Sunday, December 27, 2009

Idea Garage Sale: Life Among the Carnivores

In 1998, I realized that I don't like meat, so I stopped eating it. I did not stop preparing it, as I was living at that time with two people who did like meat, one of whom would not eat crunchy vegetables and one of whom would not eat food while it was hot.

Not only did I start enjoying my food more (hot, crunchy vegetables! Yum!), I suddenly got healthier. It wasn't cutting out the meat per se that made the difference; it was the increase in fiber and nutrients and decrease in sodium that happened when I felt at liberty to cook food the way I prefer it, as fresh as possible. However, the degree of interpersonal conflict in my life rose. Where before I was only in the petty political struggles of a household - cook vs. dishwasher, dishwasher vs. dishwasher, consumer vs. cook, in all of which conflicts I, as sole cook, was invariably the loser - now I found myself constantly at loggerheads with society. People took offense at my vegetarianism no matter how little it impacted them, behaving as though my selection of one dish over another was a personal attack, assuming that I was attempting to one-up them in a kind of conspicuous moral consumption, and launching into scathing criticisms of positions I hadn't taken. Prospective hosts would apologize for not knowing what to feed me, and act surprised when I pointed out that most of what they ate wasn't meat, either, and I could dine well on what they considered to be side dishes.

So I started writing a book in my head, and have been writing it ever since. I call it Life Among the Carnivores, but the subtitle keeps changing. At the moment, it's something like Cooking, Housekeeping, and Hosting in the Real World. American schools don't teach nutrition well and don't discuss the micropolitics of food at all, so the emphasis would be on giving the reader - envisioned as a young adult on her own for the first time - the tools necessary to make the choices that suit her best and negotiate the irrational responses other people have to those choices.

Yeah, because there's nothing young adults love more than having a wise older adult pass on her hard-earned wisdom. :rolleyes:

Oh, sure, there is a need for such a book. Judging from the historical performance of advice books the need even translates into a market. But I'm not a professional nutritionist, or chef, or caterer, or even a home ec teacher. I have no platform on which to build this book.

That doesn't mean that, if I ever got this book out of my head and onto a page, it wouldn't be a good and useful book. But - in the real world of publishing - in order to sell it to other people as a good and useful book, I would have to spend time positioning myself as an expert and convincing people that they want to take my advice. I'd rather spend time writing fiction. Besides - alas - in the real world no one values my advice enough to make me think that any degree of positioning would profit me. Some of the things I want most desperately to be in the book, I haven't figured out how to do! My best efforts to make my dietary requirements easy and untroublesome keep failing on the rocks of other people's complete lack of desire to understand. One person who has been making a huge fuss every time in the past 11 years that there's been danger of her having to feed me, without actually taking any trouble to present me with edible food, asked me recently whether I would eat ox-tail! When I get enough wisdom to teach that person the definition of "vegetarian," or to handle my reaction to her effectively, I'll have enough wisdom to make the effort of producing and marketing Life Among the Carnivores.

But that's not happening, so I'm making the idea available cheap.

The book would have "The Cook's Bill of Rights" and "The Consumer's Bill of Rights" in it; but after 11 years I can only come up with one right each: The consumer has the right to palatable, healthy food, and The cook has the right not to have her dishes greeted with a suspicious glare, a couple of pokes, and the accusatory query "What is it?" in a tone indicating near-certainty that something poisonous lurks within this travesty of a meal. That comes down to trust, really. The cook must strive to be worthy of it (not just make a fuss) and the consumer must then give it; or the fabric of society breaks down.

I envision it as containing few or no recipes, only definitions and descriptions of the basic cooking techniques that are the building blocks of meals. If you know how to boil, broil, fry, sauté, braise, roast, bake, and make a sauce, and have some basic information about the properties of foods, as well as a sense of taste, you can improvise a meal whenever you need to out of whatever you have.

There'd also be all the nutritional information we need to make good decisions for our own particular livestyles; outlines of the various methods of cooking; discussions of why and under what conditions various extremes of diet (Vegan, omitting all animal products and the traditional Arctic diet, consisting almost entirely of animal products) are healthy; advice on hosting a diverse group of people; advice on being a guest with a dietary restriction (voluntary or otherwise); and an entire chapter, or possibly a subsection, on sharing space with other people, none of whom - I promise you - will have the same standards or goals as you. The reason I always lost those interpersonal conflicts mentioned earlier is that I thought the important thing was that the work got done, while the other people I lived with were arguing from the position that the important thing was who did it.

If I ever figure out how to ensure that everyone in an argument is in the same argument, I'll be sure and tell you. It would be a crime to charge for a breakthrough that vital to the history of the human race.

No comments:

Post a Comment