: These little brown gems are pure delight, so long as you never try to eat one. Collecting chestnuts and storing them in pockets or displaying them in jars is a perfect passtime for any self-respecting individual, but taking the next step and trying to eat one is not. Chestnuts grow within a spiky burr-like covering, and when they begin to make their way out of this frightening womb, they resemble a violent caterpillar shedding its horrific skin, revealing the beautiful brown bulb of a butterfly within.

Macadamia: The common name, “Queen of Nuts,” is an offense to the institution of monarchy. These cheap Hawaiian souvenirs* give the impression of class, but don’t be fooled: they are as ordinary as they come. Only an uncouth commoner would be taken in by this ruse.
Saint Lucy, who refused to marry a pagan, offered
him a plate of macadamia nuts instead. He
accepted the deal. She is often portrayed holding a
tray of nuts and is the patron saint of hostesses.
Peanuts: And now the time has come to end this otherwise rather dour post on a positive and hopeful note. Do not despair! Not all nuts deserve our disdain! The peanut, along with its more urbane cousin, the cashew, is capable of saving the nut classification from utter disgrace and embarrassment. Although peanuts do not have the same luxurious touch as the cashew, they are nevertheless more adaptable to our changing times. Everything has peanuts! Which is why peanut allergies are so rampant: we must purge the human race of those of us who cannot be accommodated within this new era. If I had a quarter for every time a peanut saved my life whilst stranded in the wilds of the revolting Eastern European culinary landscape, I would have enough quarters to live off of peanuts for the rest of my life. All hail the mighty peanut, king among nuts.

* I seem to recall a time in elementary school when everyone was going on vacation to Hawaii and invariably bringing back macadamia nuts as a tasty treat for the class. I, of course, never degraded myself by ingesting a single one. Nor have I since. Incidentally, they are actually Australian, which only adds to the many number of reasons to dismiss them as a food worth eating. Nothing good has ever come out of Australia. 

Recent scholarship has found that it was more likely
a pecan, and not an apple, that led to man's fall from grace.

When choosing nuts, be selective
Some are good, but most destructive.
Limit yourself to the peanut and cashew,
All others, for God's sake, eschew, eschew! 

28 September 2012

The Eggplant

When I was 8, I spent  a week at a cabin by the lake with my father. To entertain myself between intermittent fishing expeditions, I wrote an extra-curricular essay on the eggplant. It was entitled “Eggplants” and the opening line was: “The Eggplant is a vegetable of ancient origin.” In the period of two days I produced what I would like to imagine was an eight-page manuscript of genius, but what was more likely one page of hand-scrawled notes, plus an extra page of drawings that I did myself.
I have always been fascinated by the beauty of eggplants, but I would never, under any circumstances, be willing to commit the sin which must surely be associated with the destruction of such perfect and divine beauty--no level-headed individual would ever dream of stuffing da Vinci’s “Last Supper” down his or her gullet, no matter what the nutritional value may be, and even considering that this artistic abortion cannot come close to matching the natural perfection of the eggplant.  The eggplant, with its rich and royal violet colouring, its gently curving bulb, and its natural gloss, is and should be an object of admiration and not of consumption.

But don’t let this soft-spoken solanum trick you: the aubergine is not as it appears. The eggplant is an impostor and a traitor. It is an iron hand in a rich, beautiful, luxurious velvet glove. Inside, it is a sickly greenish-yellow, resembling the colour of unhealthy urine. It is full of tiny, soft, bitter seeds, on whose merit alone, the sneaky aubergine has managed to creep its way into the berry family, giving the unsuspecting eater a false sense of security and deliciousness. It has an unsavoury soft and mushy interior texture, which of course is indicative of its soft and mushy (read: deceitful) character. A more refined palate would be right to display this rotund beauty on the mantle rather than violently slicing it up to reveal the evil and treacherous creature within, this Judas of the vegetable kingdom.

But let us not discard of the eggplant entirely. Let us recognize and revel in its merits. Despite offending us with its interiority, it calms and soothes us with its exteriority. It is a celebration of creation, and pregnant with the divine perfection of God. Can one honestly gaze upon the bloated curvature of the eggplant and not see the Virgin Mary reflected in its glossy skin? The regal dressing and its calm demeanor? The modestly covered head and swollen abdomen? The eggplant deserves our reverence, not the destructive force of our bowels.

