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Posts Tagged ‘Zoophagy’

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No, I’m not suggesting that you eat the refrigerator – I was just looking for an excuse to use the illustration. But it does raise the question of whether we ‘understand’, or know, or experience, our food in the same way if that food is an icy plastic-covered super-industrialized product created by a corporation for mass consumption or if that food is rather the odd turnip or potato pulled up at the farm by Pappy then carefully washed, sliced and stewed by Mammy with the bit of salt pork from the pig slaughtered each autumn by Uncle Wilbur.

Have you ever considered eating something unusual for the purpose of ‘understanding’ it? (This is not the same thing as eating something strange for the purpose of  bragging about it afterwards to all your eagerly disgusted friends!)

One family in particular of a studious nature took to this idea. Their tables were graced with some very interesting foodstuffs.

Not only was his house filled with specimens – animal as well as mineral, live as well as dead – but he claimed to have eaten his way through the animal kingdom: zoophagy. The most distasteful items were mole and bluebottle; panther, crocodile and mouse were among the other dishes noted by guests. Augustus Hare, a famous English raconteur and contemporary, recalled, “Talk of strange relics led to mention of the heart of a French King preserved at Nuneham in a silver casket. Dr. Buckland, whilst looking at it, exclaimed, ‘I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,’ and, before anyone could hinder him, he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever.” The heart in question is said to have been that of Louis XIV. Buckland was followed in this bizarre hobby by his son Frank.

Like father, like son – Francis Trevelyan Buckland followed his dad William in the ways of the table.

Buckland was a pioneer of zoöphagy: his favourite research was eating the animal kingdom. This habit he learnt from his father, whose residence, the Deanery, offered such rare delights as mice in batter, squirrel pie, horse’s tongue and ostrich. After the ‘Eland Dinner’ in 1859 at the London Tavern, organised by Richard Owen, Buckland set up the Acclimatization Society to further the search for new food. In 1862 100 guests at Willis’ Rooms sampled Japanese Sea slug (= sea cucumber, probably), kangaroo, guan, curassow and Honduras turkey. This was really quite a modest menu, though Buckland had his eye on Capybara for the future. Buckland’s home, 37 Albany Sreet, London, was famous for its menagerie and its varied menus. [4]

His writing was sometimes slapdash, but always vivid and racy, and made natural history attractive to the mass readership. This is an example:

“On Tuesday evening, at 5pm, Messrs Grove, of Bond Street, sent word that they had a very fine sturgeon on their slab. Of course, I went down at once to see it… The fish measured 9 feet in length [nearly three metres]. I wanted to make a cast of the fellow… and they offered me the fish for the night: he must be back in the shop the next morning by 10 am… [various adventures follow] I was determined to get him into the kitchen somehow; so, tying a rope to his tail, I let him slide down the stone stairs by his own weight. He started all right, but ‘getting way’ on him, I could hold the rope no more, and away he went sliding headlong down the stairs, like an avalanche down Mont Blanc… he smashed the door open… and slid right into the kitchen… till at last he brought himself to an anchor under the kitchen table. This sudden and unexpected appearance of the armour-clad sea monster, bursting open the door… instantly created a sensation. The cook screamed, the house-maid fainted, the cat jumped on the dresser, the dog retreated behind the copper and barked, the monkeys went mad with fright, and the sedate parrot has never spoken a word since.” [5]

Now that sounds like a fun place to visit! I never before thought the Dean of Westminster and his family so very exciting!

The only thing I feel really badly about is that I have not (yet) located their recipe for Rhinoceros Pie. Do you think perhaps Rhinoceros Pies is the magical thing inside the Holy Refrigerator illustrated above? Or is it a TV dinner in there? Or that famous organic turnip? Or some leftover canned spaghetti? Or . . . . ? What could it possibly be?!

And having eaten the things we eat, do we then understand them? Or do we write our own stories about them to suit our own pleasures and to fit our own mindsets . . . .

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