Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tucker of one kind or another

Among the readers of my blog, there are certain non-Australians, so I should explain for these cultural outsiders that the word "tucker" (not to be found in my online Macintosh dictionary) is a colloquial Aussie term for food. In particular, the expression "bush tucker" (nothing to do with the eating habits of the dearly-beloved US president) designates alleged survival food of the kind once consumed by Aborigines in the outback. A popular Aussie TV personality named Les Hiddins has been trying for years to convince ordinary urban people that they should learn how to collect and prepare appetizing food of this kind.

Witchetty grubs, for example, are said to be a delicacy. Personally, though, I've never had an opportunity of getting stuck into such tucker. As a child, I vaguely remember eating kangaroo tail soup, but I never moved up the gastronomical scale to such foodstuffs as goannas, snakes, locusts, ants or spiders. On the other hand, here in France, I've often eaten frogs' legs, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that you can now buy them in Sydney shopping centers. For ages at Gamone, I collected and prepared snails, up until I seemed to have exterminated them (mea culpa!) by over-harvesting. In a related domain, French friends have often told me they appreciate ostrich meat, believing wrongly that this animal is Australian. In fact, the ostrich meat we find in supermarkets is produced on farms here in France.

Talking about tucker, there's a subject I've intended to bring up for ages, but I've been waiting for the right moment to do so. Let me start out by saying that I'm not exactly what you would call a "good Australian", in the sense that I've spent most of my adult life in another land. Besides, I tend to be excessively critical of many aspects of Australia, as if my birthplace and I weren't always on the same wavelength. Now, I have a theory that this apparent lack of harmony between Australia and me is related—believe it or not!— to a primeval question of tucker.

Let me be more explicit, at the risk of shocking certain readers, not to mention representatives of the Australian food industry. Retrospectively, I believe that my expatriate non-problem has always been... Vegemite. Non-Australian readers are advised to Google to acquire an in-depth understanding of this specifically "Down Under" foodstuff, about which much has been written. It looks and smells a little like dirty grease leaking out of an old tractor. As for its taste, I really can't say, because I've never been hungry enough to munch a slice of factory-made bread with this yucky stuff on it. But I'm an exception. As I just stated, I'm definitely not what most people would call a "good Australian", so you really shouldn't rely on me to describe the taste of Vegemite. There must be hordes of true-blue Aussie poets and gourmets who could handle this challenge in a reliable fashion. [A recent Peter Nicholson animation refers to Vegemite.]

Let me get back to my theory, which I'll try to explain in simple terms, with no use of advanced mathematics, chemical formulae or neurological schemata. Basically, I believe that Vegemite attacks the brain directly! To call a spade a spade (or a cat a cat, as they say in French), Vegemite-eaters are transformed into addicts who drowse into a state of zombie-like apathy as soon as they fail to receive their daily dose. Now, since Vegemite is only readily available, at a low price, for people who are lucky enough to be residing in Australia, this means that any Vegemite-addicted Aussie who dares to travel abroad and reside dauntlessly in foreign lands is liable to go through harassing periods of dire craving. I would imagine that most victims of this advanced clinical state would not resist for long, and they jump aboard the first plane back to Australia. The core of my theory is that the only reared-in-Australia individuals who have the necessary stamina to remain living overseas today are either

(a) a minority of well-off expatriates whose supplies of Vegemite are flown in regularly or acquired, like Viagra, through the Internet; or

(b) the fortunate few, like me, who happen to hate this muck.

I can hear you all asking: If an Aussie kid such as you wasn't caught up on Vegemite, then what the hell did you eat to survive? The answer: peanut butter. As a child, my consumption of peanut butter sandwiches was bettered by no other bodily intake apart from air and water. Familiar foodstuffs such as fish and chips, meat pies and even ice cream were lagging far behind. Today, if a sensitive physiologist were to examine me closely, and sniff around the most private parts of my being, I'm sure that she might detect a faint archaeological aroma, from the distant past, of South Grafton peanut butter. In any case, it's an experiment that would be worth performing...

In view of what I've just revealed, readers will understand that I was troubled to learn through the Internet that an American manufacturer of peanut butter has just been obliged to take back astronomical quantities of their stuff because of a salmonella attack. All I can say is that, if this kind of tragedy had occurred back in South Grafton in the 1950s, I surely wouldn't be here today, in the south of France, writing this tucker-oriented blog.

This post is already quite long, and I haven't even got around to the fascinating subject of another questionable foodstuff: canned bully beef. Like the equally fascinating subject of canned spam, this will have to wait for another day when my blogger's mind drifts to tucker.

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