HOW CAN WE USE THE AESTHETICS AND ORGANOLEPTICS OF TASTE TO LOCATE OURSELVES IN THE POLYGONAL RELATIONALITY TOWARDS MICROBIAL FOODS? HOW CAN WE SITUATE OURSELVES WITHIN THIS INTERDEPENDENCY SO THAT IT WILL ENABLE US TO SPECULATE A NON-ANTHROPOCENTRIC EATING SCHEMA AND CONSIDER FOOD ALTERNATIVES RICH IN CONNECTIVITY?
Quorn™, Tofurky™, and in vitro meat. The current discourse on meat alternatives are oxymoronic or, worse, perpetuate the neoliberal ideology behind meat consumption by substituting non-meat materials still within the schema of meat. Even my own schnitzel and tartare recipes in this chapter are guilty of this substitutionism: in both instances, I am asking the biofilm of the fermented beverage kombucha to signify meat. Consider the following image:
Notice step 5, how exercise “boosts protein.” In Kelley’s description of the in vitro frog meat in Disembodied Cuisine, the problem was its texture. Kelley explains that in order to improve its overall flavor, artificial meat production “will have to move, either internally via a system of capillaries and electric muscle pulses” to use the existing infrastructure and stimulate skeletal muscles, “or externally via physical stretching and manipulation” to impose movement like a ventriloquist and make the muscles move (Kelley, p.87). Ultimately, these actions “boost protein” to create that fibrous, shreddable texture, a texture distinct from its plant-based counterparts.
Upon closer examination of plant-based texture, I embarked on a series of experiments that compared the mouthfeel and textural difference between preparations of buckwheat: raw, soaked, boiled, and fried. Buckwheat is often used commercially in “vegan pâtés” as the main ingredient and binding agent. As a textural primer in the mouth, the boiled buckwheat reminded me of seitan, a macrobiotic approach to boiling wheat protein. With wheat protein as one lead, I considered other plant-based proteins such as oyster mushrooms and soy. What was the textural difference between soy, fungus/vegetable, and wheat and how does their non-meat protein origin affect our aesthetics of taste? How do they compare to our sense memory (or expectation) of meat texture? Does it matter?
These tasting experiments epitomize what Kelley calls “the triangulated relationship between human eating bodies, the living [ingredient] and the [ingredient’s] extended body on the dinner plate” (Kelley, p.87). Instead, I would argue that the relationship is more polygonal between
human as eating body
ingredient as latent body
plated food as extended body
the Space as an enabling body
assemblage as contributing body, and
ecology as a body of bodies.
We are nested, interdependent bodies. This notion of ‘nested bodies’ reminds me of Parisi, who defines the body beyond organism or organization: the body “is an imminent assemblage […] that constitute every body: a bacterial body, a eukaryotic body, a multicellular body, a cultural body the body of machines, etc. …” (Parisi, p.29). How can we refocus on the entire body or approach ecologies as a series of nested bodies? Indeed, Kelley refers to the interdependent human as being a “nested organism” (Kelley, p.80). Food is lively precisely because it is nested and tethered to a larger set of ecologies. Perhaps we are not eating matter; we are ‘eating’ latent energy.
In our nested bodies and nested ecologies, in our nestedness and embeddedness, I cannot help but think in terms of internal metabolism and external metabolism. Internal metabolism refers to how we, as organisms, internally process nutrients within our bodies. External metabolism explodes that concept to account for how those nutrients cycle throughout the greater ecosystem. Nitrogen is a good example: Nitrogen in the soil enters leguminous plants, which becomes feed for animals. Animal proteins that are consumed by humans get digested and excreted as urine, which eventually return to the fields by way of wastewater treatments. How we circulate and exchange nutrients in this rendering of external metabolism could be seen as a parallel to how bacteria exchange their DNA. Perhaps we are more bacterial as Margulis proposed.
