Food for Thought by Barbara Nadel

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Now that no-one who is anyone smokes, bathes in gin (unless it’s from a micro distillery run by elves) or shoves bags of Columbian Marching Powder up their noses, food seems to have become the vice du jour. Switch on the telly and there it is – tiny nuggets of free range lamb enrobed in truffle foam that looks not unlike larks spit. Usually presented by some goggle eyed messianic chef yelling about provenance, it’ll cost you a fortune but hey! Gwyneth Paltrow has been seen eating it at that restaurant that used to be a public bog and apparently it has changed her life. Food is totally fetishised.

Food has been on my brain, as it were, for some time. TV, magazines and exposure to some very odd people known as ‘foodies’ have all had their influence. Not long ago I was in a restaurant in Istanbul where everyone apart from me was photographing their food. Strangely I wasn’t tempted to record my sea bass for all time, although the chocolate mousse was quite photogenic.

The step from fetishised food to murder was not a big one. My latest Ikmen book, ‘On the Bone’, which has food as one of its themes, arose naturally out of my increasing anxiety over the place of food in our lives. High end restaurant meals have become very strange in some quarters lately. Some chefs use very outre ingredients. You can (apparently) have liquorice on almost anything now and the number of chemicals used to freeze dry or ‘spherify’ innocent vegetables look as if they could have come from Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory. And don’t even get me started on the fish that can kill you if it’s not prepared in the correct fashion.

I took as my starting point the notion that a really ambitious and possibly megalomanic chef will view anything and everything as an ‘ingredient’. This may include daft things like gingham as well as stuff that’s a bit on the taboo side of things, like Holy Water. Then of course, inevitably, the possibility of using the human body reared up.

Cannibalism is rare – as far as we know. Drinking the blood of one’s enemies was a practice that was common in some ancient cultures but actually eating human meat has not often been recorded. Some tribes in Papua New Guinea are still rumoured to eat human flesh and the cannibalistic rituals of the Leopard Men of West Africa in the mid 1900s are well documented. Various dictators – including the Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Empire and Kim Jong Un of North Korea have been accused of cannibalism in the past, but whether they actually ate human flesh is still not really known.

What is known however is that, with some thought, cannibalism can be a very effective way of hiding a dead body. If you’ve got the stomach for it. Bones and teeth can be ground down to powder and parts that the offender/s don’t fancy eating may be burned. There can also be a sexual element. The German cannibal Armin Meiwes advertised on the Internet for a ‘fit young man’ who wanted to be eaten in 2001. Amazingly a candidate emerged and Meiwes killed his victim and ate him with olive oil and garlic. Apparently he derived enormous pleasure from this as did, so Meiwes said, his victim prior to death. Clearly a very disordered and outre use of the word pleasure, but then as one of my psychology lecturers once said when talking about sexual mores ‘if it exists, someone wants to shag it.’ The same may, it seems, be said for consumption. What can and can’t be eaten is defined by culture, religion, circumstance (it is said that those trapped in the city of Stalingrad in 1942/43 may have eaten human flesh because they were starving) and also fashion. For instance if you’d tried to find a restaurant that served liquorice when I was a kid in the 1960s you would have been out of luck. Ditto black (or blood) pudding which was viewed as poor people’s food back then. Now everything seems to include black pudding which is just so NOW, my dear.

In addition where you eat and how you eat it has become much more loose, shall we say. Only yesterday I heard about a cocktail bar in London where you can drink cocktails out of a boot while staring at a life-sized picture of Winston Churchill. That, I am cool with, provided you don’t have to remortgage your house to be able to do it. Sadly you usually do have to take out some sort of loan to go to such places – unless you’re Richard Branson. That said, it’s all rather fin de siecle and it does make you wonder ‘what next?’ Rome isn’t literally burning, but the world is in a terrible state of upheaval which is manifesting in unspeakable acts of cruelty and distain for human life. And yet some are still eating lavender scented lambs ears marinated in Holy Water out of a leather briefcase.

How far are we from indulging ourselves with a little light cannibalism? Really?

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