Friday, October 7, 2011

EATING IN MANY TONGUES

I get a lot of comments on what tactful people refer to as our "adventurous eating style"  and what others simply refer to as our "weird food habits."

I recently read an article entitled "American Goat Cheese: From Hippie Chick to Hip and Chic."  I sent the link to my husband and children with the comment: "I adore goat cheese. Yes I do.  Dad and I have tried many different varieties of goat cheese.  It makes me happy." 

It started an interesting conversation between Bob and Andrew.

Bob: "I like the part about willingness to try new things.  So much of it is psychological.  The last few years as I have forced myself to be more adventurous, I have found myself liking things I never would have imagined.  It adds some diversity and fun to life.  I'm glad that our family is willing to try new foods and be adventurous." [Editors note: I think Bob's been "forcing himself" to try new things for a lot longer than "the last few years."  In fact, I think it started when he was a kid and his mom cooked a rattlesnake for him.]

Gjetost, Norwegian goat cheese
Andrew: "Man, I remember eating the hard brown goat cheese (that I specifically requested along with liverwurst!) when I was in preschool.  Great family. I also think that probably more than the 'exposure' that this lady and article are talking about (it takes about ten years they say), the demand for gourmet/health/imported foods has exploded in general. We now have Whole Foods, "foodies," and the popularity of macrobiotic style diets.  Think of how brie has changed from a luxury item to a common cheese!  I see brie and crackers way more than I see the classic chips and salsa.  Also think of the demand for wild mushrooms!  Did Ralph's sell chanterelles ten years ago? I think this has a little to do with exposure and a lot to do with visibility from the internet, globalization, and a new natural/local foods health consciousness."

Bob: "You're right that much of society has been caught up in the new culture of foodies, Whole Foods, etc., which I think is probably more of your world.  But I live among a significant group of people that are not caught up in that--they eat their chicken and their hamburgers, but don't ask them to be much more adventurous than that.  Theirs is a world where they've never tried lamb or duck.  There is not an interest in even trying to venture out and do anything different.  The world you are living in, the young, college, just post-college, open-to-the-world generation, is much different than the world you have left out here. You, Sam, and Rachael have each had a big impact on some of our choices and some of the reason we have ventured out and tried new things."

Andrew: "Amen! Though I dare say, despite the claimed provincial palates of your neighbors, you've managed to outdo your foodie children on the magnitude of exoticism.  I suppose Rachael has eaten some insects, but anyone can do that on a trip to Southeast Asia.  It takes commitment to order them from the internet.  Gold medal goes to you, sir, for bravery in buying raccoon, swamp turtle, camel, boa, etc. from the internet."



 
 

Being "fluent" in more than one food culture has its definite advantages, much like being multi-lingual.  Newsweek columnist Casey Schwartz, in a recent article entitled "Why It's Smart to Be Bilingual," noted, "Some of the most valuable mental perks of bilingualism can't be measured at all . . . . To speak more than one language is to inherit a global consciousness that opens the mind to more than one culture or way of life."

I would argue that experimenting with and learning to enjoy new foods does the very same thing--it opens our minds to new cultures and different ways of life.  It is a great way to participate in our increasingly global society.

Bob and I recently ate at a Nepalese restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire: 
We were there early before the dinner crowd appeared, and Bob engaged our waiter, a Nepalese man in his 40s or 50s, in some conversation.  We learned that he had been an "untouchable" in Nepal, and that he had immigrated to join extended family in New Hampshire.  His family ran the restaurant, and they tried to keep the food as much like the food in their homeland as they could.

Momo, Nepalese dumplings that are a lot like Chinese pot stickers
My goat curry
Bob's Nepalese lamb chops
He mentioned that he ate a lot of goat in Nepal but never lamb, as that was eaten in the mountains and he was from Kathmandu.  That caused me to come home and look up Nepal. I learned that Kathmandu is the capital city and has about a million inhabitants.  It is ringed by the Himalayas. As a member of the lower-class, I'm guessing our waiter never got to travel to those mountains that he saw around him every day.

Our conversation with our waiter made delicious food even more spectacular. As superficial of a connection as it was, we felt we had "experienced" Nepal in a small way. Through their cuisine, we had a new appreciation for the country.  We could also compare and contrast the food with Chinese and Indian food that we had eaten, the two cuisines that it seemed to be most like. It inspired us to learn more about Nepal. It was as good as a geography lecture.

Bob was recently looking through a 1960s Joy of Cooking cookbook.  It had recipes for all kinds of wild game that is not part of most Americans' diets these days: squirrel, raccoon, bear, woodchuck, beaver, beaver tail, peccary, wild boar, opossum, moose, elk, and venison.   Even my old red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, which was a wedding gift to me in 1978, has recipes for rabbit, sweetbreads, ginger-sauced tongue, chicken-fried heart, and venison steaks.  I'll bet those aren't found in a 2011 version of the same cookbook.


I guess what I'm getting at is that even within our own cuisine, there are many foods that our grandparents and great-grandparents ate that would now turn our fast food-trained stomachs inside-out.  As far as food goes, theirs was a cultural foreign country.  Eating those foods today gives us greater understanding of their times and their lives.

I hear that age makes it harder to learn a new language, and I suppose I'm getting a little old to become a linguist, but I still hope to EAT in many tongues.

That said, let's just have a nice ham for Christmas this year--or even a leg of lamb--okay, Bob?



4 comments:

  1. Fun post - well of course it is fun, it is about eating weird food! I am going to comply with your request to eat normal food this year - I think (of course, what is normal around this house?). Unless of course there are requests otherwise.

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  2. I can still remember Mr. Tervort reading Where The Red Fern Grows to us and being struck with a desire to taste possum and raccoon. Thankfully, that urge has greatly diminished over the years. We did try Yak one year at Christmas as a result of your experiences. We are still known throughout the stake because we fed the missionaries some Yak burgers when they stopped by unexpectedly. I can't imagine the extent of the Cannon fame in your stake!

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  3. Okay, so when are you guys going to Lyon, France? The capital of foodies? We never had a bad meal there, eating at the Paul Bocuse Brasseries: Nord, Sud, Est, Oest. I also felt the same way about Brussels--lots of variety and rarely a bad meal. Okay, we had one wierd meal in Lyon--their traditional salad. Avoid that and you're good to go.

    I also noted the difference between what Andrew sees around him and what Bob (and this area) display on their dinner tables. My experience bears that out. Foreign means lasagna. Really foodie foreign means vegetable lasagna.

    BTW, if I never again to see that photo of the skinned whatever it is that Bob's holding up over the sink, I'd be a very happy girl. But I think it's one of your food favorites and it certainly is striking.

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  4. I feel guilty, I really do, about not being an adventurous eater. I feel more guilty when I gag in public places and have to spit my food out, as has happened on more than one occasion. Luckily just reading about the Cannon food adventures broadens my horizons a little. Yet another reason to admire the Cannons and aspire to be a bit more like them. I said a bit.


    *hahaha! My word verification is "unuts" which can be a statement about some of your holiday menus or a question posed to Bob, depending on the situation

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