The tug of war
I’m brainstorming for a holiday menu I need to submit to a client who wants « la totale », which by the way, is a chef’s dream.. where the sky is the limit, you can use whatever ingredients you want. This is rare, and so writing this kind of menu is extremely fun;I decide to make a night of it, well until “Tout le monde en parle” starts anyway. I sit down with a glass of wine, and some seaweed “caviar” canapés (actually just sesame rice crackers with sour cream, scallions, and my faux caviar). All of a sudden, I know I have to get me some real caviar this Christmas season, a 2 or 4 oz jar, half for the client, half for me. It has been ages, and I’m afraid I might not have the chance again.
Caviar is becoming even more rare a treat because the Russian and Iranian sturgeon stocks (where authentic beluga, ossetra or sevruga caviar comes from) are so low, that it is not far from being banned, and in that light, very hard to justify. Especially that I have been riding the food ethics bandwagon, it was virtually off my list, out of my life, probably forever I thought. Not that I can really afford it anyway, but I also knew there were other options. Sturgeon is being farmed here in North America, and there is now pretty decent American and Quebec Abitibi caviar on the market. Besides, there are so many exquisite foodstuffs out there to cook with, what’s the big deal, right?
But the fact is the minute I realize that something is forbidden, or will be cut off absolutely, I almost suddenly panick, and urgently desire it. It is a reflex, I can’t help it.
Since reading a few eco-food books this year, I have become more concsious and have been making an effort to be more socially and ecologically responsible as a consumer. I never leave home without my canvas bags, I buy local, often organic and avoid industrially produced food, I stay away from unsustainable fish, and I buy fair trade coffee. But I also love veal, and I love shrimp, both no-nos. I will never be a radical activist; I want to keep the joie de vivre in my life. However, I do want to do my part, and I know that if I continue the path I’m on, my days of enjoying them are numbered. I already eat them less than I did before knowledge killed the fun. But as time passes, and the threat of real separation from these precious things approaches, even if it is self-imposed, I am finding it harder and harder.
Hence the panic attacks, the backlash. The last time I was in an Italian restaurant, I ordered veal. This week, when my boyfriend asked me to make a big salad with shrimp and lots of stuff the way he likes it, instead of sensibly coaxing him with something equally appetizing, I went out and bought a whack of shrimp. I read all the labels, but of course there wasn’t anything from North America (a sounder choice because it is more regulated here than in Thailand or Mexico, for instance). As I perused the display case, I couldn’t stop thinking how annoying it was that I should have to feel guilty for making a home cooked meal, and that I might have to give up shrimp, and an easy way of pleasing the boyfriend. For a second, I’m furious, and fuelled by the voices of advocates from the books I’m reading these days, I want to go make a fuss, to blast the grocer, or nicely ask them to buy and stock their shelfs more responsibly. Charge, I’ll tell him or her, some people will pay, just give us a choice! But of course, it’s Sunday, there is no one at the fish counter, there are three employees in the entire supermarket, all of whom appear to be under twenty, and the lines at the cash are alleys long with impatient customers. It is obviously not the time to bring up the issue of sustainable fishing. I grab the bag of shrimp and take my place in line, feeling guilty, but more determined to eat these shrimp than ever.
This is the childish behavior of an addict, or of a spoiled brat, isn’t it? It’s not even that I’m addicted to shrimp either. But I guess I am addicted to good food, and spoiled in that I can usually get or make something I’m craving, if not today, then soon enough. And I don’t like being told what to do, even by myself. Yes, I’m indulgent, but being from a modest background, and a family of ten, it is nonetheless ingrained in me to be somewhat moderate and thankful. Most days, I think how lucky I am to have three meals a day, and to have the life I do. At my best, I am very rational, and a good person you see. But at my weakest, I am a big baby, a stubborn glutton, and an anarchist.
I never liked rules when it came to food; I’ve never dieted, so this is all new to me. However, my new internal food battles do remind me of cigarette smoking. In this case, I am an addict. As the tabacco laws tighten, and smoking becomes less acceptable, not to mention the fact that I am getting carded all the time now, it is becoming increasingly difficult to smoke in peace. The more people tell me I shouldn’t smoke, the more I want to. I don’t know if it is that I’ve let the physical addiction manipulate me or if it is just my rebellious nature. Like with the caviar, or the veal, my desire grows with the prospect of being deprived of something dear in the future. So, I keep enjoying my cigarette or my shrimp like they’re my last, but I keep doing it, putting off the real break up to a later date.
I know how straightforward it is to understand what’s going on and that all I have to do is to make more disciplined efforts to do right. But for me, it is a huge struggle. This irrational reflex must be a deep-rooted evolutionary trait that was once crucial to survival, now it is just misplaced, an obstacle to enlightened living, which I will obviously never be good at. The battle between my lower, primitive animal brain, and my higher, intelligent human brain that knows better, is omnipresent in my life, I know I’m not alone. This duality is common to all of us human beings, as dieters all over and men trying not to cheat on their wives will attest. Things would be easier if I hadn’t tasted the good life, I should have become a nun, and spent my time meditating and making cheese. Maybe I’m too much of a free spirit; too in tune with my kid self or my animal self for a serious, thinking, moral adult. I do try to keep them in balance, but some days, one wins out over the other. And I keep hoping that I will grow up and that things will get easier. But for now, blah, I don’t want to read or think anymore until Christmas when I will have my caviar, how yummy it will be... and then that will be it. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are for... maybe I’ll even quit smoking.