I crumb in peace: deep fried rabbit ears and the politics of food
Some of you have seen the reaction to my post on el Bulli's deep fried rabbit ears. Some of you even responded with insightful commentary of your own -- both for and against the dish -- and with expressions of support via comments and email, for which I'm extremely grateful. Other comments were veiled threats and personal attacks.
You can imagine, then, how comforting it was to wake up Saturday morning to find my mother in law, our five year old niece, and three year old nephew baking chocolate chip cookies in our kitchen. They used a recipe from the Joy of Cooking. These cookies are outrageously good, especially warm from the oven with a glass of cold milk.
But what exactly is the connection between the cookies and milk in this post and the rabbit ears in the previous one?
A photo of severed bunny ears is provocative. It causes a gut level reaction. For many, even those who approve of the dish, that reaction is shock, dismay, or maybe even revulsion.
Why is that? Because you instantly recognize the implications of that photo: rabbits were slaughtered and their ears cut off in order to prepare a dish. Never mind the fact that the rabbits were raised and butchered for their meat and that the ears were going to be thrown out. It's gruesome and, whether you choose to acknowledge it, it's the violence that underlies any meat dish.
Now look at that photo of milk and cookies one more time. What do you see? Are you outraged or hungry? I bet only a handful of you see chocolate chips made from cacao beans that might have been harvested in Côte d'Ivoire. This may seem insignificant, but some allege that cacao cultivation in that country, which supplies approximately forty percent of the world's raw cacao, operates on the back of child slavery. If you can't bear to think of those children, ponder instead the plight of the cacao farmer whose labour fattens the bottom line of Big Chocolate but does not earn him enough to purchase a single chocolate bar.
You can't bake chocolate chip cookies without eggs and flour, but issues surround those ingredients, too. A mass-produced battery egg from your local Megamart is likely laid by a de-beaked hen confined to a small cage. When you think wheat, forget "amber waves of grain" and instead ponder fields planted with genetically modified, corporate-patented über-grass. It almost happened.
Let's consider milk. How many hormones are in that glass? Bovine growth hormone can only be used in the United States, but it is perfectly legal to export milk from hormone-injected cows to countries around the world, including Canada. Sugar is also a thicket of controversy. According to the Washington Post, "U.S. sugar policy stands for all that's bad about [America's] political system" for two reasons: first, industry lobbying has led to import restrictions that artificially boost sugar prices for consumers and profits for American producers while extending poverty in developing nations shut out of the world's richest market; secondly, careless sugar cane production is destroying the ecosystem of the Florida Everglades.
This is not a call for activism so much as awareness. We need to recognize that our food choices, for good and bad, are political choices, and that none of us are virtuous enough to sit in judgment of what others choose to eat. In other words, there are grounds for outrage in a photo of milk and cookies from the Joy of Cooking, just as there are in a photo of deep fried rabbit ears from el Bulli: 2003-2004.
You just have to care enough to look.