Monday, 19 November 2012

Eating with your hands

Sometimes, you have an epiphany as you stand in the middle of a moonlit park, staring out at the lonely trees and the icy surface of a stream twisting by. Other times you plop your bum down in the actually-quite-tasteful  new booths at a McDonald's and you have some interesting thoughts. The latter happened to me yesterday as I devoured my Quarter Pounder in trademark fashion. (For those of you who don't know me, I eat much too quickly. And I can be messy.)

The thought which popped into my mind was to do with eating with my hands. When I made a brief visit to India a few years ago, I was told that many meals are eaten in such a way, as it connects you with your food in a very meaningful way. I didn't process this at the time, but it occurred to me yesterday that a connection with food is a very valuable thing to have. It is at the essence of what were are, being, of course, the material from which our bodies are constructed. You are what you eat is very literally true.

Now, I am far from the kind of person who espouses organic food (partly because I believe it is, in many cases, just another advertising scam), or an Amish-like return to a natural life. And this is not what I witnessed in India. But I do think there is something to be gained from understanding the texture of the food, how it feels; definitely in a way which enhances the dining experience, but also in a way which goes hand-in-hand (if you'll forgive the pun) with the idea that people should know where their food comes from and what it consists of. One of my goals, should I continue to be an omnivore, is to actually kill something I later eat. This is because I think it would be hypocritical of me not to be prepared to do so, if I am happy to chomp down the remains.

On another level, if I had lived in a big city my whole life, it occurs to me that I might never have any real idea of what food is, beyond the end product I see in the supermarket. What is involved in bringing this shrink-wrapped chicken breast to the cooler? How did those peppercorns get into that packet? And so on and so forth. And I can't say that the prospect is one I find pleasing; perhaps this is academic snobbery, but a fundamental understanding of the processing of food is one I'd say everyone should have.

The other idea which occurred to me is that there may be certain unconscious taboos against eating with hands in Western society, in a few senses. The first being the idea of hygiene, which is a fair concern, but which can easily be alleviated with a bar of soap. The second is social, and the idea of cutlery, manners, and decorum. The third is the sense that much of the food we eat with our hands is associated with fast food, which is often unhealthy: burgers, fried chicken, kebabs. And then of course there is simple practicality. Soups, porridges, yoghurts; try scooping these up with your fingers. I couldn't say with any certainty how much any of these ideas prohibit the wider practice of eating with hands, and I'm sure that if they do, in many cases the prohibition is logical.

However, in other cases, the prohibition may in fact be simply habit. I have decided to weigh this up on the next convenient occasion, and perhaps put the old hands to use a little more frequently. After all, they are very skilful. It'll be like swapping chopsticks for a knife and fork (but that's another story). It does help with many dishes and the experience of the food, if that doesn't sound too poncy, is so much better. Or, maybe it's just because I like to get dirty.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Why I won't tell my kids there's a Santa Claus

Ok, first and foremost, I should mention that I don't currently have any children, nor do I plan to have any in the near future. The fact that this would require a woman features heavily in this plan, but so does the fact that I am selfish, and like to spend what little money I have on myself. Also, the 'little money' thing is a factor. So, this blog may be completely self-indulgent, but then again, aren't they all?

To the topic at hand: why won't I tell my children to be that there is a Santa? Let me count the ways:

1) While I enjoy a joke as much if not more than the next guy, and have been tempted into telling the odd white lie to my niece and nephew (among others), I recently had the joy of my niece asking me whether Santa was real. She had come to this doubt by virtue of the fact that one of her friends had, the previous Xmas, failed to receive an item she had specifically requested from the jolly fat man who visits children in the night (by the way, creepy, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Therefore, said friend had concluded that Santa was unreal, rather than that she hadn't behaved well enough.

Now, I was in a somewhat difficult position. I did not want to be the one to shatter my niece's illusions about Santa, carefully constructed as they had been, so I pondered what to say. I decided she should perhaps come to figure it out herself, and advised her to stay up and see if she could see Santa. However, the lie is a good one, and she reminded me that 'he knows when you're awake', so that avenue was ended.

Next, she insisted, despite my assurances that it was something better discussed with her mum, that I tell her the answer. In the end, and perhaps a little bit to spare myself from being the uncle who ruined Xmas, I simply went with a politician's answer: he's real if you believe he's real. I know, right. I should have told her the truth and over with. But there you go. Now I am complicit in a lie, and though I don't think it is world-shattering, I'd rather not be remembered as the dishonest uncle.

2) The above has certain academic implications as well. If I ever had children, I want them to grow up as people who do not simply accept outrageous claims without any supporting evidence, and I do believe that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and so on, are all constructions which make a mind much more susceptible to spurious creations like a talking snake and a man coming back from the dead. That's right, you know what I mean.

3) To those who would say I would rob my potential children of some of the magic of childhood, I say bollocks. I cannot recall ever believing in Santa (although this may be because my parents would wrap presents in their room and then put them under the tree before Xmas), and honestly I could not have cared less. What I cared about were the presents, the fun, the day with my family. Santa did not enter into the calculations I made at all, and nor did the Easter Bunny. In fact, the worst thing about Xmas was having to down opened presents to attend church for an hour. Torture.

I have an idea for an experiment: try telling any kid there's no Santa, but they can still have the presents, and see how they react. Then, find another kid and tell them the opposite. Compare reactions.

4) I don't really want my kids to be comfortable with the idea of some higher power watching them all the time and judging everything they do. This kind of thinking is harmful. I want to teach them to behave, and do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because it results in presents. Now, I am not so naive as to believe that young children work in this way, but I can always resort to removing presents when they do not behave, rather than intellectual scare tactics.

5) As touched on earlier (and please excuse the pun in light of the proceeding paragraph), but it's actually quite a creepy concept to have some guy who watches your kids when they are asleep (and awake), punished them if they are naughty, and creeps into their house at night. I am surprised that paedophiles haven't caught on to this yet. Never take candy from a stranger, but if you see Santa, go sit on his lap. That sounds like a sicko's goldmine to me. I'd rather have a child that screams and brings me rushing into their room with a shotgun in hand, ready to blow 'Santa's' nuts off. (I should point out at this stage that, while a Freudian analysis may suggest otherwise, I can't recall any unpleasant childhood experiences with a man dressed as Santa, beyond the shyness I always had when meeting new people, and a vague sense that sitting on a stranger's lap wasn't for me. However, I did get an awesome new truck!)

So there you have it. Speaking as someone who, as mentioned, has no current kids, I can say that the above may all go out the window when I am faced with the hard reality of another human being looking to me for guidance and morals, but I like to think I will stand my ground. I suppose none of it will matter, as it will depend what my wife thinks.