June 26, 2009

One man's menudo is another's tripe

Menudo. According to Wikipedia, it contains "tripe, honeycomb and 'librillo' stomach beef meat along with the beef feet and tendons" Just the thought churns my stomach a little. Yet in Mexico, this traditional soup is considered both a star of special occasions and the ultimate hangover cure. Why should I reject tripe, pickled pigs feet, or fish with heads? Certainly, the old saying "don't knock it until you've tried it" should apply, right? After all, every day we eat foods filled with aspartame, which has a higher rating on the hazard diamond than the stuff I use to clean restrooms at work. And it's silly to worry about beef feet when you eat the modern cow in the first place. Besides, I've been eating Rocky Mountain Oysters....calf or sheep testicles, for those of you who might not know, for years. That's way more disgusting than some intestine, right? But my father, who grew up eating them on his family's farm in California during the Sixties, wanted to share the experience with me. He picked out the small ones (without the rubber band like veins so prominent throughout) and deep fried them, serving them to me as "veal nuggets". It's a matter of conditioning. And it's an unfortunate fact of life that a society so obsessed with eating meat is also picky about where it gets it.

Part of my dad's job on the ranch where he works used to be slaughtering cattle when their time came due. I was fortunate-while treated with enough antibiotics to guarantee good health-that the meat I was served growing up was grass fed, without growth hormones, and allowed to wander freely. But whenever a cow was killed, the Indians would take the heart, the tongue, all of the parts of the cow that us Caucasians would have otherwise taken to the dump, and took them home to the reservation. It wasn't just a food of necessity, it was special. While I can understand the desire some people have to not take an animal's life at all, I think the most important thing we can do is to not lose our relationship with our food. It was clear they still had it. But we are so often swayed by the so-called "easy-button" approach to life. The meat in the supermarket hardly looks like it came from a cow or a pig any more. And so it's easy to forget that it's not much different than the ingredients that fill menudo. In preparation for writing this blog, which was really supposed to be a bit more light-hearted than it's turning out to be, I took a look at the ingredients for the soup. The reason was simple: get a list of all the off-putting things that keep me from eating it. But it's other ingredients, besides the tripe and feet? Lemon, onion, cilantro, oregano, hot chilies.....it sounds like the type of thing I make in my kitchen all of the time.

While I hope that my aside to wastefulness was interesting, this really wasn't intended as a soapbox. I do have many critical opinions of our food industry, but for now they are all hypocrisies, so let me return to my original point: the difference between that disgusting chunk of tripe and that wonderful savory soup that even inspired a pop band? Perception. What turned a cow's reproductive organs into a wonderful delicacy? You guessed it, it's still perception.

Which foods disgust you? Did even the mention of a fish with a head bother you or would you take that any day over the average supermarket hot dog? And which of these strange foods do you find yourself drawn to? I'd like to know.

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