Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Ode to Meat (Inyama)

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and I are best friends.  We know each other well and I even considered myself an almost vegetarian before heading over to South Africa.  Now however, I believe I am in the midst of a sea change—I don’t remember including “learning to re-appreciate the consumption of dead animal” on my CIDA workplan, but I would like to add that as a pinnacle of personal growth.  I don’t know what South Africa’s national slogan is, but I would like to suggest “We Love Meat”.  Perfectly seasoned, long simmered, finger-licking, fall-off-the-bone, oily, hearty, satisfying animal.  I simply love the Xhosa plate.  I love that you are guaranteed at least two types of meat at formal events and that it will come with a generous heaping mountain of umngqusho (beans and samp), beetroot, potatoes and spinach.  And I like eating with my hands and then seeing the glisten of beautifully cooked meat juice on my fingers.  Because it’s not meat that has just been sitting on the grocery shelves and pumped full of synthetic chemicals, but meat that’s been slaughtered for an event and has a purpose and is appreciated.  It’s not separated from its origins—the meat in the Xhosa pots has bones and fat and muscle and proof that it was once alive and part of our earth.    

And the food is more than what is on your plate-- in Canada, when someone offers you food, you politely say “no, thank you” even if you are starving because you know that person was just being polite.  But as polite Canadians, we do not actually mean what we say—we’re just going through the motions.  In Xhosa culture, when someone offers you food (and they always do), you eat some even if you’re full.  Sarah and I thought we were being polite in demurely repeating the Canadian party line, “we’re fine, thank you”.  We were swiftly informed that when someone offers you a bite, you take it or risk being seen as thinking you’re better than them and their food.  For example, at the end of the WSU Peer Educator reflection session, we headed to the boardroom for an afternoon snack which was a plate of meat-a pork rib, a chicken leg, a smoked sausage, fried fish, and chicken salad sandwiches (typical Canadian meeting fare eh?).  As a self-imposed hot-yoga practicing and 5-a-day fanatic, I hesitated and then thought, why am I fighting this meat?  Let me celebrate it and embrace it.  Why?  Of course, I don’t want to be rude, but mostly, it’s just so good!
I’ve commissioned Mandisa from the Centre for HIV/AIDS to be my mentor in my Xhosa culinary journey.  I’ve promised to buy the groceries and use my kitchen so she can dedicate a few hours to showing me how to make magic.  I can string together simple sentences in Xhosa and surprise people with the arbitrary vocabulary I’ve picked up but I want to prove myself in my ability to cook the food of the Eastern Cape.  If I’m allowed, perhaps I will post the recipes...

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