teisipäev, oktoober 16, 2012


Food, glorious food.

You are what you eat, so they say, and what you eat defines you. On the road north from Tartu, I would often pass a sign spraypainted on the side of a bus stop with a curious bespeckled cartoon face and a bubble above in which was written, "Fuck milk. Go Vegan!"

The sign always made me angry because it was in English, and so was aimed at tourists or truck drivers from foreign lands. They didn't have the common decency to figure out how to spread their message in the national language! Or perhaps it was intelligent for the animal rights activists to go after them rather than the Estonians, because the day the Estonians forsake verivorst in favor of tofu blood sausages en masse is the day I win the Eurovision Song Contest.

The gulf in perceptions toward food between the well-meaning cosmopolitan who has eschewed factory farming and all of its ills and the average Estonian is vast. I know many people in Estonia who are largely responsible for their own food supply, hell, they give it away to us, in the form of smoked meats and fish, gallons of sauerkraut and apple juice, cartons of potatoes, carrots, and beets. If meat is murder, then our neighbors and family members in Estonia are guilty as charged -- they raise the animals and slaughter them as they wish, they pull the fish from the lakes, smoke them and gobble them up.

Could I really pull one of them aside and say, "Hey, buddy. Fuck milk. Go Vegan?" No I couldn't. The larger ideas that have led Global Citizen X to abstain from animal products on principle would be lost on the rural Estonian who maintains his own food supply, animal and vegetable alike, much as his fathers before him. And that's what makes "food totalitarianism" objectionable to me. In my heart, I am a traditionalist. No verivorst for the Estonians, no chorizo for the Spaniards, no pepperoni for the Italians? Again, food defines us, and to abandon millennia-old recipes for tofu cutlets is to cast off one's heritage for the culinary equivalent of Star Trek, to boldly go where no man has gone before, a diet without animal products, the final frontier.

I wrestled with these ideas while reading Jonathan Saffran Foer's landmark Eating Animals, contemplating an Estonian translation. Would it sell? Would the audience be receptive? Is it my civic duty as a global citizen to present alternative viewpoints to the northern European blood-eating masses? The author resides in Brooklyn, where the only farmland left has been turned into an open air museum, and one has access to animal-free food products at the snap of his fingers.

But Brooklyn is far and away from Viljandi. One fellow I know here in town is"Jutukas Kalev," so called because he is jutukas, talkative, meaning that he never shuts up. He lives on the edge of the city in a ramshackle dwelling beside a condemned barn where he makes apple juice for his patrons, you bring him the fruit, he gives you the raw by-product, that's his business. During one of his many soliloquys, which generally focus on local police department corruption, he explained how he only uses searasv, lard, to grease his frying pan, because the dairy products are too expensive. "Who can afford butter in this economy?" he said, thrusting an apple-grimed finger in the air. I just nodded and paid him. It's the best thing to do.

"Would Kalev buy an Estonian translation of Eating Animals?" I pondered while leaving his property, three large containers of raw juice in the back of my car. "Would he 'fuck milk'? Would he 'go vegan?'" In a word, no. Kalev didn't seem like a reader I could count on. Too bad, because there are a lot of good points in that book and many others that recount the horrors of factory farming because they are, well, rather horrific. And some of it hits close to home. There is a pig factory across the lake. On certain days you can smell the death and shit wafting through the air.

Yet some things are changing in E-land. Local activism has recently pushed food producers into selling sausages that are "e-vaba," minus dreaded "e" chemical additives, emulsifiers and food colorings and "flavor enhancers," stuff your great grandmother's great grandmother wouldn't eat. Don't forget, just as an animal product-free life is one futuristic pipe dream, the yellow #5 reality we inhabit isn't too far from being another form of science fiction.

As for me, I live in limbo, the shadowy borderlands between the totalitarian food regimes, scorned by the vegans and the hot dog contest judges. It has become apparent to me that a diet comprised of too many animal products is unhealthy. One need not completely "fuck milk" to appreciate that soy and rice-derived products are easier on the constitution. Moreover, the more I read about traditional lifestyles, the more I see how much our ancestors valued precious animal products. Shepherds in the Italian countryside ate their pasta with eggs because they were starved for protein. The bulk of their diet consisted of fruits and vegetables. Whether or not their protein source was the product of a chicken's menstrual cycle, or disrespectful toward these sacred birds, didn't enter into it.

