Thursday, July 23, 2015

Selfies; Corruption; Spanglish; Rights; Tastes; Bloody Facebook; & Bloody salad.

The cretinous selfie craze just got worse, in the UK at least. Drivers are taking them at the wheel. Which reminds me . . . A truck driver yesterday waved his apologies as he almost drove me down in the middle of a zebra crossing. In his other hand, of course, was his mobile phone. Nowt as daft as folk, as we say oop north. 

Corruption: The Spanish ex-head of the IMF has now been formally charged with 3 'serious' financial crimes. He was caught by the favourite trick of the Tax Office here - an 'amnesty' for minor transgressions. His bail is €18m. And then there's the Energy Secretary of the Andalucian Junta who's resigned after being collared for improperly taking an electric feed for his (illegal) home. You couldn't make it up.

On a lighter note . . . HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas for the latest Spanglish phrase: Off de record. As he says, risible.

Would you like to live in a place where dogs and cats had the same rights as you? If so, move to the Spanish town of Trigueros del Valle where this has just been instituted. Animal charities, needless to say, hail the bizarre move and hope it'll be introduced across Spain. Let's give the vote to the oyster, say I.

And talking of people . . . Aren't food tastes odd? Someone wrote yesterday of her impossibility of being in the same building as ginger. I, on the other hand, adore this root but have a similar problem with cucumber. And I don't like cheeses that taste of, well, cheese. Some have no flavour, of course, and I can tolerate these. On food . . . at the end of this post is an excellent answer to the eternal question - What is the point of salad?

Finally . . . The latest irritation from Facebook is Related Posts on your page that you can't get rid of. The answer is F.B. Purity, a free app which prevents the "related content" pop-ups. 

There is a basic principle that salad offends: food is nicer when it has been cooked.

What on earth is the point of salad? I've never liked it, which is a problem in our house, because my wife not only loves it, but is also something of an expert on it. She travels the country lecturing large groups of beautifully attired ladies on the virtues of Mizuna and Lettuce "Reine de Glace", recommending Buckler-leaf sorrel and a kind of coriander called, tragically, "Leisure" as the essential ingredients with which to make their salads - and lives - perfect.

Even after years of indoctrination, I remain indifferent. There is a basic principle that salad offends: food is nicer cooked. Cooking, in fact, is what makes food edible, not in some boring physiological maiden-aunt sense that boiled carrots are more easily digested, but something subtler than that. Cooking is one of the things, like farming, gardening, hunting and fishing, that connects us to the rest of the world. Cooking, an anthropologist would say, is the great mediator. It makes the world friendly and accommodates the wild. Human society has always gathered around the bubbling pot.

Sauce is the essence of civilisation.

Inevitably, then, rawness is a kind of hostility, the tabletop equivalent of a nudist colony. These strange, uncooked naked bodies come at you unadorned and untransformed, emerging shockingly from the undergrowth, unapologetic in their flagrant and bushy nakedness, lying there in front of you as though it were up to you to make the social running. Which, of course, is not on: food, of all things, should not be rude.

Salad, like 99%t of naked bodies, is in that way deeply disturbing. We all know that what makes bodies beautiful are clothes, that what turns Botticelli's Primavera into such an entrancing figure is not only her long, pale, reticent, almond-shaped face, but her soft, wind-blown, wafting dress that sweeps around her. Leighton, the most gifted of all English painters of the human figure, used to paint his models nude and then clothe them on the canvas, painting on those marvellous fabrics, bringing about a kind of transformational beauty, the acculturating opposite of the striptease.

Beauty is dressed and cooked.

Of course none of us thought like that when we were 19. Nakedness, the unadorned reality, was what loveliness was in those long forgotten days. And if we all somehow stayed 19, in a sort of permanently Botoxed world, no doubt that is what we would still think. But we don't. We are 47 and might as well admit it.

It's an odd phrase, "to dress a salad", but an acute one. Oil and vinegar are there to hide the realities. To dress a salad is to cook it, that mixture of sharpness and oiliness the transforming opposite of the awful greeny crunchy natural qualities of the unadorned leaves. I will admit that I love salad dressing and that, if lettuce has been drowning in it for 24 hours, so that not a fibre of its crunch remains, that is something I find irresistible. [Very true].

The entire history of Western civilisation in the past 500 years doesn't agree with me. The modern world has witnessed the triumph of the salad. The Middle Ages didn't like it much. A cook book of c.1500 warned that "green salads and raw fruit will make you sovereign sick", but from the late 16th century onwards, salads started their inexorable rise. Capitalism, empire, the triumph of the Royal Navy, the growth of cities, commerce, literacy, curtains in houses, the Industrial Revolution and universal suffrage all stimulated the growth of the salad. The more sophisticated people became, the more they longed for the taste of the raw.

The salad is a symptom of dysfunction, of people who are increasingly divorced from natural processes but increasingly longing to get back to a bit of nature by eating it. You don't find much salad in a farmhouse. Farmhouse lunches are comprehensively cooked, with nature properly held at bay outside in the woods and fields. Salad thrives in urban, commercial, modern, deracinated places, where the most elegant form that sophistication can take is the pretence at denying it.

But a crashing irony about the salad obsession of the industrialised West is now coming to light. As Felicity Lawrence has described in Not on the Label, her book on the global food production system, the pre-washed salads that everyone now buys in supermarkets are some of the most industrialised and poisonous foods available, often produced using savagely exploited labour. Salad leaves drenched in chlorine, deprived because of the way in which they are packed of much of their goodness, imported from the hideous poly-tunnel cities of southern Spain, where migrant African workers survive virtually enslaved: all of this is what the hunger for lovely, available, bright-green, washed rawness-in-a-bag now feeds off.

It's disgusting and pathetic in equal measure. McDonald's, on the run from the criticisms in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, has now turned itself into something like a salad bar. But that's not the place to end up either. The modern commercially grown salads are a lie. What's the answer? Free allotments for all? The Health Department promoting Grow-Your-Own? Perhaps one day. At least it would be good to hear of a belief in government that these things matter.

Lenox: You're welcome to quote this in next week's BoT. . . 

No comments: