Monday, June 11, 2012

Ham Steak. Meaning of Life. Etc.

This was unexpected.  That there should still be weird food cravings popping up and triggering reminiscences, moods, and so on is not surprising at all of course but that I should find myself seized by a fierce craving, as of yesterday, for something that would never have even made it to a 'top few-hundred' list of my past favourite foods from any time period is odd.

Especially as I'm also doing it in my head with pineapple, which I once used to assiduously remove from pizza or any such cooked or meaty environment.  Pineapple? Yum. Ham?  Yes, sometimes I used to be partial to a bit of cured pig, especially in that modern Anglo-Aussie seasonal Xmas ham way of things.  Ham is after all related to bacon, that most notorious of gateway fleshes for former carnivores.

Other foody items have popped up to spark a memory, spin me around for a while in reverie of something that turns out in my present hyper-connected-to-something state to have a revelatory and profound meaning for me, (NOTE to self; consider making a list, could be interesting) but none with the force of ham steaks.  Grilled, with pineapple, and maybe a few starchy vegetable extras.

Then the penny dropped.

Long Pig.

I'll back up a step.  Naturally, I queried myself when the thought of ham steaks being delicious, toothsome and desirable, deeply, to my own fleshly being, down to the very ache in my bones, sprang - flooringly powerfully - from whence I know not.  Had the thought as earlier; I never really liked ham steaks much anyway.  They remind me somewhat of my father; he liked such things, and as a food I associate them with him.  Maybe they were served on special Dad-treat occasions during my childhood.  Certainly, again as was the modern tradition in the second half of the 20th Century in these parts, the Man Of The House was also Meat Master, including Lord Of The Annual Ham at Xmastime.  It was a role I was aware of, tucked away in my future-self psyche down what was even then in early childhood a dark and uninviting passageway; the route down which I married young, and took my kids to see the fireworks for the year 2000 at the Sydney Opera House, imagining it as an already-worn family ritual.  One day I would be The Man, in charge of things like Meat, and especially the sacred Ham, in my own House.

The house that carried the name of my father.  Truly though, even then I knew that wasn't going to happen.

Ham steaks are different creatures entirely from, say, common or garden-variety sandwich ham, the kind you find cheaply the White Person world over and best disguised between industrial-grade white commercial bread and butter.  Different too from the other end of the scale, the gourmet offerings from particular regions or locales, the finely sliced perhaps slightly smokey variety one may find layered in a lovely croissant with some good melted cheese.  See there's a thing that would have made a top-fifty list for me, right there, a good quality ham and cheese croissant.  Not only a classically satisfying combination of all the flavours the Western palate has been raised this last hundred years to crave, but one which features for me in so many happy times.  It sits in a wonderful place in memory. Maybe top twenty-five even, thinking about it.  But no, this is about the essential ham steak.

Despite the varieties of ham available to mankind, the ham steak is pretty much a sameish thing.  Pineapple is a classic combination for it in no small measure because the digestive qualities of the pineapple are perfectly attuned to assist the body in rendering that fats and proteins in the meat available to us, but also because it's one of the few flavours one could put beside the salty immensity of an inch thick chunk of cured fatty pig leg and not be completely overwhelmed or simply clash horribly.  Some would argue that the latter is exactly the case anyway.  It doesn't really matter how you cook it or what ham you use, a ham steak is a commitment to eat.  It's already been through a whole lengthy process of becoming tasty, delectable cured piggy and now you're going to insult it by adding more fat (probably) and grilling it.

There is just so much wrong with this picture it's hard to know where to start. Or even where to look.  
This photo strikes me as a classically Australian idiosyncratic expose.