So here I am at the checkout line at Selver on a Tuesday afternoon, a schizophrenic shopper, buying soy milk and regular milk together, buying packages of tofu cutlets and salmon steaks, and real butter too, because I am lucky enough to be able to afford it. That graffiti on the road out of Tartu still annoys me, because it was in English, and also because it seemed so far removed from the lives of men like Jutukas Kalev. At the same time, I like the vanilla-flavored soy milk because it goes down easy and, most importantly, because it tastes good. I'm glad that I am able to buy it whenever I want. My satisfaction trumps all.

15 kommentaari:

LPR ütles ...

Maybe the reason is that you cannot make the same statement in Estonian.

"Niku piima" sign would be worse. Imagine all these perplexed Estonian parents having to explain this to their kids on the back seat going "mis on niku?"...

On the other hand, kids seeing the f-word next to piim think that it is harmless and cosy.

"Who's the effin idiot posting a sign like that?)

S ütles ...

It's hard to eat any processed foods in Estonia let alone vegan ones. And even the cost of anything other than carrots, potatoes and onions is high. How do people survive?

I wrote about this issues: http://tinyurl.com/cqab6xk

I really don't think it's fair that the same items cost 2 or 3 times less in Finland and Ireland factoring in wage difference and a lot of the time less in nominal prices too!

Unknown ütles ...

Nice piece, Giustino.

Soy and rice being easier on the body? Ahem. Soy is full of (natural) estrogens, not a substance that you would recommend to a man or boy (or even a girl or woman, to think of it). It also makes you pass a lot of gas. Rice is full of empty calories and predisposes people to diabetes. It's also notorious for its lack of fiber (indeed, you could eat some of the stuff to stop a loose stomach). It reminds me that natural does not mean safe.
I totally agree though, animal products are necessary. Yes, let's eat healthy, balanced, and with lots of all of the different food groups. But let's see, if you leave one group out, say animal products, you end up with something like the diet in Papua-New Guinea - severe protein deficiency, and not only protein but iron, zinc, other minerals, vitamin B, D, etc., etc. There's even a theory that tries to explain cannibalism due to the lack of adequate sources of animal products. Then again, the Inuit have lived for a long time eating more or less only meat and some fish, and maybe a bit of puffin. No veg or fruit there.
I support discouraging the excessive use of additives in processed foods, though many E- numbers are 'safe' stuff, like lemon juice. Many of the colouring substances though, give me shivers, with warnings of the type "can cause concentration and behaviour problems". Of course, trans fats should not be added to foodstuff, but not because you can find a bit of them in natural food such as butter, but because they are used to make products cheaper to manufacture and have a longer shell life. i.e., more profits to the manufacturers (we should also add the importers of some of those goods into Estonia). Why, it would be great if they would make their biscuits, cookies, sweets, and cakes with butter, but no, they use the cheapest (and unhealthiest) thing they can find.
Same thing with corn syrup. Yes, it has a bit more fructose, but let's remember that sugar is half fructose too, while corn syrup is 55% fructose. So the problem is not about corn syrup itself. The problem is using too many sweeteners overall, and in too many foodstuffs, be it as corn syrup or as sugar, or 'evaporated cane juice', as a producer wrote on a product label.
Actually, fats are very important to children's diets, since they are building cells and the nervous system, that both require fat as a constituent part.
Pick your poison, as they say. I'll enjoy my chorizo any day and everyday, if necessary. Verivorst is delicious, and eggs are good for you. Fruit and veg taste and are good too (except cabbage, the most overused and foul ingredient in Estonian food, together with 'white sauce' that is only made out of flour and water).
Even lard is sweet if eaten in a tamal.
OK, enough, I'm hankering after some good food.

Kristopher ütles ...

Giustino, I think activism forced one produc-ER into making e-vaba cured meats. But your info may be more up to date.

Unknown, there are problems with soy, but it's not really the phytoestrogens, which are insignificant (just like no one tells women not to eat blueberries, which contain phytoandrogens; the only mustache you get from eating blueberries is a purple one). I don't think a body that's used to legumes is going to fart that much, either. But overall, you make some good sense. Good piece, good comments.

