Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hot Dogs

Meet Daisy.

This adorable pug belongs to a friend of mine, and she can chase her tail up to 47 clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations (and that's *rotations*--when you factor in how many circles she spins each way, you're looking at 47 x 6 and that's, well, mindboggling). Daisy's adorable, there's no question about it--but what exactly is it about these domesticated heroes that spawns such international anti-dog meat politics?

Various countries around the world have been known to offer dog meat as a meat option on their menus; while they're mostly concentrated in the Southeast Asian region, this controversial meat is also favored in certain German, Swiss, Mexican and Nigerian communities. By now, we know that these animals aren't skinned alive by their owners for soiling the living room rug or turned into supper if their barking is bothering the neighbors--dog meat has become an industry and certain breeds are farmed for meat, while others are raised for 'pet' purposes. Then why is there such an outcry when dog meat is mentioned as part of a national cuisine, the likes of which is enough to spawn governmental regulation, international social movements and underground markets?

The Chinese government banned dog meat this summer in Olympics-designated restaurants and strongly suggested that other food outlets in Beijing follow stead. The reasoning? Beijing News quotes the municipal food department as saying that the measure was implemented to "respect the habits of many countries and nationalities." Interesting, considering people are visiting China and eating dog meat happens to be one of the many habits that that particular country and its nationality entertain. (FYI, it was available elsewhere in China, because B had some dog-soup when he was there in July. Soup wouldn't exactly be the way I'd try a meat for the first time, as broth is just about the most unforgiving of reductions, but that's neither here nor there. I love how experimental my partner is!) What exactly qualifies as a practice so offensive that people who choose to come to your country should be humored and have their sensitivities prioritized to the point where restaurants who violate the regulation would be so heavily sanctioned by their own government as to put them out of business? And this isn't the first time: in 2002, animal rights activists around the world petitioned FIFA to pressure the South Korean government to ban the sale of dog meat during the World Cup.

The two most common arguments employed against eating dog meat are incredibly easy to deconstruct when they're closely examined. First, dog meat is obtained cruelly. Certain activist organizations decry the cruelty with which dogs are allegedly slaughtered in Southeast Asian countries. Well, if cruelty's the stumbling point (as it certainly ought to be), then activists' interference in South Korean governmental legislation that tries to standardize humane killing methods, as they apply to commercial livestock, makes no sense. Then enters the second argument, basically referring to the companionship that dogs provide to humans. The same activists above, for example, state that dogs (and cats) are "bred to trust and love humans." Actually, in Korea and most of the other countries where it's eaten, they're not. Domesticated pets are often an unproductive luxury that the majority of people in developing nations can't afford, much less attach imperalist taboos to. And, by that reasoning, plenty of people in cultures and communities outside the West consider cows and goats to be their pets; does that mean their meat should similarly be outlawed in this country?

As William Saletan rightly asks in this piece, what is so wrong with eating dog meat? These activists are NOT calling for the end of consumption of all animals--that would be an absolute position I could get behind, as carnivorous as I am. If you believe it's wrong to eat animals, then dogs qualify, fine. But, if you can't offer me any better reason for why you single dogs out of the mix, than 'they're man's best friend,' and I tell you that they're actually not in most of these places, and you still insist that other cultures are wrong to be eating what you, yourself, consider to be morally repugnant, I'm going to call you a cultural imperialist.

How a few countries in the West can shame others into abandoning aspects of their own customary diets through the psychology of 'social taboos' would likely have driven Foucault and his ideas of norms and discursive power wild with anticipation (and vindication). And why it's certain animals and certain countries over others would have been more excitement than his precious heart could have handled. Why is guinea pig OK to eat in Peru and Ecuador, for example? Last time I checked it's so popular that classrooms across the U.S. are teaching children how to fall in love with these rodents.

I guess we'll have to wait until the World Cup lands in one of these countries for the guinea pig to be set free.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Don't 'Goat Curried' Away!

