Does what we eat, eat, really matter?
Greedy Girl’s foodie friend Madame Lapine refuses to eat lamb in the Southern Hemisphere, despite gluttonous husband trying his very best lamb cutlet sous vide recipe. Imagine our surprise when, on holiday in France, she made a rare foray into the blogosphere to rave about a Provencal lamb concoction.
Interrogated later about her drastic departure from stated culinary mores, she merely shrugged. “It tasted different,” she insisted.
If we are what we eat, does it make a difference what the things we consume also eat? For example, can you tell the difference between grain-fed or grass-fed beef? Even though I pride myself on a well-developed palate, I’ve not been able to discern any variance in the flavour.
Some foods that have a bad reputation here in Australia are considered delicacies elsewhere. So when you travel, you may need to confront long-held perceptions and prejudices about what gets dished up to you for dinner.
One man’s meat is another’s poison? In the case of a fish species introduced to Australia’s inland waterways, it’s an environmental poison.
I’m talking about carp (pictured above) which is known here as ‘European carp’ to distinguish it from related species such as the Koi goldfish. Loved by Europeans and a symbol of wealth and prosperity to many Asian cultures, to Australians it’s an environmental pest. Introduced into private dams in Australia as early as the mid-18th century, flooding flushed it into the inland waterways. Since the 1960s, it has taken hold as ‘public enemy number one’ for the damage it has wreaked in Australian rivers.
But on a recent trip to Switzerland, staying with fish-loving gourmet hosts, we were aghast to hear the carp is not only widely fished, but savoured. When a particular foodstuff is responsible for the degradation of an aquatic eco-system, it’s hard to think positively about eating it.
Having caught carp in Australia’s longest river, the Murray (it’s now hard to catch anything other than carp now quite frankly), according to local fisheries and wildlife protocols, we were required to dispose of it. On the first occasion we decided to clean and fillet it and toss it in a hot pan with some butter and herbs.
The smell told us this was not the wisest course of action and the taste confirmed it. This incredibly bony fish tasted of nothing but mud.
Our friends couldn’t believe it. Promptly we were taken to fish at a local lake at the foot of the Swiss Alps and the catch served up for the evening’s dinner. The flavour was completely different. It was mild, almost delicate – and that is solely put down to how the fish feeds at these opposite ends of the world.
In Australia, having spread throughout the river system, the carp has thrived by feeding along the bottom of gently-flowing water. In a prolonged period of drought where environmental water flows have been reduced (and restricted because of irrigation), they’ve been more successful than native species in coping with the changed environment.
They eat almost everything; well, not other fish but certainly fish eggs and tadpoles that get sucked in with the mud. Carp are the rabbits of the fish world, in that their breeding is prolific. They’ve become a destructive force, with an enormous impact on native fish stocks in Australian rivers and the water quality. When they’re caught here, local laws mandate that they’re humanely euthanised. Indeed, one of the links provided on the NSW Department of Fisheries and Wildlife points to ‘germanfood.about.com’ that provides instructions and recipes on how to fillet and cook carp.
But what goes by the same name down under, definitely does not taste the same. Perhaps, before you make a judgment about whether you should or shouldn’t eat something, it would help to know its feeding habits.