Friday, August 22, 2008

"Cuisines of the Axis of Evil"

This is something I found today which made me laugh out loud (ok...maybe it was more of a quiet chuckle) but still I thought worthy enough to share with you!

The following is an excerpt from the new recipe book "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States" by Chris Fair

"While most folks recognize the power of food to bring people together, I notice most its power to divide. Many religions enshrine various forms of commensalisms, or rules that govern with whom you can eat and with whom you cannot. In Hinduism, high-caste persons can't eat in the presence of those who are low caste, whose very shadow defiles the former. Many religions specify not only the animals that can be eaten but the ways in which those animals must be killed as a precondition for eating them and the means by which they must be prepared. This can seriously limit the number of people one can eat with.

Cuisines also yield some insights into the social structure of countries in question. Indian food is time-intensive and requires either a platoon of servants or a daughter-in-law. Women can spend hours of their day slicing and dicing up tiny vegetables, slaving over an open gas burner with little or no ventilation, and, in some cases, cooking up their family victuals over a fire made of desiccated cow dung! And as housewives everywhere hang up their apron for a computer or a real estate license, food slopped to their families changes accordingly. Yet despite the obvious centrality of women in food production and preparation, in many parts of the world, men and women are socially barred from eating together. More disturbing, while women do all the heavy lifting and cooking of those meals, in some places those same women are resigned to eat whatever scraps their men-folk have left for them.

In other words, eating structures power and social relations in ways that most of us have internalized without much thought. Because food is important to me and because my pre-marriage dating list resembled the roll call of the U.N. General Assembly, I've had to abandon relationships with men who were Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu simply because of their eating rules. I eat pork, drink booze, and think vegetarian cuisine is best left for ruminates. I found their eating issues to be bigger hindrances than their various religious commitments, because food—in its preparation and in its consumption—is one of the most fundamental things that we as humans share, and these rules critically create groups who can be included or alternatively excluded in this most primal act.

Food also encapsulates differences in social mores between and within cultures. For example, Americans flinch at those Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans who eat dog and cat—man's best and passable friends, respectively. Some Hindus in India are disgusted that we love eating our cows, with whom they share their own spiritual affections. While Americans think of their beloved horses as being akin to big dogs, folks in Central Asia love their horses too—formed into spicy sausages and gracing a fatty pullov. My Chinese colleagues and friends have pointed out how wasteful Americans are when we only eat part of the animal and discard the rest. They are correct to ask, why is a beef steak delicious but a brazed ox penis is repugnant?

Similarly, folks in many Muslim countries are obsessed with various animal parts with alleged properties conferring sexual prowess upon its consumers. For instance, in several places in the Muslim world, it is a delicacy to eat the "egg of lamb," which, as you may have guessed, is the poor animal's family jewels. As you stroll through the meat bazaars of the Muslim world, you are greeted by elegant piles of elaborately arranged organ meat, kept glistening by the efforts of the shopkeepers who sprinkle them with water dotingly. Often they are decorated with garlands of chili peppers, sliced tomatoes, and red onions. Pakistanis love their brain curry and their spicy stew of goat head and feet. The latter, sir paya, is particularly disconcerting, with at least one whole goat head staring up at you blankly from the pot. I flee from this dish when I see it, but I have to ask myself why I find these offerings to be vile while I am perfectly happy eating other parts of that same goat in curries or as kebabs. Similarly, why do most Americans find the Asian culinary custom of eating cockroaches disgusting when most of us eat shrimp and lobster, which are little more than the cockroaches of the sea? Clearly these value judgments of what is or is not edible reflect cultural values that we rarely consider—until we are confronted with one of these affronting delicacies.

Only the foolish would underestimate the social and political importance of food when, in fact, every aspect of what we put into our mouths is burdened with social, political, religious, and even militarized baggage even though most of us remain woefully unaware of the same. It seems to me that cuisine is a perfectly defensible lens through which to look at the countries examined herein and U.S. policies toward the same, and I hope you will agree."

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did! If you want to check out the rest of it -you can buy a copy online, or in most major book stores.

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