So in our progressive, contemporary, and unconventional living arrangement, I cook on Mondays and Wednesdays, B cooks on Thursdays and Sundays, T cooks on Tuesdays and Fridays or Saturdays and we fend for ourselves on the day leftover. Last night, I cooked goat curry and thought that folks might enjoy the recipe, age-old and a family-classic. My table-mates have also tired of my fun-facts (or "obsession" as they call it--whatever.) regarding moose, so I'll tell you all a little bit about goats below. And from now on, Mondays and Wednesdays will feature recipes for the foodies among you.

Goat Curry....mmmm
1-2 lbs. goat (shoulder chops or ribs)
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
4-5 cloves
10 peppercorns
1 2-inch stick of cinnamon
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. chili powder
1.5 cups yoghurt
1 tbsp. garam masala
2 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. ginger, minced

Marinate the goat in the yoghurt, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chili powder, and salt for at least 30 minutes. Heat the oil in some frying oil, and when the oil starts spitting, add the peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves. Add the onions and tomatoes and fry the mixture for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are browned. Now add the goat pieces and garam masala and fry it all up for about another 10 minutes, until the goat is browned on all sides. Pour the entire mixture in a slow cooker, and add water until the chops are just slightly covered. Cook it for 6 hours on the high setting, or 8 hours on the slow setting. Serve with basmati rice and raita.

Goat is now my favorite meat, no questions asked. Low cholesterol, low fat, tender, etc. But when I was growing up, all I knew about goats was what I saw in cartoons--namely, goats were sort of slow, dopey, junkyard-scavenging creatures with appetites for everything from tin cans to rotten vegetables. As I grew older, I learned that goats are actually incredibly intelligent, clean and picky animals; the only reason they got typecast as garbage-prowlers was their rabid curiosity--they'll nibble on buttons and bottles to figure out what they are, but they'll stop there. On the other hand, they do eat their own placenta (look out for future posts on this topic), but that's survival instinct in order to evade predators attracted to the birth-smell of vulnerable prey. Still seems pretty smart to me.

The myth of a goat's ravenous appetite reared its inaccurate head once again in the children's story, The Pet Goat, in 1997. The story became infamous when President Bush continued reading it to a classroom of elementary school children in Sarasota, Florida even after he'd been told by his CoS that the second plane had crashed into the WTC on September 11, 2001. I'm not interested in getting into a discussion over whether Bush was wrong to continue the classroom-reading while the rest of the country was shutting down in fear. What's more interesting, and pretty much left undiscussed, is the irony of the plot in this particular children's story. The story is about a young girl's pet goat who eats everything in its path, to the point where her father thinks the goat is literally going to eat the family out of house and home. The father is ready to expel his young daughter's companion, breaking her blessed heart, when the goat foils a robbery by horn-butting the burglar. Thankful, the father changes his tune and welcomes the goat into their home.

The moral of the story? If the father had acted on his first, harsh impressions of the goat, the long term interest of the family would have gone to shit. Or profiling clouds our understanding of the true character of individuals and we should avoid it at all costs. Hell, maybe even that, in the family's time of need, it wasn't an overly vigilant Neighborhood Watch that foiled the burglary, but help came from where it was least expected. Maybe Bush kept on reading the story, instead of leaping to lead the country, because he was curious as a goat to see how the story ended.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Pretensions of Cheese

And here's an entry to serve as testament to the fact that this is, indeed, a foodie-blog. Out of necessity, there must be a few words about cheese.

Look, I'll admit it, I get nervous when a plate of cheese is brought out by my host or hostess and it's met by variations of the following statement: "Goodness! Where did you find all these wondrous samples, in this pitiful country that wouldn't know a delectable piece of cheese if it grew on its own nose?" It can be at the beginning of an evening, or at the end of the meal, but I invariably become a little shifty and start crafting an exit strategy in the event that the conversation should turn in my direction and ask me my opinions on the new focal point (or platter) of the evening. In these situations I always choose to contribute my "party-cheese" story, the only really interesting encounter I've had with cheese of late: in the middle of vineyard hopping in the area where I go to grad school, I somehow ended up at a cheese farm. When I pulled into that farm, there was a very angry looking cow sitting right in the middle of the driveway, a child wretching by the front porch, and a man wearing overalls, a cowboy hat, and chewing on straw handing out samples of gelato....see how quickly the topic moves off cheese?

