Recently, UNESCO added French gastronomy to its list of the world’s intangible heritage that must be safeguarded. By this they mean the long, not to say interminable, meal which arrives in multiple courses, lasts five hours, and leaves you vowing never, ever to eat again.
I once ate a similar thing in a French gastronomic restaurant in England, and spent the entire night lying like a beached whale unable to turn over for fear of causing a seismic shift. If you are ever going to try this sort of feast, do it at midday – then go for a long walk. It won’t be easy; your legs will complain about the extra weight. But it will be necessary for life as you know it to continue afterwards.
Food, obviously, is important to a French person – so much so, that when the current economic crisis arrived on their doorstep knocking to be let in, the first thing that the government came up with as a means of making money was to increase the TVA ( VAT) on restaurant food and drink from 5.5% to 7%. This, it is implied, will rake in the euros and pay off a fair amount of debt. After all, you’ve got to eat.
That apart, I got to wondering what else was on the list. The Mediterranean diet is there, because it is healthy and kind to your arteries, which it has to be said the grand dinner en fête is not.
There is a Brazilian ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order. Well, a French meal probably equates to that: without food, what have you got?
There is the watertight bulkhead technology of Chinese junks, which, after eating a meal of the larger variety, though by no means junk food, washed down as it is with copious and varied types of wine, would come in handy.
Mongolia is represented for, amongst many other things, circular breathing in the Limbe folk long song performances – and trust me, after the gastronomic blow out, circular breathing is about all you can manage. Anything deeper is impossible.
Mexico’s Day of the Dead Festival rates an inclusion, but one hopes it won’t come to that; just keep the antacids handy.
The UK, however, is conspicuous in its absence. Now, I think this is unfair, and would like to redress the balance a little. I have one particular ingredient in mind that really ought to be included, and which you will not find in French gastronomy – or any other level of cookery: and that is suet.
You don’t get suet on sale in the supermarket here. You won’t see it displayed in a butcher’s shop. A lady I know asked for some, and was handed the whole portion of animal fat, as cut from the carcase. It ended up in her garden for birds to peck at, but they were French birds and declined on the grounds of deep suspicion.
Where is the French dumpling? The steamed pudding? Mincemeat, in which suet is the only remnant of its historical past as a savoury mixture? They don’t exist. Suet, you see, is a regional delicacy, and that region is the UK. So, on the grounds that the intangible heritage list is for things that should be safeguarded, and as suet is under threat from the cholesterol war, I think it deserves a place.
In the 16th Century, a French diplomat said that to visit England in the pudding season was to come at the best of seasons. So, in these difficult times, perhaps we should cancel the gastronomy and eat suet. You’d be just as full, at a fraction of the cost, and you can clog up your arteries without having to sit at the table for hours on end. What more can you ask?
If only Marie Antoinette had said, “Let them eat suet” – who knows where history would have led?