Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Column: Deep Culture: The Bourgeoisie of the Sea or Why I Don't Like Salmon: Ivo Furman

Amongst the plethora of titles for half written articles I've planned for this blog, "why I don't like salmon" struck me as a humorous antidote to spending half a day listening to a health care researcher talk about eroticism and death in hospices. Hence I've decided to stick with the title and deconstruct that jolly and wise creature - the salmon.

So why is it that I despise salmon? If tuna is the chicken of the sea world, then salmon must truly be the T-bone. That startling pink colour sparkling of sophistication combined with that clichéd, omnipresent truism of "and its good for you" makes salmon the most obnoxious personality of the sea world. It itself often tastes bland and often hangs out with the most boring clique of potatoes and boiled veg, but still manages to project an image of middle class sophistication and power.

I realize I'm generalizing and being overtly critical of this humble fish, but it so often strikes me that the people who often dislike anything related to fish will order salmon. Paradoxical as it sounds, salmon seems to hold a certain magical charm over their heads. Then what is the discreet charm of the salmon?

I'd say that the secret of the salmon lies in its presentation. Forget all that balderdash about health concerns and the taste. The categorical presentation of the salmon is what matters. Quite often, salmon is presented as the "steak" or a dry cured cut. Presented as such it often allows the consumer to eat without giving too much consideration to the life of the fish before it landed on your plate.

The fish, complete with the head and tails often make people queasy, much like the fifth quarter of livestock; it creates a dilemma of class. Offal, scales, bones are often projected to be the undesirable, the Other of food. Therefore the presence of these elements in a dish often "ruin" the fetishistic desires associated with the dish. Discarding these elements often turn an undesired dish into one that is palatable. The same works for salmon. The categorical presentation of the dish often allows for non-fish consumers to partake in the ritual of consuming fish. The physical recomposition of the fish to suit the taste of the consumer makes the dish desirable. It stops being a fish and becomes a phantasmagoria of candle lit bourgeoisie restaurants stinking of cologne and wine. Such is the power of consumerism as it shapes the reality within which an object exists and is realized.

Of course, the next question to ask is how is taste defined? Does the context really affect the way consumers like or dislike a product? But I've run out of space for today. So, I'd say let these questions be food for thought. Let salmon, much like the bourgeoisie be the effect and not the object of our philosophical meanderings. After all, this wondrous fish used to be revered as a symbol of wisdom in Scandinavian and Celtic societies.

Ivo Furman

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