I think I first started to wonder about the politics of cheese when I read a conversation carrying on between college acquaintances on our alumni 'blog' of sorts, called planworld. Some people couldn't wait to go home, after hard days at work, to a nice block of cheese--and that was it. Others smuggled it in from abroad, marveling at its funk--the stinkier, the better. And still others listed cheese as 'things that are good in this world' and keeping chins up in otherwise dreary times. What amazed me was not only that I had certain ideas of the people I expected to like cheese so much--these were constructed ideas of elite taste that correlated with high taste in fashion, decor, coffee, etc.--but that I was shocked every single time others surprised me with their own cheese-confessions. People who have no interest in the other elite tastes loved cheese. I had internalized the construction of the cheese-lover in my mind, and it was being severely challenged.

Cheese-lovers take themselves pretty seriously. There are societies where they come together, there are well-known, illegal markets of the 'good stuff' (which is made out of raw milk and has basically been deemed potentially life-threatening to consume), and they have lobbyists as any other special interest group would.

When you ask cheese-lovers exactly what it is about the cheese that they love, the answers are full of pretension--including references to texture, robustness, sharpness, muted qualities, etc. But I suppose if we could forgive any food these sorts of descriptions, there's something about age being a factor in a recipe that affords cheese a certain pretension (similar to wine). It's as though the food has accumulated some amount of wisdom over those years, and the more we let pass by, the 'smarter' it gets.

It would be nice if planworld's love for cheese and the way it brings people together from completely different walks of life (besides the fact that we all went to the same, small liberal arts college on the hill) could be a microcosm for the larger impact cheese--and its obsessed-- could have on the world.

OK, so just when I'm coming around on cheese, one of the country's leading cheese experts, Steven Jenkins, is found saying this (about the FDA's statements on the health hazards of cheese made with raw milk): ''It's going to wipe out one of the most beautiful and romantic links between human beings and the earth that we will ever know, and we are going to be the lesser for it.''

In response to this, I'll quote none other than my husband, who, rightfully-so, is interested in being on same page as me when it comes to romance: "So squeezing something from an animal's teet, curdling it into a solid, and eating it is supposed to be romantic?"

Fortunately, I disagree. Woof, was that an elitist entry! Excuse me, but I must now go in search of my monacle to read Paradise Lost as I get ready for bed. It may not have been Milton's best work, but it will do. At least, I know Obama would agree with me. And that's why I love him.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Moose, Schmoose.

Can someone please answer me this: why do we care that the Republican veep pick, Sarah Palin, hunts moose? Why is her penchant for hunting any different from Huckabee's fondness for pheasants or ducks? Or Cheney's partiality towards quail? Does the target have to be poultry for the hunting to be excused? I think the good people at Bird Lovers International might disagree. Moose seems to be a perfectly respectable meat, playing first fiddle in recipes such as Jellied Moose Nose or Moose Sausage, but often also used interchangeably with venison or elk.

This particular piece tries to argue that moose are somehow more morally reprehensible to kill than smaller, more agile animals such as ducks and deer. Besides being personally offended by this bizarre relativism, as an individual of petite stature, the argument makes no sense. Does that mean that we should forsake hunting all large animals and only hunt those that make their conquest more of a competitive, skilled sport? The author disparagingly suggests that Palin's only contribution to the ticket would be to add mooseburgers to the White House menu, without even an ounce of critical analysis explaining why this would, in fact, be a bad thing.

The disturbing nature of this moose obsession that exploded on blogs, across media outlets, and in comedians' repertoires is two-fold. First, it reeks of sexism. The discourse surrounding sexism in the media is still either focused on Hillary loyalists and their die hard allegiance to the former First Lady, whom they believed was unfairly treated by the sexist media and DNC, or the sexism of those Palin-critics who question her (EXECUTIVE, haven't you heard?!) experience, allegedly just because she has ovaries. What they fail to mention is why hunting is all of a sudden taboo when it's attached to a female candidate but easily forgotten when it comes to a male one. A quick blog search at reveals that a whopping 2010 blog entries have been published on Palin's moose-hunting in the 23 days since she was announced as the veep pick for the GOP ticket, while only 106 entries have been published on Huckabee's affinity for hunting in the 603 days since he announced his run for the White House.

