A question occurred to me earlier today on my way home from work:

What would alien visitors from another galaxy, given they don’t annihilate us all within the first minutes of their arrival, think of ‘Masterchef’?

Would they spread their slimy tentacles on the sofa, and watch together in amazement how people spend ages preparing food, how they cry wet tears on television over their failure to boil an egg or ‘compose’ their ‘signature’ dish correctly? I really wonder.

After all, in their world, eating is eating: a basic need to survive. No need to boil the eggs. You just pick up an intergalactic snack from a planet near you and move on. (With some luck, the aliens will be slime mould-ish, and we can still run away while they chase us at the extraordinary speed of 1 cm per second.)

Carnal matters

Not so long ago (on a geological timescale) it was exactly the same for us: a basic need, like sex, to survive. In those days, food had tremendous trading value. Hunters would return with meat, and trade it with the women at home for mating opportunities. Trading mammoth (Or sabretooth, or whatever furry creature came within reach of their pointy spears) for genes, both parties benefited from the exchange. The men could spread their genes, and the women could be sure to give theirs to a child with a strong father who was able to dodge mammoths.

Nowadays, that habit has disappeared (Tthe trading value of fresh mammoth meat has somewhat diminished in the red light districts of our age), but food is beyond any doubt still “big business”. We don’t pay it with sexual favours anymore (things would get complicated), but we pay it with the thing that has replaced a part of our ‘survival currency’: money.

Fortune, Glory and Wonders of the Deep Blue Sea

More than ever, food is a field full of new and exciting possibilities. Possibilities, mainly, to convince people to give you their money in exchange for something they really don’t need.

People pay astronomical amounts of cash just to eat in a fancy restaurant, where food isn’t necessarily any better than that of the local tavern. The key is exclusivity, of course. Find a dish which seems strange and exotic to your continent, and you can ask any price you want. People will eat it anyway, just because it fascinates them.

Want to eat sea cucumber soufflé with a hint of Hawaiian shrimp ? Sure. You name it. They’ll drag it from the bottom of the continental plate for you, and prepare the slimy thing with ‘a trio of Parmesan cheeses’, but scratching the thing of the bottom of the sea, out of its peaceful and mucous existence, comes with a price (not to mention the environmental one). I’ve seen people in near-orgastic states at the tasting of sea cucumber on television, describing it as a ‘heavenly’ in front of the viewers, while visibly trying to repress a cold shudder at the sight of it (one solution is to make it unrecognizable in the cooking process. You could try to melt it or something. It’s proabably be worth a try).

I had the erm…pleasure of eating it in a small (and rather dodgy) seafood restaurant in a Guangzhou (Canton, China) suburb, and I must say it tastes like nothing I ever ate before. In fact, it tastes of nothing..except the thing they put in the dish with it (in China that usually involves large portions of red hot peppers). It doesn’t even taste of what it actually feeds on: ‘decaying organic matter’

By the way…sea cucumbers, when in distress, deploy their secret weapon: ‘defense vomiting’ (Do check Wikipedia, by all means. It’s fascinating literature (especially the picture captions):

Part II: “Excuse me, can i have some more Liquid Nitrogen in my Soup?” online on May 20th