26 November 2011

What is it that makes a food disgusting?

I mean is there one thing, some universally accepted norm, that enables us to determine a particular piece of food is not worthy of consumption?

For example, I would have thought that dry-aged beef testicles and tendon wrapped in arteries would probably satisfy such an examination. But a tour through any artisan butcher in the south of Spain will make you realise that even this outrageous combination will end up in someone’s gullet.

I reckon it all comes down to cultural sensitivities. To a committed vegan, chicken schnitzel is an ethical monstrosity. Aquatarians (veg and fish only) will be mortified by a T-bone. That said, fruitarians (only eating naturally fallen fruits and vegetables) should go back on their meds.

As far as I’m concerned, the biggest difficulty is finding an objective standpoint from which to make an assessment. This perspective should take into account cultural traditions, culinary value, environmental footprint and a healthy respect for animal rights.

When you put it like that, a few issues rear their ugly heads. The poly brigade (my affectionate term for those carnivores who believe that meat is grown in polystyrene dishes which sprout in a supermarket) are bound to blanch at the necessary conclusion of this train of thought.

Seriously. If you’re gonna kill an animal for its meat, surely you have an obligation to make the most of every last bit. Don’t you? I don’t have a problem with meat eating, nor do I recoil from the slaughter needed to make that happen. After all, we have simply industrialised what used to be a manual task.

It is the wastage that irks me. The lack of respect for the life taken. The wrongful belief that only some parts of the beast were worthy of consumption.

Take bone marrow as a starting point. Not only is it nutritionally superb, it meets the highest standards of culinary utility. You see, bone marrow is like a perfect version of its parent meat, tasting of the best steak you’ve ever tried. In addition, marrow is melt-in-the-mouth soft when cooked, and intensely succulent.

So why do so many of our diners refuse to try it? Habit and prejudice, if you ask me.

Give it a go. Have a taste. Incorporate marrow into a more normal sort of meal. Do it out of respect for the animal whose meat you’re contentedly eating. Or, become a vegetarian. At least that’s consistent.
Barbecued t-bone with gremolata and marrow bone/

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