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Jeff Werner

Designer in Vancouver, Canada. Secretary of the 221A Artist Run Centre, member of Fieldwork design collective, and former exhibit designer at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Vancouver Aquarium. Graduate of Emily Carr and University of Victoria, and worked in the Philippines, Indonesia and the Netherlands. Cycling advocate and race on the Garneau Evolution team.

Food, October 12, 2004 12:58 AM 0 comments

On Gastronomic Sin and Adulthood

In reflecting recently on food and its counterpart, eating, I have formulated two ideas: to eat is an eternal sin, and that the Western right of passage to adulthood involves cooking your first turkey.

Whether you "eat to live" or "live to eat," one's philosophy for food is mere annotation when our species, in general, needs to consume plant and/or animal products, digest them, and poop 'em out just to do the whole shebang again a few hours later. In many ways our situation is more like "eat to eat."

So I'll touch upon a couple of these many ways that have led me to such a view. For one, since I've undertaken the competitive side of my new sport, as well kicking around in my old one a bit more rigorously, so too I've noticing a spike in my calorie intake. As in I am eating a lot more, all the time. I stare slack-jawed at the monitor as much as I stare slack-jawed at the fridge and cupboard, scanning like a hyena for foodstuffs requiring the least amount of effort to prepare.

It's more than laziness. The reason I've come up with is that I'm so dedicated to my pursuits as to not have the energy for that bourgeois past time, cooking. Thus honey sucked straight from the bottle, chased with a smear of peanut butter on a butter knife, is lunch.

I'm a student diner again. But even the most inactive armchair barbarian needs to eat all the time. I could (if I wanted to) sleep in for 12 hours and spend the next 12 watching Buffy re-runs and still eat four full meals and as many snacks. And whether your definition of meal is "oven-glazed brill served with fennel cream, anchovies, and roasted currants, then a stew of suckling pig that has been slow-cooked in a red-wine sauce thickened with its own blood, onions, and bacon,"* or Shreddies, there is no choice: you must eat something---anything---all the time.

Yet it still amazes me how much heat the human body produces. It is a factory of thermal production; consuming, digesting and seemingly giving energy away against my will. I start thinking about the chicken and the egg, as in, the analogy: do I eat so much just to run this factory? Or does this factory run because I eat so much? Either or, I could be in a coma for the rest of my life and still be sucking back an intravenous grocery bag everyday.

That old cliché, the one that equates a man's heart, his stomach, and how a woman should use one to get to the other, goes the wrong direction, halfway down a one-way street. Everything about every man or woman is connected to his or her belly.

Of course people figured this out years ago. The Romans had their tummy traditions, Bacchanalian orgies of consumption frequented with merry deposits to the neighborhood vomitorium. Today's national obesity statistics reveal a modern embrace of some of the same ideals, a sort of coming to---maybe succumbing to---terms with the beast of the belly.

Even the Fall of Man was a matter of the gullet. In that sin-to-begin-all-sins, we couldn't resist the apple, not for want of knowledge or trickery, but because, to paraphrase Fat Bastard, we wanted it to git in our belly. I'm sure Adam and Eve had all sorts of delicacies with which to indulge themselves endlessly in the garden, and, it seams, so do we. But the great punishment we, as their descendents, must endure is not lack of choice of what's for dinner, but rather the lack of choice over having dinner at all. If the Garden of Eden was a true paradise with every comfort and need satisfied, the freedom to not eat at all probably came with it. Food would have been a merry whim. Whereas we can choose breaded asparagus with poached eel in pools of tarragon butter, or stew of veal breast in a purée of ham and oysters, for dinner, Adam and Eve could have chosen the same, or if the fancy grabbed them, nothing at all.

And so on Sunday, in a conscious embrace of that curse we are all enslaved to (thanks a lot Original Sin), I ate way too much.

If there was a saving grace, however, it was that for the first time we made Thanksgiving dinner ourselves. A dinner like Moms would make. OK, the gravy came from a package, and the stuffing wasn't so much stuffed as removed from a box and stirred with water. But the turkey was of the real dead animal variety, with identifiable anatomy and real guts the likes of which the girlfriend and I wrenched from its gloomy cavity and replaced with whole chopped onions, apples and carrots; whose hide we hand-smothered in oil and spices; whose 6 kg carcass we roasted and basted for 4.5 hours.

And I carved our fine bird with a blunt machete Ikea had the gall to sell as a knife. And the girlfriend and I, and her roommate and her Calgarian boyfriend---having flown in that morning---partook of bread and wine and bird in a merry fashion.

Hours later I had stirred as far as the living room couch and still couldn't fit in more than a sliver of pumpkin pie and one scoop if ice cream. Soon after we retired I was writhing in bed. Though lethargic beyond any sporting comparison from the heat of the oven-fired apartment, the turkey's tryptophan and more than my share of the white wine, I cried into the arms of the girlfriend as I vainly searched for a secure position with which to sleep upon the pregnant swell of my abdomen without suffering its asphyxiating pressure on my diaphragm, or worse, a full-volume regurgitation.

But lo the night came to end
and I awoke to the dawn
of a new day, and
a new stomach
void of gestation and ache.

The memory of the evening's ceremony
the holy sacrifice of
a creature who once
ate that it may eat
deprived of life in its body
in order that I may live in mine
was a distant but comforting memory.

And within moments
again I craved
for something to eat.

*Quoted from: A Really Big Lunch (Thirty-seven courses and thirteen wines.), by Jim Harrison, The New Yorker, September 6, 2004

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