by Carol Glassman
“You are what you eat”; the famous phrase by Anthelme Brillat-Savin, has been used often since 1826 (“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es” – literally from the French, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”). It’s a frightening thought when you think of some of the things we ingest. I’m not just referring to fried grasshoppers, roasted roaches, ants, worms and other creepy crawlies, but think of the bottom feeders such as halibut, flounder, eels, bass, grouper, snapper, catfish and shark, or scavengers such as shrimp, or frogs’ legs. Add to these, tasty dishes like brains, eyeballs, stomach linings and intestines, and other cooked delectable parts of animals’ and amphibians’ bodies. Where will it end? Read on —
Trust me, I am not here to sell you on a vegetarian diet, but to tell you of a newer food trend – and by the way, a vegan might love it.
I recently was made aware of a Parisian restaurant called Le Plat Sal (the dirty plate) owned and operated by Chefs Solange and Gael Gregoire. While plugged into my usual Saturday morning dose of National Public Radio, host Scott Simon was rhapsodizing about this new way of cooking. I wonder if it would be a challenge to those ‘greasy spoons’ or ‘greasy sleeves’ to which I have been subjected in the past? They didn’t look terribly appetizing either outside or in, but the food was magic.
The style of food in Paris known as Veritable Cuisine du Terroir (Real Food from the Earth) makes Le Plat Sal currently one of Paris’ hottest places to dine. I suppose I shouldn’t knock it until I try it, and I have tried a lot of unusual dishes in my day; but somehow I think hell will freeze over before I sit down to a meal of cooked rocks (artisanal or not) dirt, and mud, washed down with wine made from sewer water.
The main ingredient of one of the restaurant’s most popular soups, Ile de Cité, is nuggets of doggie ‘ordure’ which, the French chefs scoff, wasteful, spendthrift Americans throw away. Mmmm good! (Are you gagging yet?)
Deux Lorraine, is a sweetish, gran-colored stew made of water from a river drainage basin.
Scoff away, I say, pretty soon we’ll be sending them some of the earth from adjacent pig pens and cattle barns as well as fertilized fields, and we will be told how picky and nervous we Americans are for shunning these natural foods. They make genetically altered foods look rather appealing!
But wait a minute: the French chefs are not the only ones enamored of this cuisine – it has been adopted by some American chefs as well, who claim eating dirt has been around for years and “adding chunks from Wrigley Field” can make a stew really tasty. I guess all those expectorating shortstops really add flavor.
The New York entrepreneur who started The Shake Shack is rumored to be opening a chain named Rock and Roll.
Some years ago a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan offered dirt meals for $110 per adventurous person. The menu included a potato starch and dirt soup, salad with dirt dressing, dirt risotto with sautéed sea bass and dirt ice cream with dirt gratin for dessert. The meal was described as delicious but the restaurant confessed it used not just any old soil but the best dirt on earth, bought from a company that makes organic compost with coconut husks imported from India and Sri Lanka, strictly testing products for safety. That almost sounds like cheating. Instead of using the pebbles from a Parisian street that almost sounds like cheating!
Geophagy, the scientific name for eating dirt or clay, has been around for centuries and although some may feel it’s useful in strengthening the immune system other experts neither agree nor recommend the practice.
In America’s deep South, there is a belt of white clay (kaolin) running through the state of Georgia. It has been reported that some convenience stores sell small chunks of it for snacks, as it has a low sand content and is smoother and ‘healthier’ to eat than dirt. Apparently pregnant women exhibit an appetite for this kind of “sand-lapping”.
‘Eat White Dirt’, a film addressing this phenomenon, treats the eating of kaolin in a matter-of-fact manner, pointing out that if you have ever taken Kaopectate for a stomach ailment, you have also inadvertently had a dose of white clay. The film maker said the purpose of making the film was to help people understand sand-lapping and to remove the stigma.
It makes one wonder if it is the desire to be really different or truly creative, which produces these trends. My impulse is to call them ‘bizarre’, but that might indicate that I have a closed mind (to go with my closed mouth) when it comes to experimenting with drastically new foods. Heaven forbid!
I can hope that global warning will not cause hell to freeze over in my lifetime, or I can simply invite these adventurous chefs to visit my house and garner ingredients from around my mailbox, where thoughtless neighbors walking their pooches refuse to stoop and scoop.