Second, judgmentally lumping Palin's moose-hunting together with the rest of progressives' assessment of her as a qualified candidate only distracts us from real issues and makes us look like liberal assholes who, for some reason, accept venison at high prices in upscale restaurants, but look down our noses at the largest animal in the same deer family. Look, I may not like Palin's positions on reproductive rights, education, the separation between church and state, the war in Iraq, or pretty much anything else she has taken a position on as yet, but, when it comes to moose, I think we could all learn a little something from Alaska. [note: whether wolves should be shot down from the air to conserve the moose in question is a topic for another post]

One of the most interesting parts of Alaskan moose culture that Kim Severson reported in the NYTimes the other day is that there happens to be a state law in Alaska requiring that all meat from a hunted animal be salvaged for eating; even when a moose is hit on the road, an official roadkill list is consulted and volunteers immediately rush to the scene and start butchering the animal. The meat is then distributed to churches and soup kitchens so that families in need can feed on the meat.

It seems like these conservationist measures could be used in similar fashion to former President Jimmy Carter's advocacy for responsible hunting and preservation of wildlife. Here was a president who is still internationally acclaimed as a responsible environmentalist and avid hunter--bedfellows that might not necessarily be as strange as the recent bout of quail-hunting-face-shooting politicians suggest.

Another lesson Palin could learn from Carter might be his honesty concerning the equipment that hunters need for their operations. Carter was able to turn his keenness for hunting into an admirable call for stricter gun control. He criticized the NRA's irresponsible and manipulative messaging that claimed to fight for hunters' rights, while really lobbying for the manufacture, transfer, and possession of 19 specific semiautomatic assault weapons--NONE of which are used for hunting.

Guns kill moose, but as long as that meat is feeding people who would otherwise go hungry, I'm fine with it. When guns kill people, however, there aren't any official roadkill lists or charitable organizations to consult--nor should there be, of course.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sweet words--nothing more, nothing less.

There's nothing that leaves you feeling more vindicated than the discovery of something so potentially offensive, yet brilliant, when you're admittedly trolling through material trying to dig something up to whet readers' appetites so they come back for more.

My discovery?

A dessert option on the White House Menu for the Dinner in Honor of President Kufour of Ghana, September 15, 2008: Graham Cracker Crumble and Cocoa Pod Shell.

Now, there's no reason to call anyone names, I know. But just think about this for a second. How great would it be if Chef Comerford decided to make political statements with her menus? Maybe she's tired of feeding the man who has turned this country inside out, and watching his shit-eating grin while he does it. Maybe she's tired of watching foreign heads of state, from countries whose clothes and pallets and music might remind her of her roots in the Philippines, come to dinner and have to smile with clenched teeth as the President makes comments like these:
"When Ghana's independence was secure, President Eisenhower sent a message to Ghanaians from the people of the United States. He said, 'We revere in common with you the great and eternal principles which characterize the free democratic way of life. I am confident that our two countries will stand as one in safeguarding this greatest of all bonds between us. Half a century later, we see that President Eisenhower's confidence was well-placed. Today, Ghana and America are still bound by our love for liberty, and we stand as one in our efforts to safeguard that freedom.'"

Really? You know what year Ghana was granted its "secure" independence? 1957. Apparently Eisenhower thought a free democratic way of life for black people was alright as long as it was in Ghana, not in his own backyard.

Crumble away, good sirs. And don't forget to munch on the shell while you're at it.

The Beginning

Welcome to a new type of foodie-blog. Don't let the name fool you--I might mention food and politics in the way farm policies affect our economic and political systems now and then, but I think gastro-politics is about so much more. Every time a menu is planned and the White House Press Secretary feels the need to report its contents to the media, or communities that battle to the blood over religious differences favor the same regional dishes, or candidates are put on special diets to make their immortal bids on the campaign trail, or every time I hear that the majority of cooks in this country are women, but the majority of chefs are men, I think of gastro-politics. And I think you should too.