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Thoughtful Thursday: On Food

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: Thoughtful Thursday: On Food

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday: On Food

Welcome to Thoughtful Thursday. I'd like to make sure that at least once a week I write something that involves a little bit of thought and contemplation on my part before sending it out to the internet. I don't really intend to make my blog a heavy-hitting journal of deep thoughts, but there's some big things to be gained from food and travel, and sometimes pictures and snark just won't do the job. Let's get right to it.

If you've read this blog for long enough, you know that I love food. I love buying it at the grocery store (most of the time), I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love watching television shows about it. Food is probably my biggest non-Carolyn-related passion. What you may not know is that for the first 29 of my 30 years, I ate like a moron. Lots of fried foods, fast foods, processed foods, and meats made up the bulk of my diet, while there was very little representing the world of vegetables and fruits.

When I turned 30 I realized I probably won't live forever, and that I should do what I can to give my body more of what it needs so that it doesn't have to process a ton of chemical and artificial crap. I continued to eat like crap until we took a vacation back to the good old U.S. of A. and gorged on all of the stuff that we've missed since moving to Korea. I gained 12 pounds in a matter of 3.5 weeks. When we came back to Korea we both changed our diets. I cut my soda habit down from about five sodas a day to perhaps four or five per week. We eat meatless most days of the week, because it's cheaper, easier, and better for both our bodies and the environment. We also started exercising. Since coming back to Korea I've lost 20 pounds, and Carolyn is down over 30. Those changes weren't enough to prevent a kidney stone that I imagine was 29 years in the making, but hopefully it won't happen again.

Now that you have a little background information on my eating habits, I want to talk about food in a way that's a bit different than "wow, this shit is delicious" or "silkworm larvae taste like dirt." I want to talk about food as a resource and how we can avoid misusing it, and how we can learn about using our resources more wisely by getting out of our comfort zone and globetrotting a bit. In one sense, I believe this is a really simple subject, eating healthier and using all parts of an animal in the way that people from other countries do is far less wasteful than buying only the breast of a chicken or beef steaks. In another sense, I feel that using only the breast of the chicken or the choice cuts of beef is disrespectful to the animal that you're eating. These are the two main things I want to talk about today.

"Ew, that's gross!" is a bad thing. Who has watched an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern? For a long time I had a problem with that show, because I thought that what he did was basically invalidate the eating habits of other cultures by trying to turn their everyday foods into shock-TV. I think I might have gotten the wrong message though. In this interview, Andrew Zimmern explains that his show exists not to introduce culture or shock the American audience by the "gross" things that he eats, but rather to send a message that there's a lot of food that we Americans won't even try, and that we rely far too much on commodities.

This NPR article has some infographics that illustrate the environmental impact of meat, as well as how we eat more meat per capita than any other nation aside from Luxembourg. I find it interesting that they point out that scientists have devised ways to get more meat out of every cow, pig, and chicken. By injecting them full of steroids and hormones? Do we really want to eat that? Will these same steroids and hormones give me 'roid rage and man boobs? Also, what happens with the tripes and cheaper cuts of meats from these animals? I don't see many Americans eating kidneys, livers, and tongues for dinner.

Essentially, I get the feeling that we're essentially subjecting ourselves to scientific experimentation by eating these genetically and chemically altered animals that have been tampered with to grow bigger "desirable" parts in lieu of eating the parts that people have eaten for hundreds of years.

I've been out and about in the world just a little bit. I haven't been to a million different places, or eaten every ethnic delicacy from any one location, but I do know that in Korea and Indonesia I've seen lots of people eating things that wouldn't be served in any suburban household at home. I've been out with my coworkers for makchang, which is essentially raw beef or pork tripe that you grill at the table. You know, it wasn't bad at all. We also had raw beef kidney, liver, and stomach lining. It wasn't my thing, but it wasn't bad. Millions of people around the world eat these parts of the animals that they slaughter, and they don't get sick or die from them. I think that one lesson most Americans could stand to learn is that a lot of people live their lives with much less than we do, without impacting their happiness. I think the only effective way to hammer that point home is to go out and meet those people where they live.

So what's brought on this change of heart about meat? Well, I just think you have to respect an animal if you're going to slaughter it to eat it. It's easy to forget that something has literally died so that you can eat it when you buy the faceless, plastic wrapped tray of meat at the market. I'm not saying that we shouldn't eat meat. I think we're definitely apex predators and that there's a certain amount of animal protein that goes into a healthy diet. I think we can eat less meat and lessen the environmental footprint we put on the planet with every meal. I also think that we can and should open ourselves up to eating the dirty-bits of animals that we tend to ignore. If you want to respect the ingredient (imagine it's your family dog, do you want it to die just so you can eat it's drumsticks?) you should be ready to cook and eat everything nose to tail.

So there we have it, folks. My first Thoughtful Thursday. As soon as I'm in a place where I can read the labels and know what I'm buying, I'll be cooking some liver and onions and steak and kidney pies. Want to join me?

What are your thoughts on food, conservation, and what it means to respect the ingredients that you eat? Leave a comment here and we'll have ourselves a discussion. If you'd rather, join me to discuss the topic on Facebook.

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