Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can I eat that?

One of the more frequent questions I get when I work at farmers' markets is, "Can I eat the rind on that cheese?" The question is usually in reference to a bloomy cheese (a cheese with white mold covering the outside, like camembert). My stock answer is "Well, it's a matter of taste, but yes, you can eat it and many people consider the rind and that little gooey layer just beneath it to be the best part." I then mutter something under my breath about "death and pestilence to those who throw away the rind." But seriously, my point is not to attack everyone who finds the thought of eating the moldy casing of a cheese disgusting.

My point is that I generally prefer the French approach to food over the American (with a few exceptions that I will talk about later). It has been my belief for years that Americans have no idea how to eat or what to eat. When it comes to old-fangled foods we are especially silly, pooh-pooing the idea of using lard in our biscuits or of eating eggs produced by real, live chickens that peck around in a field and lay brown, blue, speckled eggs as opposed to white ones. The fact that we have come to value processed, artificial, convenience foods over traditional foods bothers me immensely, and particularly since I started working on a farm I have viewed it as my mission to educate people on the values of real food. I can be preachy, but if you want my opinion the future of our planet, our governments, our economies, our lives, relies on food, and therfore, in my little mind, I feel justified.

But since coming to France one of the things I've noticed is that people here get food. They understand it. They don't shrink from it. They look it in the eye. I never hear French people talking about going on diets or replacing butter with margarine (although I have no doubt that both of these things occur; I simply think it's less common here), and I often see svelte women munching pain au chocolats or drinking rich hot chocolate. But the difference does not lie solely with the fact that they eat richer foods in general and are, in general, slimmer than Americans (a fact that should make you think twice about where obesity comes from).

The French are also very aware of what they eat. When you buy a chicken at the market, chances are it will still have it's head on. Same for fish--you buy them scales and all. Liver and tongue are sold raw by the kilo, and all right before your eyes, not wrapped in plastic or concealed in hermetically-sealed jars. I personally find this honesty refreshing. I think it's important to know what you're eating, and if it's fresh enough to still have its head, all the better. Nothing a swift, sharp knife can't remedy.

You should understand that I used to be a vegetarian. Thus, it might strike you as odd that I would prefer to see dead chickens with their heads than without. I defend my position, however. I think that if we are going to eat meat (and we are omnivores, like it or not, as a species), we should approach it as it is, and animals generally have heads and blood, which is something you're not going to find at your supermarket. I'm in favor of raising the animals yourself if you can, but I realize that to do that you need land and know-how among other things. The next best thing is to buy your meat from a direct source, which is a farm, which means your meat probably won't be doctored up, injected with red coloring to simulate freshness (yes, fyi, this is a common practice), and there might be a couple feathers sticking to that chicken.

And yes, you can eat the rind.

Bon appetit!

1 comment:

brandi said...

i love this post! i have friends that have decided to completely substitute sugar with splenda and rave about how great it's been. whenever i try to convince them that ANYTHING you could ever possibly eat is fine in moderation and that they should simply cut back sugar intake rather than eating pounds of chemical replacements instead, they think i'm insane. i'm a non-pushy vegetarian, but have no problem with people eating meat that was produced in a healthy, non factory farm environment. people in america are so far removed from where their food comes from and what it's actually made of! it's so sad.

although, i will admit that sometimes i'm slightly ignorant over whether or not i can eat the rind of certain kinds of cheese! i'll just go for it next time!