Syntax, I read in an Estonian book that the body can live on põldoad for 6 months without developing deficiencies. Similar claims have been made for potatoes (with the peels on) + milk. Say it ain't so about the Hesburger falafel. That was actually very tasty.

Kristopher ütles ...

What is this business about "keskpäev" after all the comments? What the hell happens at noon? A duel?

LPR ütles ...

There's an interesting video lecture on the evils of milk on youtube called "Udderly Amazing".

Check it out.

After seeing it, I even try to add less cream to my coffee, never mind drinking milk.

Same for sugar.

There is a good lecture on sugar as well ... A must see:


Sharon ütles ...

I'm a split-personality shopper myself, buying products that contain zero something-or-other at the same time I'll buy something that's practically entirely the thing that's missing from the first product.

I think we're too dependent on some things, as a society (or several societies). It always amazes me what we put in our food, once you start looking at it. Why do we need beef products in rum balls, or wheat products in potato chips?

I'm really fascinated, though, by the things we apparently can't live without. Like dairy, which we feel we must have in some form or another. We can't live without milk or cheese, so we make it from something else if we avoid the lactated stuff.

Would soy milk even exist if not for someone trying to find a milk substitute to put on their breakfast cereal or have in their coffee?* Would we be making bread out of strange mixtures of rice and tapioca if we weren't desperate for bread but trying to avoid the gluten?

Could we successfully live in the same world as everyone else while simply not consuming milk at all (regardless of what it was made from)?

*Actually, I think some sort of squeezed soy product probably would exist, but I'm not sure we'd call it milk.

LPR ütles ...


Here ... I did not write this. Other people write this. I just witness.

Witness this:


Anonüümne ütles ...

So do you think that superficial values, like habits and sentimentalism, are more important than primary rights, like not being tortured or killed?

Marko ütles ...

LPR, what you chatting about? Is it about how yellow Estonian media has turned in recent years? An article about rude busdriver? Do you really care, and if yes I cant help you much. I would recommend to vote with your wallet again.Take a different bus company, or taxi or whatever.

I really do not understand what are you trying to achieve by trolling this blog by posting silly little articles about petty criminals and how someone allegedly stared at someone or was being rude. The level of journalism in this country is beyond Daily Mail or The Sun. Whats next? How dogs in Estonia bark louder than in middle class America?

LPR ütles ...

Good point. Too much time in my hands, as if ...

I should go out and exercise instead.

Señor H ütles ...

I just want to say that you have a nice blog here!
SeñorH, Sweden

Giustino ütles ...

So do you think that superficial values, like habits and sentimentalism, are more important than primary rights, like not being tortured or killed?

As a mysterian, my final response is, I don't know. But my kneejerk suspicion/rejection of all ideologies and disciplines, including the tenets of veganism, would probably incline me to an omnivorous diet.

I just don't see the deep meaning in consumption that others do. I'm not even certain that, say, accepting smoked fish from a friend makes me a "murderer/killer," though most people seem to buy this idea that by chewing on something and passing it out the other side, you are doing something extremely profound.

But what if you didn't know what it was? Is it a case of involuntary slaughter? Beef is murder, abortion is not? Swat a fly, break a cardinal rule? Oh the dilemmas and quandaries. We could go on forever, and we will.

Marko ütles ...

The only reason I have considered going vegeterian is to do with animal farming. The way they treat and literally handle animals there is simply unacceptable. When I lived in Estonia I tried to source at least some of the meat off the professional hunters, to balance the guilt thingy. But all in all I think as a spiecis we do eat other animals, we are predators afterall. And I think you shouldnt fiddle with that. Farming, is something we should reconsider, I think.

Marko ütles ...

I mean, does anyone actually has the figures as if it would be possible to live off wild game all together? I suppose the prices of meat would skyrocket but then again you dont have to eat meat three times a day anyway, couple of times a week would do. Wouldnt it? Just think about it - we could be the first country in the world to move away from animal farming. Not just "free range" but just "free". I think that would be brilliant.

I know that animal welfare in Estonia, and most of Europe, isnt half as bad as it is in the States but I think we should push further. And it shouldnt be as hard to achieve, afterall our culture is all about balance between humans and the natrual world. This is where we could really show the way and lead. Dont you think?