In the US, we are about to embark on my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. That is if the retailers who are opening stores early don’t ruin it. Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends and food. And, usually lots of it. Another nice feature is we usually honor those not with us anymore by breaking out the recipes of grandmothers, mothers, aunts and sisters (with some uncles and grandfathers thrown in). Since people come to my house for Thanksgiving, I am asked if we are going to make Big Mama’s dressing and no, that is not from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
One of things we don’t serve is the geographically named foods that you see in restaurants or high-end meat or fish markets. Whereas, Thanksgiving food is usually named for a person whose recipe it follows, restaurants and markets tend to name food by geography or style of feeding. Why? So, they can charge you more, of course.
Sir, would you like to try our Chilean Sea Bass or North Atlantic Salmon this evening? How about some Alaskan King Crab, North Carolina Trout or Deep Sea Scallops, instead? If you want some beef, we have some Kobe beef which is delicious or we have free-range chicken. The latter one has always puzzled me, as on the opposite end, you have an un-named chicken producer who gorges his chickens on corn so much, the chicken has a distinctive yellow color – there is nothing free range about it. The free range, is better for the environment, though as more grasslands absorb carbon from the air, but does it do anything for the taste?
Of course, we take it to an extreme in the US, by having restaurants that are marketed as if they are authentic food from another part of the world. Most Americans do not know that Outback is owned by a Florida company with numerous other restaurant brands. Our friend Judy from Australia would likely question some of the menu items. So, we fork over a slight premium to get the perceived Australian version of a steak and blooming onion, one of the most sinfully good and heart-unhealthy dishes around. To Outback’s credit, people are willing wait in line for a long time to get in.
Like Outback, what is interesting about all of these names of food is the lack of verification of authenticity. Chilean Sea Bass has been overfished, so the supply cannot meet the demand. Cod from Cape Cod near Massachusetts is dangerously low in stock. So, what you are eating is probably not what is named. Deep sea scallops is a terrific misnomer as it is likely shark meat. You can usually tell by the uniformity of the cut of the scallops – real scallops are like snow-flakes and have different shapes. And, we could spend a lot of time talking about truffles whose market has been infiltrated by cheap knock-off versions from Asia rather than Europe, where they are sniffed out by specially trained dogs (talk about an asset).
So, the next time you are in a restaurant or market, look at the prices and see if a pattern emerges. If you want to have fun, you could ask is this really Chilean Sea Bass? Or, you could stay home and have some reheated Joe’s turkey, Big Mama’s dressing with Linda’s cranberry relish. They won’t mind a bit. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.