The world is divided into two groups of eaters: those who eat offal and those who don’t. Period.
In the world of offal there are no in-betweeners, no maybe’s and no ambiguity. You’re either in or you’re out.
The reasons for not eating offal vary greatly. For some it is the smell, for others the taste or the texture. Yet, truth be told, all are united in the idea.
It is the idea of eating innards that freak them out.
After all, its very name means garbage. Thus the perception that offal is dirty, worthy only to be thrown at criminals to show public contempt for dreadful deeds of crime or conspiracy to commit sodomy. It is true: in 1809 two Londoners, Richard Dudman and Edward Wood were sentenced to two years imprisonment and to stand one hour in the pillory where the public could throw offal at them supplied by butchers from nearby markets.
Cultural and religious taboos aside, if you have not grown up in a family where offal was eaten, chances are slim that you will ever eat it.
Lets face it – you would not have to. You have a choice. Supermarket shelves are filled with all cuts of meat, and since you no longer hunt or produce your own meat, you’re free to choose only the bits you like, and not worry about the rest.
The modern food system is all about choice and thus power to the consumer. Or so they say.
But, while you are in the shop buying your prime cut of meat, walk over to the fresh fruit section and count the varieties of apples available to you. One? Two? Three? At most I’d say. And I bet Granny Smiths are one of them.
Now, get to the cereal shelves and have a look around. Just how many varieties and brands of breakfast cereal can you choose from? Ten? Twenty? Maybe, if it is high-end shop, thirty?
Why the difference? Well, retailers in our current food system choose which varieties of fruits and vegetables they want to sell to you. In the case of apples, they must look uniformly good, and should be able to survive the long trip from farm to shelf. And often this includes fairly long trips by lorry, boat or airplane.
In fact, most varieties that are sold to you have been specifically cultivated for these qualities. Not taste and nutritional value, but shape, colour and toughness. No traditional varieties, please. They taste ‘too applely’, might not be big enough and will not look uniformly good enough. Oh, and they’ll get bruised.
So what’s the deal with breakfast cereal? Well, processed food is where the real profit (and hidden sugar and fat) is. Generally it is much cheaper to manufacture food than grow it. So that’s where food companies and retailers provide the consumer with all the choice. It does not matter what you buy their profits will remain good.
But unfortunately, processed foods are much more unhealthy. Lets take a quick look at the effects of the current food system.
Firstly, nearly a billion people today are obese, and a similar number are chronically hungry. Given the health related problems associated with either condition, nearly two billion people world-wide are suffering from food related health conditions.
Second, processed foods have been directly linked to obesity and through that, metabolic diseases such as diabetes. It’s not that people always eat too much, it’s that they eat too many of the wrong foods. Processed foods with high sugar contents and harmful fats form a big part of the problem.
Recent research showed that chronic malnutrition associated with poverty, makes children very susceptible to Type II diabetes later on in life. Thus, not too far from now, rich and poor will suffer from the same disease, but for different reasons.
Third, the big companies that control the current food system, keep on driving prices down under the pretext of global competitiveness, and in the process, drives farmers into the ground. Literally. It is now accepted that the suicide rate for farmers worldwide is much higher than that of the non-farm populations. In the Midwest of the USA the male farmer suicide rate is estimated at double that of the population as a whole.
British farmers commit suicide at a rate of nearly one a week, and in India one farmer committed suicide every 32 minutes between 1997 and 2005. Nearly all these producers of food and raw materials were heavily indebted.
Finally, nearly one third of the food that is produced for human consumption world-wide is lost or wasted. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of food.
Consumers in industrialised countries, the mekka of processed foods, waste nearly 222 million tons, an amount nearly equal to the volume of food produced in sub-Sahara Africa (230 million tons).
We are getting sick, we kill our farmers, we waste food and not surprisingly we are running out of food. And that is the Offal Truth.
So in the name of sustainability, give Offal a try. If you do not like the name, call it Variety Meat as the Americans do.
This recipe is from my childhood. From a time when everyone ate Offal because they had no supermarkets and reared their own food. They also understood that food should not be wasted. You could use any organs from any animal. I have used the liver, kidneys and large intestine (vet derm) from a kudu.