Sunday, October 11, 2009

Births, Deaths and Marriages

I was just reading AA Gill's article 'At last, Supper' in the September Gourmet Traveller. Mostly he talked about how most US prisoners on death row request junk food for their last meals; very few ask for anything very gastronomic or even for home-cooked dishes, which is what most chefs say when interviewed on the topic. Maybe in the monotonous prison system, the prisoners creativity and imagination failed them in their final hours and could only offer them what they remembered of their former lives.
One question that bothers me about this, is what if the meal prepared for you wasn't to your taste? You had requested steak but it was over-done and under-seasoned; would you be allowed to send it back and have another? If you had ordered chips but they gave you french fries, would they care? Say you wanted catfish, or barramundi, but they only had flake, would they find your preferred fish for you? Would they delay your date-of-execution if the chef had failed utterly to produce the correct flavours?
You can't imagine that prison resources stretch to include a genuinely professional chef, although it would be incredible to actually speak to the cooks who prepares those last suppers. Actually, I can imagine that being an amazing job, if that's all you had to do. Like the opposite of the execution, and more like the priest that visits prisoners for their last rites; an angel of mercy. I don't suppose there are so many executions these days that you'd be a last supper chef exclusively; generally crap prison cooks probably do it all and for a minimum wage. But if I were offered the job, I think I'd take it. Sure, they're murderers, rapists, the incurably evil; but the decision to end their lives has been made for them and they should be allowed to experience one last good moment of humanity to lesson the terror of facing the fatal injection. If you had a week of fair warning and interviewed the prisoner a few times, you would probably have enough information about ingredients, region, context and preferences to be able to prepare the best possible last supper for the doomed soul. Even if it's just pizza, their mother's lasagne, or an ice cream sundae, everyone's idea of flavour is different. Maybe only serial killers like Patrick Bateman (I know he's fictional but American Psycho is one of the greatest foodie books ever written) would request a lobe of fois gras or concoction of nouvelle cuisine. AA Gill mentioned Sedley Alley, rapist and murderer of a young Marine Corps Lance Corporal asked for milk and oatmeal cookies. He had pleaded insanity when convicted, and Gill called this requested of 'infantile pathos'. The most infantile request of all be for breast milk, which would be most of humanity's first meal. If someone asked for that, would they actually be given breast milk? Then again, we tend not to remember the period where we breastfed, and choices would very much depend on one's memory.
This brings me to think about meals in relation to the other two pivotal moments in human life: birth of a child and marriage. To the latter: when planning a wedding menu, to couples really consider their favorite dishes, or do such preferences give way to chicken or fish so as to satisfy as many of their invited guests as possible? From what I've heard, it's the latter. When Josh and I get married, I'm sending out menus with the invitations. Everyone can select a entree, main and dessert from three options. None of this alternate plate crap. There will be vegetarian choices.
Immediately after giving birth to Wolfgang, my number one craving was not for the foods that I had been denied during pregancy, like smoked salmon, camembert and soft serve ice-cream, but for a Twix bar. My labour had begun on a Tuesday evening and after Masterchef had finished, I realised that the pains in my abdomen were not Braxton Hicks, but real painful contractions. As I lay on the floor writhing in pain, I watched TV to try and distract myself and somehow a commercial for Twix bars embedded itself in my mind. The afternoon after Wolf had arrived that morning, I sent Josh out to get me a Twix. They didn't even sell any in the hospital canteen so he had to run down the street to find one. That's love for you.
The only conclusion that I can draw from all that? Food relates to all the important moments in human life. Hence the human obsession with eating.

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