I wonder, would a ham steak on the smokier end of the flavour spectrum be good grilled, smeared with a dab of quince paste, then topped with a sort of tapenade paste of finely chopped kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes and crumbled goat's cheese?  Cracked black pepper, fresh at the end.  Crusty but light wholemeal loaf, with butter.  Side dish of warm green bean and beetroot salad. Just a thought.  But no, it's still the hunk of grilled ham, with pineapple, and the commitment of slicing into it with a knife and fork repeatedly, chewing and swallowing hunks of it until it has all been consumed.

For I do remember now that  ham steak is something that was difficult to finish.  By the end, it was just too intense. That much flavour is fine, but when it's an amount of meat normally associated with uncured, relatively bland cow flesh - a beef steak for example - I seem always to have felt some regret at having started in on a ham steak, those times it was a choice I made, at a BBQ, or something.  Maybe if I had liked the pineapple back then, I don't know.

Yes, I'm still starving.  My actual weight seems more to be in conversion than dropping so much.  What I mean is that my muscle mass is declining even further, but I'm retaining fluid in places, bloating and so forth.  My diet has changed a little, with Meeta making my blends from a wider variety of things.  My relationship with feeding continues to change and morph apace, and I find myself less and less wanting it.  I am wedged in now; I cannot any longer feed any more than I do anyway, and my overall mass maintains its inexorable direction. Exactly what I'm putting in seems less important now by a huge degree, compared to only a week or two ago when I had the urge to cleanse and purge somewhat.

But seriously, ham steaks? There just isn't enough history there for me personally to explain the depth of this one.  I asked myself and did some semi-scientific postulation about what nutrients my body might be codedly signalling me for in the face of this starvation diet, and naturally one can make a case for protein, fat, salt, even the sugar.  Maybe because it's such a dense flavour packet some part of my imagination is seeking magic fuel bullets with massive caloric and micronutrient impact ... nah.  It just doesn't stand up.

The penny did drop, though.  And it's related to what my body craves nutritionally.  I am wanting to eat my own self.

Long Pig is a term variously attributed to any one of a plethora of erstwhile (or perhaps even present-day) cannibalistic cultures who also made use of porcine flesh in their diets; most probably from the Marquesas Island area in Polynesia.  It refers to human flesh, as it is said that the closest taste and texture match for we human folk is pig.  And a ham steak is about as visceral and potentized a form of pig you can get.  The pineapple only adds to its power.  I am, very simply, craving beyond any food stuff now, I am craving the very fabric of my own flesh, for what the body recognizes at its deepest layers.  The animal craves its own existence, carnally.

Makes you wonder a bit more deeply about what exactly goes through the heads of people who find themselves suddenly, outside of any cultural context, faced with the question of eating a fellow person to stay alive.

(It's a moneybox. Geddit? ;-)

Penny dropped, a nasty dead and dull thud as if edge-on to a softwood kitchen table under a heavy cloth, the image and desire immediately began to ebb away, mercifully.  But not before some bizarre clashes of imagery erupt startlingly, too floatingly surreal to attempt in words for you here I'm afraid.  A 'you had to be there' moment or several. :-)

What made the whole ham steak thing come upon me I cannot say.  Can't recall a trigger anywhere.  But I can tell you when that penny dropped; watching a program on TV about young women starting out, or contemplating, new lives as nuns.  I shan't bother to explain.

Anyway, thanks as always for bystanding in that special and supportive way you do.  I'm glad that is over now.  Because I really, really, don't like ham steaks.  Never really did.  Yet for a good twenty-four hours roughly, give or take, ham steak became one of the Most Important Things In All Creation.  To me, that is.



  1. Wow. Reading. Sending blessing your way.

  2. When I stopped eating meat 40 years ago one thing I craved for years was Schnitzel properly cooked in the classic way not greasy or overcooked . ( to think it was baby calf now makes me ill)

    I think the intensity of your thoughts is to do with a cleansing as you approach inevitability

    the Nuns story was very interesting pity there are not more of those gentle folk around
    ( when I was young at Catholic Primary they thrashed us )

    you do have a fine sense of the absurd and it makes me chuckle so good on you for that
    regards Phil