Thursday, June 28, 2012

Drawing the Bowstring: A Criticism of Decentralization

It's food week here on Auditor and a Gentleman!

I recently had the pleasure to read a book on the nineteenth-century practices of hunting and fishing. In point of fact I've been fishing before a handful of times, and when I was younger (okay, okay, before I ruined my eyes with late-night sessions on backlit screens), I used to be a decent shot in .22 Long Rifle... not exactly a bear-stopper, mind you, and I've never really been hunting. But the book got me thinking.

There was a time when the majority opinion on the matter was that hunting was little more than a part of rural living. An able hunstman provided food for his family and a means to stretch the thin household budget. Hunters going further back, beyond the time when hunting became a matter for sport, believed that hunting brought predator and prey together. It created a necessary sense of connection to the living animal that reduced the inclination to waste. When you spend all day, sometimes most of the night, stalking for deer, and then finally bring it down, you're going to find a way to use everything. 

I'm not saying that decentralizing the food supply (which happened right around the time of urbanization) was necessarily a bad thing. Lord knows urbanization came hand in hand with a number of other developments that have improved the standard of living in this country and others around the world. I have time to write, time to study, time to play precisely because I live in a city and I am not responsible for growing every grain, fruit, and vegetable I'm going to have beside the piece of rainbow trout I fished out of the lake that afternoon.  I couldn't be a philomath without the modern agricultural system. 

But it's created interesting pattern, a product of a detachment from food. I've worked with people who love ginger in their carrot soup but wouldn't recognize ginger-root if I lifted it up. People that couldn't tell me t-bone from rib-eye. I've cooked at top-flight hotels with cooks that didn't know beef-tongue when they saw it, and couldn't tell me the concise list of ingredients in a proper mirepoix (they called it "soup mix", a combination of no more than carrots, celery, and onion). These raw ingredients are the painter's pallet for the cook, whether they are cooking for themselves at home, trying to eke out a basic level of sustenance on a student budget; or composing seven-course dinners for visiting heads of state. We cannot all be Monet, of course, but folk artists eke out a pretty good living too.

Maybe I take this so seriously because it's what I did for a living and what I still do as a hobby. But I'm getting bored with food again. Bored with walking down the super-market aisles and seeing nothing but "pork loin chops trim cut" and "sirloin marinating steak". There's more to ground beef than extra lean and "Maple or Italian" should not be the only decision I have to make when I'm selecting sausages. Mussels? Oh yes, those come in the blue bag, as opposed to clams, which come in the red. Having presented people with pictures of lobsters yet-living and hearing "why is it brown, is it sick?" is a major part of the reason why I've invested in getting my home kitchen back up to snuff.

All this to lead into the following: in the days to come, I'm going to post a recipe, with (hopefully) photographs, of how to make three meals out of one chicken. Then I'm going to go off into rant-land and talk about some of the more unusual (and usual) cuts of meat we're all collectively ignoring.

It's food week here on Auditor and a Gentleman!

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