Leo K. Moncel outlines a new food column. Your first stop to reading yourself into a big fat gut!
By Leo K. Moncel
I usually don’t find the first three movie, album, or restaurant reviews by a given critic to be very helpful. By about the fourth review, I’ve gotten a good sense of the reviewer’s criteria and sensibilities. I’ve learned what this person values in a story or an experience and I know what to take from their opinions. Before I begin my own fortnightly discussion of food and society, I’d like to skip this warm-up period and give you, the reader, a picture of my sensibilities as clearly as I can, by telling you what I like.
Food is always a contentious issue and everyone’s got an opinion on it, because, unlike books or movies, everyone interacts with it daily (we hope). I am very opinionated, but I am also willing to admit that I am just an enthusiastic novice, and not chained to my opinions. So please, take advantage of our format and join the discussion every other week, for I know I am quite wrong on many things (keep reading to find one of them!). That being said, let’s get on to what I like.
What I Like:
Red Meat. Pork, beef, and lamb. Pork gets such a black eye in this country. It’s thought of as inferior-tasting and completely unhealthy. As to taste, I cannot really argue, since appreciation of taste and texture is totally subjective; but when people tell me they don’t like the taste of pork, I have to ask, “Really?” I happen to think that many people don’t like the idea of eating pork, but enjoy it when they get it, often in a processed and renamed form. More about food renaming and euphemisms in the future.
As to health, I am no expert, but I would be inclined to think that if fat is what you’re shaking your finger at, it varies greatly from cut to cut. I have occasionally cooked pork bellies and will own up immediately —that is some seriously fatty meat! A lean pork chop, however, doesn’t look any scarier to me than a well-marbled steak.
Poultry. Chicken. A time-tested winner. I don’t think there’s any disagreement on chicken.
Tofu and soy products. Yes. Great, versatile. I was a vegetarian for five years. Sometimes ignorant meat eaters like to condemn soy products as bland. I enjoy shutting them down now, as a meat-eater, more than I ever did as a vegetarian. I tell them that if they find tofu bland, they aren’t cooking it right. As I question these people, I often discover they’ve only had tofu once or twice, and I find that they’re more attracted to the idea they hate tofu than hating the actual food (like some pork shunners!). People attack tofu because they think it’s the manly — though it’s not just men — thing to do.
Meat-eaters (I HATE it when meat-eaters call themselves carnivores. It’s not accurate and it certainly hasn’t been funny for fifteen years) and vegetarians need to stop arguing. Truthfully, meat eaters know, deep down, that vegetarians are right from every moral standpoint. In terms of animal treatment, eco-sustainability, and personal health, there just is no argument for the superiority of meat-eating.
But this, “tofu as the polar opposite of meat” idea is sort of a deliberate contrivance. I happen to know a few traditional Chinese recipes that combine meat and tofu to beautiful effect, but more on that in the future.
Vegetables. Of course! There’s an incredible diversity to vegetables. Most of what I eat is vegetables. Right now I’m big on learning new raw vegetable side dishes to outshine ordinary salads.
Healthy food. 85% of what I make and eat is healthy. I was raised to be cautious with salt and fat. I don’t eat out often. When I do eat out though, I usually throw caution to the wind. Unless you’re eating specifically at a health-food restaurant, the options that look healthy are probably saltier than you realize.
When doing serious cooking, I’ll also indulge. If I’m following a recipe, I try to follow it as closely as I possibly can, even if I’m screaming inside about using that much butter or about deep-frying something twice.
Traditional, regional foods. Some people argue that the ultimate divide in foodies (screw it, I have no problem with the term “foody”) is whether you’re a traditionalist or an innovator. Perhaps because I am still rather new at this, I have a strong desire to acquaint myself with food traditions. Not coming from a family with a strong food heritage, I am in the process of finding books whose goal it is to recreate traditional dishes with a minimum of tampering and simplification.
I am aware this is a distinctly new-world thing to do. People in countries with long food heritages generally don’t bother trying to adopt traditional recipes from half a world away. Maybe it’s naïve to think you’ll ever touch anything like another culture’s traditional foods, and maybe it’s tokenistic to go about trying, but for better or worse I seem to keep trying.
What I’m Currently Having Trouble With:
Seafood. I like most kinds of seafood, but I don’t truly love any sort of it. Maybe I’m being greedy for wanting to love seafood instead of merely liking it. It just aggravates me that most foodies view seafood as the very height of dining and I know that I’m wrong for disagreeing.
Wine. Again, I like wine, but I’m not in love with it. Wine obsession is a Western thing, though, unlike the prizing of seafood, which is nearly universal.
What I Hate:
Polenta. Oddly, polenta is the only food I can think of off the top of my head that I really despise.
So, if you hate pork and only like polenta, please, just read all of my articles in reverse. It will be just as useful for you as long as you remember your own tastes are exactly the opposite of mine. If we do have some common ground, then good, let’s begin the discussion. I am only one man and I can only eat so much.