Friday, 1 March 2013

Ready food (Έτοιμα φαγητά)

The more Westernised/globalised people become, the more animal-loving they become, the fewer animals species they eat, the more animal species they treat as pets, and the less they want to see any animal staring at them on their plate. But the more Westernised/globalised people become, the more meat they also eat, especially people who come from non-Western countries; meat on your plate is a sign of wealth. Even vegetarians want to eat meat, which is why fake meat is a top seller, hence the sale of vegetarian sausages and hamburgers. The Chinese are classics in this art, preparing a gluten dough made from flour, and disguising it in the shape of an animal. This kind of food is favoured by vegetarians who want the illusion of eating meat without actually eating meat. But it's also possible to use it in a 'meat' dish that has been falsely labelled, leading to food fraud.

Genuine fake chicken
Westerners find the idea of eating food that looks like animals repugnant. They want to eat meat that doesn't look like the animal it came from. It's difficult to know how they became so fussy; one reason may be linked to the fact that nowadays, more and more people around the world are used to seeing their meat in the form of packaged parcels, which hide the provenance of those processed parcels - where they came from and how they got into the plastic packaging is not their concern, and the less often we can see the origin in our food, the more we become detached to it. The bones of the meat are removed wherever possible from packaged meat, which again gives the illusion of not eating an animal, but some kind of 'natural' food item; it makes the meat feel like a soft tasty edible commodity that grew in the same way as a fruit or vegetable.

easter lamb 2009
Westerners don't expect to see heads and testicles on their plate unless they've ordered them. But they would also be quite naive if they believed that the meat from the head or testicle of an animal is not getting into their food if they eat any form of processed meat. You really have no idea what salami, sausages, ready-minced meat (fresh or frozen), prepared meals containing mince (lasagne, moussaka, pastitsio, frozen meatballs and burger patties, etc) contains, apart from looking at the labeling  and now with the horsemeat scandal, we have clear proof that the modern food chain was never trustworthy because trust is fluid concept. Food labels  were never really reliable.

Travel broadens the mind, and ones taste buds. The best Greek sausages come from Karpenisi in Central Greece, as we found out during a summer holiday. Last Christmas, I got a friend to send me sausages made by local small producers in the area - for the size of the town (1000 town residents, not including outlying regions), they produce a lot. 

The minced meat and sausage industries must be the two most controversial processed meat works in the world. The ingredients are so finely chopped/minced/processed, that there is no way the average human being can have any idea about the contents of the final product, except to read the label, which can only be believed by trusting it, not be testing it. Mechanically recovered meat is a highly controversial process, and its final product is often called desinewed meat, slime and slurry. It sounds disgusting, which is where its controversy is derived; it is not approved for use in all food production or even in all countries, but it is still being used in the making of minced meat products. This goes by largely undetected; even DNA tests cannot tell you if meat is mechanically recovered (they can only tell you if it is horse, beef or chicken). Once you mix your slurry with other ingredients in items such as sausages, it is virtually impossible to separate them.

I made these meatballs yesterday - apart from cornmeal, onion, leek, parsley, cumin, salt and pepper, they contain all the meat obtained from a goat's head (including the brain, eyes and  tongue). And they were incredibly tasty.

Westerners have an uptight belief in the power of the wording of a label, and they see it as their right to know what they are eating. Their uncompromising reliance on the label is mainly due to the fact that Westerners are the least likely to live and/or work in rural areas of their countries, and to be involved directly or indirectly with their food chain, which is very long and very complicated. But few of them have any involvement in their food chain. As an example, internet figures reveal that in the UK, 80% of the population live in urban settings; in the US, it's 85%; in Australia, it's 90%. In  Greece, it's been 35-45% for the last 50 years, which means that there is at least 1 person working in the food industry and/or agriculture for every 3 people in the country. The food chain in Greece can therefore afford to be shorter.

Ready meals in Greece: they're generally not of the heat and eat variety (you still have to cook them) - and they are definitely not cheap, as ready foods are in Northern Europe.

The truth is that we all want to spend less time pissing around in the kitchen, because of the more interesting diversions that exist in our world. We are all more sedentary these days, because nearly everyone in the world now has some kind of access to computers or smart phones which take out the hassle of the most basic transaction, costing us less personal energy spent. This takes time away from cooking from scratch. Some form of ready meal is our future: it suits the developed world. The kinds of ready meals that are eaten by different cultures can differ vastly, but they do the same job. Ready meals are also undoubtedly cheaper, mainly because, at present, it's hard to question their contents, so really, anything could go into them, and it probably does, at the lowest cost:
 "There isn't cheap beef to be found anywhere," he says. "But we still believe that ready meals can be made as cheaply as they always have been."
Wait till you can print food in the same way that you can do 3D-printing these days - you'll be standing at a machine watching your food get printed. Personally, I don't think food can get cheaper for me where I am at the moment, than making it myself at home, using the fresh food we grow ourselves, and supplementing it with local sourcing of whatever we don't, together with a few staples like flour, rice, pasta and bread. No ready meals can beat the quality of my own cooking. Except perhaps a good sausage from Karpenisi, and Boxerchips crisps, but they are special cases of ready meals.

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