General · 6th May 2012
“Egg of an hour, bread of a day, wine of a year, friend of thirty years” - old Italian proverb on the perfect age for some of life’s simple pleasures.
Today our Foodwisdom Chef Antonietta is teaching the kids how to make a perfect poached egg. Only one child in this class of 23 students, 12-14 years of age, admits to ever having seen a poached egg, with no vegans in this class. If the elegant simplicity of poaching the naked egg is a skill which has fallen out of fashion in the modern kitchen, then this promises to be a very successful class. These kids are in for a real treat, and some of them sense it.
It is the poached egg, in its unadorned splendor, that best trains the child’s palate to recognize the character of a wholesome, natural food breaking open in the mouth. The egg, the microcosm of life itself, is a complete food, providing the full range of nutrients the body needs in just one shell.
“The poached egg is easier to digest than the scrambled or fried,” says Chef, throwing a glance directly at me. She knows of my predilection for a sentimental fried egg sandwich in the manner made famous by our beloved poet of the appetites, Mary Frances Kennedy Fischer.
One group of kids makes a mess of it, piling four floating eggs into a traffic jam, like a bunch of colliding logs on the Fraser River. “Start over please,” says Chef, straining the culinary casualty into a small bowl.
Meanwhile, at another cooking station, a young man asks hesitantly, “Is this right? Is my egg ready now?”
Then, “Yes! Yes! I did it,” lifting his hands in the air triumphantly.
“I like to get my eggs,” I tell these young people, “directly from chickens themselves. Or from their farmer, if the chickens are too busy to see me.” I like being able to see the chickens scratching and kissing the earth with their beaks, eating worms, bugs and grasses, perching where they please, and roaming until they decide they are ready to come home. One chicken I know can outrun the dog on the farm where she lives. I have watched as she outsmarts him with her clever maneuvers, and shall miss her daring self-assurance when she goes. I call her Rosie.
These youths, unable to part with their laptops and their iPods even in Cooking Class, are far more familiar with their local malls than their local farms. Nonetheless, they are the generation of kids that will be feeding me in my old age; perhaps buying my eggs for me when I am 98. They will be responsible for the kinds of food systems that will prevail in the future. We need to train their palates now. We cannot abandon oursleves to the greenwashing movement.
The greenwashing of the vocabulary on the egg cartons, without a corresponding greening of the eggs inside, beggars us all. The terms free range, free run, organic, certified organic, all vegetarian feed, omega-3, Health Check and BCSPCA approved, all smell a little like rotten eggs; in varying degrees, to be sure, with the last two designations going off the stink scale altogether. These two designations are bought and paid for by the egg producers themselves, making them the carbon credits equivalents of the egg / food industry. None of these terms comes close to guaranteeing that the chickens enjoy the same basic rights that Rosie enjoys.
“Free range doesn’t mean anything,” says one astute young woman in the classroom. “I read a story in the paper about how they opened the barn door to chickens that were free range and the chickens didn’t go outside because they didn’t know what to do. They were trained from birth to live in captivity.”
A lesson we all must heed.
It is not possible, in the short time we have in the classroom with these kids, as in the short space here in this article, to dissect each of these terms thoroughly. All we can do is plant a robust seed of inquiry in the minds of those who want to know.
The same kind of greenwashing is occurring at the meat counter. Recently I visited the butcher counter in an upscale chain grocer near my home. I asked the very friendly and helpful sales clerk which of the labels, “natural,” “organic,” “no hormones” “certified,” “humanely raised” etc…., meant that the cows, pigs, lambs were pasture-raised and grass-fed without being grain finished. “Natural,” is about as meaningful as “free range” and, by law, the use of hormones is not permitted in pork and chicken. So the very use of the label itself is misleading. My options at this grocery store quickly whittled down to nothing.
So I high tailed it back to the family butcher shop on East Hastings where I have been buying my meat since I moved to BC. Moccia-Urbani has been selling local, pasture-raised, grass-fed meats for 40 years and three generations. They have trained my palate to be terribly discriminating. This is the only place I buy cured sausages from, because they make all their cured meats according to time honored traditional Italian recipes, using meat from animals who lead lives comparable to Rosie’s. The indisputable proof is the tasting.
For my kayaking trips, they custom pack an adequate ration of their house cured salamis to last me my journey. These care packages are prepared such that if my kayak tips over and all my food supply spills into the water, each one of my salami / sausage rations will float to the surface in its own individual, waterproof envelope for me to recover once I get my craft upright again.
When I first started shopping at Moccia’s, Grandfather Pietro Moccia could be found there, strumming his heart out skillfully on his mandolin. Meanwhile, daughter Carolina, a nurse by profession and nurturer by nature, and her husband Claudio, an accomplished engineer, served each customer like family, on a first name basis. Even then, the pace of change in the neighborhood threatened to force the butcher shop to close or re-invent itself. This is where their sons, Stefan and Jordan came in, furnishing the vision and the strength to take the shop into the future.
When I arrived on this particular day, Claudio was very excited about a new cured product they are putting out on the market, their own Lonzardo. No matter how tired Claudio is from the day’s labors, he always looks like a man about to burst under the weight of his own happiness.
Lonzardo is the pork loin with the back fat still on, more gourmet than their already gourmet bacon, and the House of Moccia-Urbani signature marinade for it may account for some of that happiness (and fatigue). “In Italy,” explains Claudio, “they leave the fat on. We’re hoping we can get people here to understand the wisdom of that.”
“I understand the wisdom of that,” I said, “and am only too happy to help you share it.”
© Francesca Gesualdi, 2012
Foodwisdom will be hosting a tasting workshop of House of Moccia-Urbani cured meats in the coming weeks.