Friday 17 November 2017

A Tale of Two Recipes

I usually avoid so-called wellness bloggers; but I must admit, the stereotype of joyless vegans obsessed with kale is not entirely accurate. Some of them make stews with venison and red wine. And kale. And a shocking degree of racism.

By way of background, my local butcher had venison in stock, so I picked some up to make into a stew and started Googling around for recipe ideas.

Something called "smoky venison stew" sounded good, so I clicked the link, and was confronted with 500 words of text before the actual recipe.

It starts off in a mildly amusing way. Chantelle, the author, explains how she dreams of hunting her own food, and never has because she is too squeamish; but expresses her gratitude for the animal giving its life to feed her. Okay, fine. I actually agree, we should treat our food animals with respect.

A magnificent and delicious creature.
Image source: Jeff Blincow / Wildlife Observer

Then the post takes a screeching left turn into crazytown, as Chantelle starts rambling about power and energy, bison, seals and the traditional Inuit diet:

Wild meat is so full of power and energy, there is nothing closer to organic, or free range. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like when there were bison everywhere and the people had no shortage of wild food. Nowadays it’s more difficult to attain, I have heard that even the native Inuit cannot hunt their natural food. Environmentalists have banned them from hunting seals (a main food source) and there is only a certain section of the land where they are allowed.

What? Seals? I thought this was a recipe for deer. The village butcher doesn't stock seal.

Also, citation needed, as they say over on Wikipedia. Wild game is nutritious and delicious, but so is a nice cut of lamb or beef. Conservation policy is complex, and has to balance respect for traditional hunting with the goal of preserving the natural environment. Allowing food species to be hunted to extinction is hardly a sustainable option.

It gets worse:

When people very close to their ancestors lineage stray so drastically from the natural diet, extreme ailments occur.  My heart goes out to all of them, whom I’m sure would be using every inch of that seal that sustains them.

As far as I can make out, Chantelle is saying the Inuit have some sort of inherited adaptation to their traditional diet, such that they get terribly ill if they can't chow down on seal on a regular basis.

It... doesn't work like that. At all. I have some professional expertise in genetics, and it really doesn't work like that. There are some interesting variations like the gene for lactose tolerance in European populations, but there is no such thing as a "must eat seal all the time" genotype.

It's not hard to imagine a stereotypical Victorian colonel talking in very similar terms:
INT. LONDON GENTLEMEN'S CLUB. Older men sit back in overstuffed armchairs, enjoying brandy and cigars.
COLONEL SMITH: Why yes, I was posted to the Arctic. Terribly clever fellows, the natives. Marvellous what they can do with a seal. They need seal blubber to live, you know. Get dreadfully sick if they don't get it. Jolly good thing none of them ever move south to the cities, what? Pass me another cigar.

In Victorian-colonel terminology, this is balderdash. Inuit have the same basic nutritional requirements as any other human being. Claiming otherwise based on their "lineage" is racism, pure and simple.

What really makes me angry is, poverty and food supply in the Canadian Arctic are serious problems. Life is hard for Inuit communities, and the failings of the government are many. I'm sure Chantelle means well, but her ignorant and racist blundering on this issue does no good to anyone. It serves only to confuse and annoy those of us who are trying to cook some venison.

Dazed from all this nonsense, we finally reach the recipe. It calls for searing the venison in coconut oil.

Why coconut oil? Good question. I am given to understand it is one of the latest lifestyle fads, for reasons of fashion with no basis in science.

Be that as it may, I appreciate the irony of a 500-word screed about the importance of being in touch with nature, followed by a call for combining venison with coconut oil. As Chantelle may or may not be aware, there are no coconut palms in the Arctic, or even the woodlands of East Anglia where my venison came from. For reasons of pseudoscientific gibberish, Inuit must have seal, and recipe bloggers must have imported tropical ingredients.

Studying the rest of the recipe, it doesn't look awful, even with the kale. But if you accept the principle of simmering venison in red wine with some vegetables, it's really hard to come up with something awful.

Happily, my Google search also turned up a really wonderful post on German-style Hirschgulasch. It starts with a brief and enjoyable reminiscence about how the writer once worked in an Austrian restaurant, and how glad he was when the chef saved some venison goulash for the waiting staff. It has onions and shallots and paprika and no kale whatsoever.

I cooked the Hirschgulasch. No coconut oil here; searing the venison in rapeseed oil and beef dripping worked nicely. I also left out the juniper berries which I didn't have to hand, and substituted homemade plum chutney for cranberry sauce. It was absolutely delicious, so this story has a happy ending.

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