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An artichoke heart is actually a flower bud we choose to not let blossom, so that we can make it into our food. But long before we find it pickled and pasteurized in a glass jar somewhere, it had a life, a character and a mood of its own -- to which many a pricked finger can attest.
We generally regard food for its value as a nutrient or as a stimulant for the palate. Often ignored is the food's character or mood. Take for example, the artichoke. It is beautiful and complex, enigmatic in its application as an ingredient, and mostly feared. This is why most know it only in its finished form as an ingredient. Our first encounter normally finds it already dismembered, its heart pickling in a glass jar. It would be far more rewarding to meet it in its wild, raw, self-possessed form defying its status as an object – inviting us to consider its mood.
Mood is commonly understood to refer to a particular state of mind, a temporary internal state. With regard to our food, mood gives us a context for fully appreciating the complex interaction between the consumer and the consumed. Our experiences, history and movement on this plane determine our mood. So it is for our food. It is not just an object to be consumed but also a subject, a character that will inject itself into our experience.
How can anything but a human, or at least a "higher" animal, have an emotion? If we look closely at the word's meaning and etymology, it becomes plausible. Emotion is from the Latin emovere – to "move" (movere) "out" (ex), referring to something's ability to move outward and affect its environment – to be in e-motion, if you will. This ability to move, to be in animation, which we commonly attribute only to animals, is a soulful property associated with the Greek word anima (soul; breath). Things that have the ability to move us, elicit from us a response, or at least an awareness of something outside ourselves, therefore possess what we call a "mood."
The artichoke's prickly capacity for violence, juxtaposed with its promise of sweet and tang at its heart, tempts us in an almost folkloric way: Come and get me... if you dare.
The artichoke's prickly capacity for violence, juxtaposed with its promise of sweet and tang at its heart, tempts us in an almost folkloric way: '"Come and get me...if you dare". This provocative, armored plant, with its sharpened exterior enrobing the treasure within can be said to arouse, for instance, a vegan's deeply buried blood lust. He can conquer without killing. He can wrestle with his suppressed need to defeat and devour.
In the ongoing adversity between humanity and the artichoke, it is human blood that is shed (many a pricked finger), not the wizened, dry artichoke's. Isn't it poetic that the artichoke was banned for a short period in New York during the Mafia Artichoke Wars for its alleged role in augmenting violence during this agricultural power struggle in the early 20th century? We may have disregarded this. The artichoke, however, has not.
We are so used to food being the object of our dominance (after all, do we not arrogantly claim dominion over nature? ) that we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with its thwarting of our objectifications and our desire to reduce everything into an edible commodity. The artichoke projects itself (literally with its thorns) into a higher maintenance relationship, drawing us into a far more phenomenological approach to our food through our lived-experience of it.
We usually decline the challenge of confronting the power of these dangerous, moody foods in favor of, for instance, artichoke hearts in brine, jarred and pre-conquered. This product is preserved and presented like a trophy of industrialized society. Although we have averted the danger of this intimidating vegetable, we have also skipped over its essence. An already unveiled, handled and processed vegetable is like a 'lobotomized' person with flat affectation stripped of its personality and of its mood.
Another way to understand that a mere vegetable can have a personality, or at least exert forces of its own, is to examine its relationship with our emotional countenance. The artichoke is conquerable. Strategically, however, in order to vanquish, the predator – ideally- must remain vigilant, focused and clear-headed. It's no statistical surprise that stubbed toes, varied contusions, knocked heads et al are more common in altered states. Isn't it ironic and poetic, then that artichokes cannot (from a taste point of view) be paired with wine? What horrific consequences would follow if it were not so? There is a compound in the artichoke that changes the taste of anything eaten after it so dramatically that any contact between wine and artichoke is discouraged. So we proceed with a necessary sobriety.
No longer romanticized as the icon of a slow-paced, tropical life, the coconut has become substantially cosmopolitan. It is impenetrable to all but the machete brandishing, beach side palm tree warriors.
Speaking of knocked heads, another moody food that is often associated with falling on heads (yet – wryly – often wedded with alcohol) is the coconut. No longer romanticized as the icon of a slow-paced, tropical life, the coconut has become substantially cosmopolitan. It is impenetrable to all but the machete brandishing, beach side palm tree warriors. Thanks to globalization, though, each component of its versatile whole is now readily available: coconut water, coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut meat, young coconut meat and coconut oil. Its foreboding, hairy wholeness is hardly spied in grocery stores or markets anymore.
The gossip about this new generation of coconuts (just as is said about each generation of humans by the preceding one) is that it is jaded, entitled and bored. The charming coconut of yesterday used to evoke the idea or memory of a holiday of histrionically oversized, colorful cocktails. Now the ingénue coconut is brushed aside by this new variety – available to everyone all year round – devoid of its telltale sun-tan oil perfume. The new coconut is here for our health with its saturated stability and natural sweetness laughing self-importantly at the innocent pina colada co-star coconut of yesteryear. The mood now is a bittersweet pathos kind of thing. I feel nostalgic as I give way to the medium chain triglyceride of the new millennium.
Before the advent of industrialized, pre-packed, synthetic food, we actually had to go about hunting, gathering, digging or starving for the lack of these skills. If we pretend, today, that things are food for our table, first, and self-possessed organisms in their own right, second, we are deluding ourselves. There was danger in not becoming acquainted with the mood of those hunted, or gathered; a danger in not being sensitive to the peculiarities and agendas of these wild "others."
There is danger but there is also excitement;the two are inextricably bound insofar as we remain engaged with our food. And so, letting ourselves be moved (or tackled, or lanced) by our food is an essential part of this primordial encounter. If we remain vigilant, humble and appreciative, we will likely remain for quite some time longer on the winning side of the equation. But do not underestimate the repressed blood lust of the artichoke either. Many pricked fingers can attest to it, and wine will not take the edge off the painful realization that the artichoke, while giving its body to us abundantly, knows its true self better than us, and therefore, despite outward appearances to the contrary, remains its own moody master.