Good food

Another pointless post about food. And morality.

I bought a bag of impeccably “fair trade” chocolate-covered chunks of ginger from a charity stall. (A long-established and legit Fair Trade brand, sold at cost, on a voluntary basis.)

I’m less than completely convinced by many “fair trade” goods, but I’ll spare you the social analysis of international terms of trade and production relations in the developing world. For now…

People in work bring back communal sweets and biscuits (trans. candy and cookies) from wherever they’ve been on holiday (trans. vacation.) I never do this myself, although I tend to eat the lion’s share of any of these treats. It’s possible to go for days, in the main holiday season, without actually buying any food.

I have even been known to have subtly badgered one co-worker into making a 300 mile return journey to the place from which he’d brought comically expensive handmade real (70% cocoa solids) chocolates to get more. At a total chocolate cost of over £50 (trans, about $80 now, I think.) And not even Fair Trade. (Look, I didn’t know how bloody expensive they were. Nor how far away the shop was. OK?)

I even add insult to injury by using the packaging for an ironic “art installation” and by insulting any over-hyped but disappointing chocolates, like the French ones from the Ritz.

So, to appease my vague feelings of guilt about being just a taker of confectionery and never a confectionery provider, I bought some Fair Trade biscuits, as a baseline contribution to office goodwill, and chocolate gingers, as a purely indulgent treat.

And made a song and dance out of sharing them out, in the hope that anyone keeping a conceptual chocolate altruism ledger would notice that they finally had something to put on my credit side.

Hmm. Chunks of ginger, covered in chocolate. I assume that anyone would think that is great, by definition. The first person I offer them to says “What’s ginger?” Duh? “What’s ginger?” Is this a trick question? I am too confused to offer an answer that is either educational or sarcastic. I can only say “Well, it’s ginger. You know, ginger. Everyone knows what ginger is.”

Two people are now too embarrassed to admit they don’t know what ginger is and each takes an offered sweet. Dare I say it, gingerly.

They insert sweets into mouths. Omigod! Have they been poisoned?

Unbelievable facial contortions. They pretend to be eating, but their faces are betraying them. They are clearly trying to swallow – to get the taste away from their mouths – in the face of a natural reflex to gag. But the chunks are too big so they are forced to chew, fighting their jaws every inch of the way.

I stare in fascination for about three minutes until I remember to do the decent thing and say “Look, just spit it out if you don’t like it.” Explosively emitted ginger chocolate turns the waste paper bins into ad hoc spitoons.

An other worker just says “You have got to be joking,” when I try to offer him a chocolate.

I say :”I don’t believe this. Everybody likes ginger.” (I am clearly speaking in the face of the evidence.) “I will do a survey then.”

I approach every single person in the pretty sizable office, offering a handful of chocolates. One man says “I love ginger” but won’t accept more than one. And I don’t actually see him eating it, so it may have been a polite bluff.

Everybody else, without exception, refuses. And these are people who will polish off a packet of Dorritos or All-butter Shortbread almost before you can blink.

Three refusants produce variations of “I’m being good today”

I know it’s a polite way of saying “No, I don’t want to try those outlandish sweets” but it still really irritates me.

Firstly because of my own serious shortcomings in the “polite” department, I have grown a protective self-justifying moral coating – the view that “polite dishonesty is more insulting than impolite honesty” (Yes, I know it isn’t true. I did say self-justifying.)

Secondly, because I find something offensive in the idea that being “good” means “on a diet.”

The underlying assumption is straight from a life-denying religious worldview. “I enjoy food X (Not the case here, obviously) so not having it makes me morally superior.”

Are people doing some bizarre penance for their physical existence. The body is evil so letting it have what it wants is “bad”. Mastering one’s bodily desires for food is “good.”

Now, in this case, the Fair Trade sweets were probably “better” in genuinely moral terms than any other food on offer. You can argue the toss over the theory and practice of Fair Trade initiatives, but they do have a “moral” basis in aiming to improve the lives of the producers, to provide schools and medical treatments and a living wage. However, they were seen as “bad”, as food containing sugar and fat.

