Monday, 12 January 2009

Could you eat an elephant?

Occasionally there is a metaphorical planetary alignment of the sort that can make you exceedingly and effortlessly happy. The best of these are also staggeringly simple and serve to reinforce your general outlook on life. Eating a freshly barbecued cob of corn with my girlfriend whilst sat on a piece of driftwood, with sand between my toes and the Andaman Sea easing into the distance was one such example from last summer.

Other times, these moments of simple happiness are closer to home and more easily attainable as shall be witnessed, no doubt, on Wednesday evening.

I’ve written much about a chap called Fergus Henderson, a rather eccentric London based chef (and qualified architect) who has single-handedly managed to transform the culinary landscape in this country by making offal and other parts of animals ‘beyond the fillet’ not only accessible but also desirable and uber-chic (you don’t see a Franco-Germanic verbal alliance like that every day).



(Photo taken from New York Magazine)

I own both his books (not just wonderful cookbooks, but also excellent reading material) and am hoping to make a pilgrimage to his restaurant at some point in the near future. In short, he is a hero.

Secondly, I have a slightly bizarre penchant for the unusual and an adventurous palate, especially when it comes to the exotic. I am fully aware that we are unwillingly penned in by our own cultural sensibilities and the food we grew up with is the food that feels comfortable and right. In an effort to try and side-step this culinary prison, I make every effort to try things that sound odd, strange or even disgusting.

Somewhat inspired by intrepid adventurers like Anthony Bourdain (my other great food hero and something of a role-model) I make every effort to put aside my own prejudices and chew down the unusual with an open mind and receptive mouth. As a result I love seeing others do the same.

So it was with great glee and delight when I discovered that Channel Four, here in the UK, will be showing a new series entitled ‘Could You Eat an Elephant?’ in which Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee (head chef at the Blueprint CafĂ©) travel the world in search of the foods that make us pull a face like a child eating Marmite covered cabbage at the mere mention of them. Maggot infested cheese, dog, horse and snake heart all feature on the menu at some point, not to mention the eponymous elephant.

Those expecting voyeuristic simplicity, of the sort seen in ‘I’m a Celebrity’s’ infamous bush-tucker challenge, will (hopefully) be disappointed. This should be anthropology in action with two intelligent (if slightly eccentric) characters at the helm who are trying to find their culinary ceiling as well as taking a serious look at the culinary norms of cultures and societies all over the world.

A planetary alignment of the sort that is making me as excited as an obese child at a Pizza Hut lunchtime buffet.

Could You Eat an Elephant? Channel 4, Wednesday 14th January, 10pm.

11 comments:

Foodycat said...

It sounds interesting - personally I couldn't eat an elephant/dog/cat/monkey/snake.

Hopie said...

Your similes crack me up! I'm happy to hear about your adventures, especially because I don't think I'd personally be half as willing to eat things that sound disgusting!

Addictive Picasso said...

Enjoy...but also engage with the angsty cultural stuff around what we do/don't/will/won't choose to eat. It's troubling!

Anonymous said...

Do you realise that dogs and cats are tortured to death in China and other countries for their meat? Tin cans jammed over their noses, then skinned alive. They take over ten minutes to die in incredible pain and suffering

Alex Rushmer said...

Foodycat - Thank you. I'll be reporting back tomorrow if you don't manage to catch it.

Hopie - Thanks! Always happy to oblige if I'm certain it won't make me feel too queasy.

Addictive Picasso - Thanks for the comment. Read your piece, very enjoyable

Anon - Yes, I do realise that. Yes, I think it is abhorrant in the same way that any intensive meat farming is cruel. However, it is an issue that I reasonably sure will be broached on the programme and I don't feel any more sympathy for them because they are dogs or cats. Our cultural and social boundaries suggest that for some reason dogs and cats, or 'pets' in general are more worthy of compassion whereas I don't agree.

I'm not entirely sure if your comment was an invitation to debate or just a faintly patronising remark. Either way, thank you for your input and I'd be happy to discuss this with you further if you so wished.

Samantha Dixon said...

Unfortunately having read reviews of this, I believe such animal cruelty issues are not broached in an appropriate manner. Obviously time will tell.

I DO however think it rather inappropriate that Could you eat an elephant? should be aired on C4 IMMEDIATELY after the opening of the new series The Secret Life of Elephants which is fighting to promote the hard work of conservationists from the Save the Elephants foundation.

Henry said...

If these chefs want to eat something exotic why not eat human flesh and start by eating each other. Anyone who eats flesh from an animal that has suffered or was healthy and killed for its flesh is really ethically no different than a sadist who gains pleasure from inflicting unnecessary pain on another being.

The only justification we have for inflicting suffering and death on 53 billion animals per year is that we get pleasure from eating them; that it is convenient for us to eat them; that it is a habit

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't anything that also eats meat. That is a basic rule in the circle of life. It's non comparable to lamb, pork etc.

Eating Dogs is wrong, the vietnamese may not have a choice but we do and these chefs have endorsed this behavoiur by eating dog meat.

It was a nice little advertisiment for all the people who have no conscience and don't mind eating fois gras or such, I'm sure those type of people would be happy to let a "molly" or " butch" be served up in a carrot and brie foam.

Anonymous said...

Surely the point of an exotic eating programme is that the presenters actually try eating the various foods on offer. Watching them refuse to eat dog, rat, monkey and eventually elephant made me wonder why on earth Fergus and Jeremy bothered to make a show such as this. I'm now thinking of making my own show in which I travel around the world refusing to eat anything unusual for 90 minutes. Hopefully I can waste some of their time as they did with mine. Can they eat an elephant? No. Can they try anything too out of the ordinary? No.

Anonymous said...

You don't think dogs and cats deserve the same basic welfare rights as the cows and sheep receive here??

You think it's fine to torture an animal to death?

By even trying to compare intensive farming methods in the UK with the way dogs are treated in Vietnam is just plain stupid.

Animal cruelty in it's extreme and people see that as entertainment? Sick.

I have no time for ego heavy chefs trying to out do each other in this pathetic way or people who will excuse anyone anything because they thought there book was good.

Stand for nothing fall for anything.

Alex Rushmer said...

Samantha - Seems like you were right. Issues of animal treatment were glossed over rather too flippantly for me.

Henry - Thank you for your insight. It probably goes without saying that I disagree with at least one of your assertions - I don't believe that the only justification we have for eating animals is convenience or force of habit, for a start. However, animal suffering is an unacceptable and avoidable practice.

Anon - Perhaps. But again, I have t o say that we cannot impress our own social mores onto other cultures. Such ethnocentrism is a dangerous and patronising position to take.

Anon - Fair point. I agree and was disappointed by the show.

Anon - Not too sure where you got that point from. Can only assume you mis-read something I wrote. At no point did I say it was OK to torture an animal to death and I have no idea how you managed to make that rather significant and fictional leap. Please take the time to read what I actually wrote before making such comments.