Why I Won't Eat It

  • the flesh has an unappealing texture and colour
  • I imagine it would either taste very bitter or have no taste at all
  • I rarely see an eggplant whose skin has not been bruised or scarred in someway

Possible Cooking Techniques

  • I think bite-sized portions of eggplant could probably be slipped into something like a minestrone soup without notice or cause for complaint.
  • any dish that prominently features eggplant or could not exist without an eggplant should be avoided at all costs

When you gaze upon the aubergine,
Remember its beauty goes no further than its shell
And within its skin the ghastly horrors dwell:
Those villainous seeds enmeshed in flesh of sickly green.

The Mango

Mangoes are not fit for human consumption. Like most things from the third world, the mango’s purpose is to patiently wait for it to be improved upon in the form of juice or as an artificial flavour. The actual mango is nearly impossible to quarter and revolting to ingest. It is full of little hairs (which have no place inside of a fruit!!!) and has an unpleasant texture which is simultaneously too soft, too hard, and too slimy. However, begrudgingly I must admit that mangoes don’t have an entirely unpleasant taste. I tried a fresh one once when I was in Colombia (I couldn’t bring myself to try the papaya), more out of sheer desperation than anything else. I did not feel the immediate urge to gag, however the hairs were very unpleasant and off-putting. I would not try another mango.
Look at this beautifully cubed mango! What a
beautiful bed it would make! And if you got cold,
you could wrap yourself in its hairs.

Here are some appropriate things to do with a mango:
  • Look at store displays. Ripe mangoes are a beautiful swirling of reds, oranges and yellows. If you see an unripe green mango, avert your gaze.
  • Watch someone cut up a mango into cubes that are still attached to the skin. Then imagine yourself laying on top of a giant cubed-mango divan.
That’s about it. Mangoes are extremely limiting.

You ate a mango? How exotic!
But honestly, it’s quite quixotic:
Why spend your money on some hair
When your head alone has enough to spare?

27 September 2012

The Function of Food at the Present Time: You Are Not What You Eat

The Atlanta burger that started my love
affair with burgers. I will never be able
fully express my devotion to and
admiration for burgers.

Eating is necessary to sustain life, but eating is not the spice of life. There is a pervasive idea in our food-obsessed culture that what we eat has some bearing on our fundamental identity: that what we put inside of our body has some correlation to what is inside of ourselves, that is to say, our interiority; that the complexity of our diet somehow speaks to our complexity as a person; that a refined palate is equal to refinement, period.

I do not challenge the social role of food in our lives. Beyond merely sustaining life, the act of eating is an important social practice. We spend time together when we share meals, we use food and eating as a medium through which to celebrate and mourn certain events, etc. But with the exception of specific religious rituals (wafers at communion; unleavened bread at Passover), it is not what we eat during these occasions, but when and with whom we eat. There is nothing inherently Thanksgiving-y about a turkey, and that we often celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey does not mean that we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving equally well with a plate of mashed potatoes and a bowl of frozen pees instead. 

I have no objection to people enjoying what they eat or having a diverse diet. But do not pretend that collecting ingredients and cooking is akin to art, or that enjoying that food is akin to appreciating a work of art. Here’s a helpful tip to differentiate the two: art doesn’t turn into poo once you’ve admired it. Food has been raised up to the realm of aesthetics by a group of people who are so devoid of any appreciation of art that this is their only access point to the arts. There is a sense that by indulging in it or talking about it or studying it or by buying all of those fancy cookbooks that now occupy valuable shelf space in any given bookstore--and if this goes unchecked, soon we will have some asshole’s musings on mussels creep up right along side Ovid’s musings on love, on the same shelf!--we can improve ourselves and become better people and cultivate a greater understanding of the world around us.

And please. Do not get me started on the supposed merits of eating ethnic food. Eating ethnic food is not to engage with that ethnic culture in any meaningful way. You do not gain a deep appreciation of any given culture just because you have eaten the same food that that culture typically eats or is associated with.

There is something fundamentally wrong about trying to create connections between what we eat and our identity, or what we eat and our appreciation of beauty and art, or what we eat and our ability to engage with other cultures. These things are not simply ingested; they must be cultivated (and not in some garden way that is actually about food). While it’s true that I am boring and have no interest in my own identity; that I have a limited appreciation for art and almost no appreciation for beauty; and that I don’t care much for engaging with other cultures, it is not true that I am all of these things because of my exceptionally bland diet. I’m just an uninteresting person that doesn’t care about others and who doesn’t believe that beauty still exists in our cold, cruel world--who just so happens to also have an exceptionally bland diet.

If you think a bland diet is comparable to hell
You've obviously never seen the pasta that is shaped like a shell