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Last Chance To Eat, by Gina Mallet
If we are what we eat, then we shouldn't eat scallops
Wednesday 20 July 2005
Gina Mallet's father was director of a chain of luxury hotels, so she grew up nibbling oeufs en cocotte, tournedos Rossini and cervelle d'or (golden brain fritters).
Now, a Toronto-based food writer, she explores such unpalatable aspects of modern gastronomy as farmed salmon ("the colour is chosen from Salmofan, a colour swatch from the chemical giant Hoffmann-La Roche") and scallops: "often kept moist by sodium tri-polyphosphate - the active ingredient in paint strippers."
Though Mallet concentrates on just five foodstuffs - eggs, cheese, beef, vegetables and fish - this two-books-in-one aspect produces a rather disjointed narrative. The flow is further disturbed by the inclusion of recipes.
Mallet's prose exudes gung-ho energy, but some of her breezy statements may cause the reader to goggle. Bemoaning modern disdain for "the aggressive, earthy flavour" of kidneys, she maintains: "Nowadays, even in England, the ripe old steak and kidney pie has become steak and mushroom pie." A tour of the English heartland would show Mallet that steak and kidney pie is still a favourite on pub menus, though finding the kidney is often like panning for gold.
Still, virtually every page contains something that has you cheering. "Pasteurisation is a brutal way to ensure safe milk: it wipes out every benefit." Hurrah! "How good beef dripping was. It could be spread on toast or bread; it tasted of crisped beef." Hurrah! She is also right when she runs against current food fashion: "The great sandwiches - the grandee cucumber... the peppery watercress - demand good white bread."
She'll also make you wary of deeply coloured egg yolks and cherry-red tuna, not to mention the roe of warm-water scallops. They can induce "paralytic poison shock", which is why Americans won't touch them.
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