In this zoe-philic understanding of our place amidst the nonliving, semi-living, and living, it matters how we relate to others. It matters how we invite others into this “transspecies entanglement and responsibility” as advocated by the likes of Donna Haraway. Thinking responsibly with the end in mind, how can we explore non-animal proteins as a viable option for our own consumption? How can we approach protein consumption in terms of external metabolism and the circulation of nitrogen and amino acids? Could we disrupt the terminology of protein consumption to divorce it from animal rhetoric? Must everything be meat-ified?
Recipes with protein
“live meats” – tartare and charoset
SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast and is often conflated exclusively with the community of microbes that populate kombucha, a fermented tea beverage (Katz). Many point to the zoogleal mat or cellulose biofilm produced by the bacterial species Acetobacter xylinum as the SCOBY (NFL), when perhaps a more accurate term would be a tea fungus (Jayabalan, et. al.). Although the biofilm is not commonly consumed, many health food blogs circulate mock jerky recipes that marinate and dehydrate these biofilms. This recipe takes on a different approach to consuming the biofilm as the acidity inherent in the biofilm is reminiscent of lemon already squeezed onto a fried schnitzel cutlet.
Biofilms from kombucha, commonly referred to as ‘kombucha SCOBY’
- Using the blunt end of a meat tenderizer, pound the biofilm to desired thinness.
- Dredge the biofilm in a mixture of flour and salt until lightly coated.
- Heat a neutral oil in a shallow pan and fry the battered biofilm.
- Drain on a paper towel and serve immediately.
extra-protein loaf (a.k.a. stewed seitan)
This recipe uses wheat protein and was adapted from Vegetarian Times. The prefix ‘extra-’ is used to mean ‘outside of’ normal meat-protein schema.
2 cups vital wheat gluten
½ cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
5 cups vegetable broth, divided
2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
½ small onion, sliced
- Bring broth to a simmer.
- Combine wheat gluten, yeast, and garlic powder in large bowl.
- Stir in 1 cup broth and soy sauce until dough forms, adding more broth if necessary.
- Knead dough in bowl until elastic. Shape into smaller loaves.
- Place loaves in the pot with the remaining broth. If necessary, add enough water to cover the seitan, and adjust the seasoning if need be.
- Cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 to 45 minutes, or until seitan is firm. Remove from heat, and cool in broth.
- Serve as a soup or drain from broth and shallow fry in oil to crisp up the edges.
- Consume within 5-7 days.
It upsets me that I cannot think of a non-meat name for this. This recipe uses mushroom protein and was adapted from Pork Futures’ beef jerky marinade.
½ cup HP sauce
½ cup soy sauce
1 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
~500g of oyster mushrooms
- Combine all ingredients for the marinade with a spoon or whisk.
- Slice mushrooms to desired thickness and let marinate 6-12 hours.
- Dehydrate for 1 hour at 63 degrees C
- Lower the temperature to 43 degrees C and dehydrate for an additional hour.
- Store in a cool, dry place. Lasts at room temperature for 5-7 days.
This recipe is a raw preparation of the biofilm in kombucha.
¼ cup kombucha biofilm, finely chopped
1 Tbs. sun-dried tomato, finely chopped
1 tsp. black currant syrup or dark honey
1 tsp. olive oil
one sprig of thyme leaves
- Combine all ingredients with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve atop rye crisps or thin slices of toasted baguette
- Consume immediately for optimum taste.
This recipe is a raw preparation of the biofilm in kombucha, based on the Jewish dish served during Passover. It should be noted that the traditional Seder meal does not allow fermented foods based on passages from Exodus that remind “contemporary celebrants that the Jews fleeing Egypt had no time to leaven their bread or bake it properly” (Nathan). Acknowledging this, the dish could just as easily be called a chutney.
¼ cup kombucha biofilm, finely chopped
1 Tbs. dried stone fruit, finely chopped (e.g. peaches, apricots, prunes)
1 Tbs. aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. fresh berries, finely chopped (e.g. strawberries, blackberries, raspberries)
1 tsp. slivered almonds, toasted
- Combine all ingredients with a spoon. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Store in an air-tight container and consumer within 3-5 days.