Our sense of “morality”, in food terms, isn’t reached through a rational process of thinking about where food is produced, how it’s distributed, and so on. It’s some sort of kneejerk response, a dilution of monotheistic moralities that see “goodness” in terms of appeasing some arbitrary set of external rules. Organised religion is really effective at instilling ideas of “good” and “bad” conceived of in terms of obedience to rules. This seems to survive even when people have no actual religious beliefs.

Except, in the case of food, it’s not just priests or gods that we are obeying. It’s the food police in our heads – the government health warnings; the anecdotal nutritionists; the claims on the sides of products; the magazine articles; the slimming magazines, and so on.

Of course, there is a religious element in food choices. Every culture or religion has food rules. What we eat is part of our identity. It’s hard to disentangle the “morality” that consists of “following rules set by some authority” from an autonomous “morality” that involves making endless contingent choices.

But then, it’s a waste of our puny human lives if we don’t even bother to try.

9 thoughts on “Good food

  1. First of all, anyone who doesn’t “get” chocolate-covered ginger should not be allowed to eat anything other than French-cut canned stringbeans and M&Ms.

    Secondly, people who can’t break their diets even to have one fucking chocolate-covered ginger should be forced to live on tofu and grass.

    Thirdly, food rules that spring from religion are as stupid as sex rules that spring from religion. High priests of all persuasions don’t like to see their followers enjoying themselves by eating pork, beef, or chocolate-covered ginger. Particularly when the followers dig into those delicacies while screwing outside the bonds of “holy” matrimony. Folks who listen to religious leaders about what they can and cannot eat should be condemned to a diet of boiled chicken, broccoli, and — ack! — white chocolate. And no whipped cream in bed!

    Fourthly, what did you do with the leftovers?

  2. I agree with the exterminator. What kind of freaks do you work around? Not knowing what ginger is? Yeesh. I love ginger. I love that mouth warping feeling from a chunk of ginger in my Asian cuisine. I’m craving it now, in fact (thanks a lot!!) and it’s only 7:15 in the morning.

    I’d heard somewhere, years ago, that the main reason the Hindu faith banned the eating of cow was because the leaders at the time, back in the day, wanted to protect a food source (the milk), that it was a political move to make cattle sacred and therefore inedible. Had they not treated their cattle as holy, they would have killed all of them for food during famine or something.

  3. I don’t think it has to be a religious world view. Epicurus argued that to live a good life was to be happy by maximising pleasure. This made him very popular with his friends until he wrote to Menoeceus “By pleasure we mean the absence of mental and physical pain. It isn’t a matter of boozing, orgiastic parties, or indulgence in women, small boys or fish”, so your colleagues could be Epicureans. By learning to limit their desires, they live what some ancient philosophers would have called a good life because they lack the mental suffering from unsated cravings.

    …or they could just prefer dark chocolate Hob Nobs which are making a comeback.

  4. Our office has a similar thing, although for some reason we have a lot of people around from exotic lands, who from time to time bring in their traditional sweets, which are frequently vile — but people always try them once, and I’m pretty sure we all know what ginger is. That’s just strange.

  5. They don’t know what ginger is? Are ginger snaps just a US thing? That said, I agree with the guy who only took one. Ginger is good, but it can be… intense.

  6. Strangely, the people in Heather’s office must display a special sense of ignorance as Ginger Biscuits and Ginger Nuts (also a biscuit) are a staple of British food for many a year.

  7. Perhaps they thought ginger was just a colour.

    (Although, ginger biscuits are not the same colour as ginger hair (orange) or ginger beer (light brown) etc. Ginger itself isn’t orange at all.)

    I guess that few people who’ve eaten Garibaldi biscuits have heard of the Italian revoloutionary.

  8. Surely it’s not expecting too much for someone, upon hearing that there is a foodstuff called ‘ginger’, to put two and two together and conclude that maybe it tastes a bit like all those similar-tasting foods with ‘ginger’ in their names?

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