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Off Beat – 1 June 2012

What sort of hungry desperation drove someone to look at a shrimp and put it in his mouth? If those things walked on land, even Chuck Norris would watch where he put his feet.

Facebook goes places with conversations that conversations aren’t meant to go. If Facebook were a person and the conversation was your daughter, Facebook would be the one taking her to one of those dark sort of bars that smell a bit greasy and is right next door to the all-night tattoo parlour.
For instance, the other day, there was a conversation about food stamps, or at least I think it began with food stamps. Obviously the conversation began in the US, because that is the land of milk and honey and food stamps. Someone mentioned that food stamps can be used to buy prime rib and lobster. The first thing I thought was that they must have a lot of unemployed millionaires there, sad remnants of the various crises. Perhaps those are a special brand of food stamp, printed on paper with gilt edges. Then I thought about the nature of what they were buying.
Lobsters are interesting from a biological point of view. They are somehow related to the cockroach. They have a hard outer shell and they eat just about anything, the sea’s little cleaners, so to speak. Prime ribs are these long bits of bone surrounded by a layer of gristle followed by a layer of meat and then a layer of greasy, sweet stuff called basting sauce which gets everywhere, including the side of your mouth and your shirt, if you are hungry enough or wave the bones around to illustrate points that you make during dinner conversation.
Take away the words lobster or prime rib and focus on the definitions. What do you get? If your friends and the media didn’t tell you otherwise, you would probably say let’s skip the lobster and ribs, and head straight to a nice piece of rump steak. Someone on that strand actually did say that.
Now let’s talk oysters which have the texture of something I shouldn’t mention and are normally eaten with lemon or Tabasco to avoid the taste. While we are hanging around here, what about snails? What sort of hungry desperation drove someone to look at a shrimp and put it in his mouth? If those things walked on land, even Chuck Norris would watch where he put his feet.
How do we get the idea that offcuts, and things that are found in the more interesting parts of taxonomy books, are desirable? I get the sense that these ideas come from sadistic chefs who have their eye on the better cuts of meat. “Monsieur, don’t be misled by that common cut of mutton, so succulent in its circumference of sizzling fat. Here I have something truly unusual in a dill and brandy sauce. We don’t know what it is called yet, but it definitely caters to the more refined taste of those who are, shall we say, appreciative of gourmet delights.”
There is a fool born every minute, and quite a few of those are born in full view of the maitre d’ who has learned to control the tic on the left side of his face which betrays his desire to burst out laughing. No doubt Kegel exercises help with his bladder.
Where did this riff begin in my mind? I was thinking about wine and my proletarian attitude towards the grape. It may be a superb wine, delicately nuanced, with the sort of finish that is worthy of a two hundred florid words printed in delicate six point Palatino type on a textured faun label, but it will taste just the same with quaffing. Anyone who sips it can’t have the belly for it and is obviously putting off draining it to the lees. That’s Falstaff in a nutshell. It’s the Shakespearean way, mate! Epic!
Nowhere can the pretension surrounding food and drink be better seen than in the enjoyment of good wine. It doesn’t matter whether you sip, gulp or quaff. The wine will be the same and so will be the hangover. Too delicate an approach to the glass might lead to the conclusion that robust conversation may damage you as well.
Food and drink should be matched with conversation, love and the sort of laughter that asks you to clutch the sides of your belly. Eat, drink and be merry: the exercise of ostentatious appreciation will not improve the flavour.

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