Michael Pollan food

Questionable Eating: The Upside of Mistaking Pig Rectum for Calamari

The most recent episode of This American Life revealed something many people are likely to take issue with. Reported by Ben Calhoun, the segment follows a tip-off that pig rectum is being sold as artificial calamari.

There are very troubling issues at play if this story is true – many cultures refrain from eating pork, and in general people like to believe that the calamari they ordered is, in fact, calamari. But Calhoun suggests the story is not simply a case of fraud. Rather, he points out that “It’s payback for our blissful ignorance about where our food comes from and how it gets to us.” In fact, he sees in the story the possibility of redemption, for what is perhaps the most maligned cut of meat imaginable.

In general, we are profoundly disengaged from what we eat. This is something Michael Pollan talked about when he spoke at the Sydney Opera House last year (watch it here). In his talk he suggested taking a different approach to eating food, and by “food”, he means the kind of things your great-grandmother would have recognised. His suggestions include eating smaller portions and eating natural foods, including more sustainable and better-raised meat.

There is currently a whole movement following through with these recommendations, seen in the rise of urban farming, with Sydney restaurants like The Grounds of Alexandria growing their own produce and raising their own chickens. It’s also evident in what could be termed ‘thoughtful carnivorism,’ which takes the approach that if you’re going to kill an animal, the most respectful thing you can do is use every part of it. Eating this way also forces us to recognise that the vacuum-packed pork chops sold in the supermarket come from an animal which also possessed a head, tongue, trotters, and indeed, a rectum. That’s the upside the This American Life story gets to: all food, whether calamari or pig rectum, can achieve greatness through the great equaliser that is the deep fryer.