ISBN: 9781931498012 Year Added to Catalog: 2001 Book Format: Paperback Book Art: contributor's list Number of Pages: 7 x 10, 280 pages Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Release Date: September 1, 2001 Web Product ID: 269
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Collected Thoughts on Taste, Tradition, and the Honest Pleasure of Food
There are many ways of thinking about the scraps of food and the leftovers from a meal. The most obvious is familiar to the down-and-out, who live on the streets and rummage in trash cans for the only free comfort society has to offer. Yet other perspectives spring readily to mind if we thing about how we procure and consume food. In our economy of abundance, the concepts of food saving, recovery, and reuse no longer get much consideration; they seem to belong to some distant past. These days, leftovers have to be eliminated. There is the real danger of overproduction, whereby food has to be destroyed before it is ever distributed. The challenge of eliminating food cleanly, filling up trashcans to save money, has become more complex and burdensome than the problem of producing and conserving food. This paradox prompts us to address questions not to economists but to consumers and to adopt the chicken or cow’s perspective in taking a long, hard look at the infernal machine that churns out legs and wings, carcasses and ribs which are then frozen, minced, and converted into animal feed or trash.
The cooking of leftovers takes us back to a subliminal past, which surfaces in our thoughts and our tastes. The very history of gastronomy is “leftover” history, in that it is concerned with supplies, ingredients, portions, and ephemeral objects of taste, mixed together and subsequently destroyed. What is superfluous is inedible because it is more than our appetites can manage, and like the scraps that become the ingredients for new dishes the following day, can provide “food for thought” concerning the values that have formed our eating habits and our culture. It’s easy to throw away a dented tin or a thawed out fish, but it’s hard to do the same with the leftovers of a dish that has cost us patience and hard work! The sacrifice is so intolerable it’s as if we were getting rid of our own tastes and pleasures. In many European cultures, the art of recycling leftovers has always been the cook’s salvation and her vindication—a sort of extreme confirmation of her role. Yet the exact opposite is true in China. After all, isn’t avoiding leftovers by eating more than one’s fill a good way of appreciating the banquet?
Today, leftovers are viewed with suspicion for health reasons, which are used as an excuse to dump provisions, packages past their sell-by date, and poorly refrigerated foodstuffs. Here we have a second paradox, since the strategy of strict control leads not to rational, balanced consumption, but to the programmed liquidation of foodstuffs. In the past, society was a body that held onto food for as long as it could, and that called all social strata around its table. When there wasn’t a crumb left, its celebration could be deemed complete. This was society’s way of being healthy.
Today the body politic puts evacuation on a level with nutrition, practicing disposal with the same profit-inspired tenacity. Devoid of religious, civil, economic, and political values, waste has penetrated its way to the heart of the nutritional act, ultimately reducing the problem to indifference and insignificance. Since it would be hard to imagine returning to an autarkic or self-sufficient lifestyle, and since the mega market generates it shown negation, let’s consider the brief steps it would take to recover what used to be good to eat—and perhaps still is. In other words, let’s re-examine leftovers: they could be undigested gastronomic possibilities.