The other day whilst sitting around in my fuzzy socks and watching an episode of Chef's Table (my new favourite thing by the way), I had a light bulb moment. Not just any faint flicker but a profound beckon that lit up a lingering confusion about cultural attitudes towards eating.
Dan Barber, chef, sustainable foods writer and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurants talked about the (modern) western culinary privilege of eating just portions of an ingredient versus those cuisines which focuses on consuming the whole. In his work to educate and inform people about utilizing the whole plant or animal, he made the point of comparing food cultures which have different traditional ideas about how ingredients are used.
Take for example, the many eats that are familiar to my childhood but garner alarmed faces to those hearing about them for the first time. As the saying often goes, the Chinese will eat anything that flies except a plane and anything with legs except a table.
- chicken feet & gizzards
- pigs blood, ear, tongue
- duck neck & eggs
- fish bladder
But Dan talks about the necessity of eating the whole when resources are scarce either because of geological or social strife when people fall on hard times and make do with whatever they have. Despite the wealth in recent years, China's early modern history had many periods of mass poverty. Did pigs blood soup come about because it was one more thing farmers could put together to feed their families? Would cooking the ears and tongue get a few extra meals on the table?
I think about such things as I stand in Costco looking at the ridiculously perfect plates of skinned and plump chicken breasts for sale -something that I never quite understood. I roll my eyes a little imagining all the posh new modern restaurants in China serving delicately plated western styled dishes probably with potato and a neat little breast because it's cool and hip. Perhaps the lack of cross cuisine understanding is not an issue of ingredients but a confusion of culture.