Friday, January 16, 2015

`One Ambrosial Result, or Common Substance'

One of life’s sublime pleasures is offending the readily offendable, a species reproducing at alarmingly exponential rates. Most of us learn by age nine or 10 that the world is crawling with the sort of people nicely characterized by T.S. Eliot in The Cocktail Party (1949): 

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” 

Eliot’s observation, spoken by a psychiatrist, applies today to both offenders and offendees (effendis?). The former, sometimes, can be pardoned, depending on motives; the latter, almost never. Being offended is now a socially sanctioned means of feeling transcendentally important. In junior high school we had a simple, time-saving way of dealing with someone who said something to offend us: we kicked him in the balls. It wouldn’t have occurred to us to whine about it or rat out the offender. 

The latest declaration of preemptive inoffensiveness comes from, of all places, the Oxford University Press, which has asked its writers of books for children to refrain from mentioning “pigs plus sausages, or anything else which could be perceived as pork.” A Tory MP, Philip Davies, commented with astonishing acuity for a politician: “How on earth can anyone find the word `pig’ or `pork’ offensive?  No word is offensive. It is the context in which it is used that is offensive.” In response, OUP issued a brief statement, including this: “OUP does not have a blanket ban on pigs or pork products in its titles, and contrary to reports, there have been no recent changes to our guidelines in this area.” One wishes to inquire further about pigs in a blanket. One is also tempted to work gratuitous references to ham hocks, chitlins, tonkatsu, headcheese, kielbasa and BLT’s into one’s copy. OUP ought to mind its own back list. Consider Jonathan Swift’s always reliable cookbook (1729): 

“Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barrel'd beef: the propagation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well grown, fat yearly child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor's feast, or any other publick entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being studious of brevity.” 

And Boswell reports in his Life of  Johnson: “An anecdote from Miss Seward: `I told him (says Miss Seward) in one of my latest visits to him, of a wonderful learned pig, which I had seen at Nottingham; and which did all that we have observed exhibited by dogs and horses. The subject amused him.’ `Then, (said he,) the pigs are a race unjustly calumniated. Pig has, it seems, not been wanting to man, but man to pig. We do not allow time for his education, we kill him at a year old.’” 

Surely the most toothsome item in the porcine canon is Charles Lamb’s “A DissertationUpon Roast Pig,” a rare essay that causes one to salivate: 

“There is no flavour comparable, I will contend, to that of the crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, crackling, as it is well called—the very teeth are invited to their share of the pleasure at this banquet in overcoming the coy, brittle resistance—with the adhesive oleaginous—O call it not fat—but an indefinable sweetness growing up to it—the tender blossoming of fat—fat cropped in the bud—taken in the shoot—in the first innocence—the cream and quintessence of the child-pig’s yet pure food—the lean, no lean, but a kind of animal manna—or, rather, fat and lean (if it must be so) so blended and running into each other, that both together make but one ambrosian result, or common substance.”

1 comment:

dan visel said...

Probably worth noting that despite the Daily Mail's grandstanding, OUP's guidelines almost certainly aren't being done out of political correctness, but more because some executive decided that they can make more money by selling the same books in every market they possibly can – there's plenty of money to be made the Mideast these days & publishers are trying to survive any way they can.

I'm trying to remember the really nice cookbook about cultural prejudices in eating tracing out how dogs and pigs weirdly mirror each other in being seen as food or pets. Ah! Calvin W. Schwabe's Unmentionable Cuisine.