11 February 2012

My Domesticated Palate

My wife, son and I recently attended a family dinner for my mother-in-laws birthday. The main event of the night was a lobster based meal, prepared in advance (drawn and quartered in a manner that would impress the English executioners of old) and to the fervent delights of many of the nights attendees.
Alas poor Lobsterheart, you suffer the same fate as William Wallace.
As my wife and I (and consequentially now our son) are ardent opponents of sea foods, we did not take part in the culinary ordeal.
It is quite a thing to watch from the outside as people who are accustomed to it commence taking apart a lobster. The viscera on display, the crunch of exoskeletons, the sucking of innards, the dead eyes of the creature on display and themselves under threat of being devoured; it is a scene more accustomed to narration by David Attenborough than to be witnessed at a dinner table.
Pictured: David Attenborough, not pictured: acceptable human food
We are evidently much more at ease leaving the face and general form of an animal on display so long as its place on the evolutionary tree is sufficiently to the left of us mammals.
My own dislike for any foods pulled unwillingly from the water can trace its genesis back to my mother, who is deathly allergic to any such foods. This is quite unfortunate for my dad, who loves most of what the sea has to offer, from fish and octopi, to squid and lobsters.
As such growing up in this household of opposing tastes was an interesting experience, where every once in a while my dad was either banished to the outdoors where he and my sister would have a seafood smorgasbord, or else my mother and I would be relegated to some other corner of the house, while the dining room was filled with various marine feasts.
And I don’t care what you say, seafood has quite an intrusive, and unpleasant odour. I don’t think my dislike of this smell can be pinned solely on my dislike for the food, as there is something slightly rotten about the smell in general; something all too easily associated with a particularly dirty beach.
Above: How seafood smells to me
But the main reason I bring this up dear reader is because I had an interesting epiphany about my eating habits as I sat at that table watching carapace being crushed with glee.
I only eat domesticated animals.
Bear in mind that I am not being inclusive of the whole set here; that is to say, I don’t eat all domesticated animals (though I do hear that dog is especially delicious). I just mean that all of the animals that I do eat appear to be of the domesticated variety. Cow, pig, sheep, chicken, turkey; these are all species forged by man from their wild ancestors.
Wild Turkey.... I prefer a nice scotch.
But if you look at the nature of seafood, and the creatures on the menu, you will seldom find anything that can be genuinely called domesticated.
What’s that you say? There are lobster farms. Well yes, you are correct (gold star), but animals can be farmed without being domesticated. Domestication involves artificial selection by humans that results in a genetic change of the population; so that the new animals are fundamentally different from those at the beginning. Animals can be farmed without this selection process influencing the population, and this is what is done with fish, lobsters et cetera.
I mentioned earlier the fact that seafood is generally displayed in a lot more confronting way that its terrestrial counterpart, with heads on display, superfluous body parts remaining unbutchered, and sometime the whole animal remaining on your plate. Now, one of the more obvious properties of an animal domesticated for food is the enlarging of these eatable areas, and the general ‘softening’ or the rest of the animal. Thus we can hack off steaks, and chicken fillets with ease, but perhaps a fish, or lobster are less advantaged by the fact that their physiological structure has not been altered by the thousands of years of animal husbandry that turned the beastly Auroch, into the manageably corpulent Friesian.
I busted out my MS Paint skills to give this comparison of the Auroch's size to that of a modern cow.
Evidently the barrier of water between us and our fishy prey is enough to hold off mans domesticating advances. Sure nowadays we do have fish farms, and a couple of domesticate fish varieties, but these things have a long way to go before they can match the variety and specialisation of our more celebrated domestications.
So I was very interested when I came to note this property of my eating habits. Previously I had maintained that I would only eat an animal that swam solely to escape the water; an animal which if thrown in the water, would not feel at home.
Now I have a slightly better basis to explain my eating habits; I don’t eat wild animals.
This is more likely than not a by-product of my aversion to eating meat at a philosophical level, but my inability to stop eating meat at a “it just tastes so damn good” level.
But what the hell, I am willing to take this explanation at face value, and deal with the further implications another day.


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