Saturday, July 17, 2010

Freezer Feasts - essay

I’m so excited! I think I may have invented the next social craze: Freezer Feasts. Those of you who have freezers, especially larger ones, will grasp this concept immediately. As you no doubt know, one of the problems with freezers is that over time they fill up with stuff to the point where some of the older stuff inevitably gravitates to the bottom and has an excellent chance of being forgotten before it is used. While it is true that food will stay frozen for a long time, it is also true that most food shouldn’t stay in the freezer too long as it risks freezer burn or just becomes too old to be conscientiously served. You may try to use up everything in your freezer but it is not usually possible in a reasonable amount of time and there is always a residue of miscellaneous items that really should be used up before it’s too late.

As a solution to this problem I am recommending Freezer Feasts. On a designated date, long enough to be certain everything remaining will be suitably thawed and can be cooked, you invite all your friends to a feast. First you estimate how many people can be served with what is left over in your freezer after your failed attempt to use it all, and then you invite that many people to come and share in this event. And what a feast it can be! Although we do not keep a careful inventory of what goes in and comes out of our freezer, I am certain that if we were to offer such a feast at the moment it would include: one frozen duck, two frozen rabbits, a small bit of venison, 3 pounds of frozen octopus, half a bag of shrimp, at least one salmon filet, one whole whitefish, one gift of a lake trout, one pork roast, one beef rump roast, a small package of pork chops, two calamari tubes, several jars of chicken stock, at least one jar of veal stock, frozen leeks and peas, a quart of very old ice cream, a one-pound package of frozen huckleberries, two jars of homemade tomato sauce, a couple jars of leftover chili, an old loaf of bread, and some frozen duck fat. Now you may think this is a result of greed and hoarding but I assure you it is not. We buy things when they are available (not often here) and plan on using them, but then summer comes and it is possible to get lots of fresh produce and fish and we just don’t get around to them soon enough. Granted this may be an unusual mélange to be cooked at one time, but just imagine what a gourmet meal you could prepare with it, and how many friends you could feed.

The basic idea is to invite friends who also have freezers because they will understand, be in the same situation, and can eventually reciprocate. There are enormous and important advantages in doing this. For example, it avoids freezer burn and spoilage and thus prevents waste. It also allows you to empty your freezer periodically so you can defrost it more easily. It forces (or allows) you to begin buying again thus helping the struggling economy, and it insures you will have a better supply of food in your freezer. As the items are not held together by a common theme (other than all being food) they challenge your imagination as a culinary artist. There is also an element of nostalgia as you will probably find things you can no longer afford and enjoy them, perhaps, for one last time. If you do it well you will please your friends and gain their admiration, and perhaps even widen their tastes. It also allows you to break the seemingly endless cycle of potlucks, as your friends need bring nothing other than their own bottles and chairs (this last request seems to be becoming more and more common, especially as we tend to meet in larger groups outside during the summer). It also introduces an element of surprise and eliminates monotony as these feasts will not occur at regularly scheduled times. And at the very least it will bring diverse families together and thus promote social solidarity and camaraderie, as people who eat together are always friends.

Eventually, when it’s your friends’ turn to clean out their freezers and put on their feasts think of how you will look forward in eager excitement and anticipation to what magnificent leftovers may emerge and be offered. Obviously not all feasts will be as great as yours, but some will be, and some may well be even better, you may experience new treats and learn to eat foods you have never tried before. You might even learn to like eggplant and okra (ugh).

Once you have such a system in place and functioning, with just a modest amount of tweaking here and there it could come to share all the fine features of the Kula ring of the Trobrianders, the potlatches of the Northwest Coast, The Yam and Pig exchanges of the Melanesians, and the classic reciprocity of all gift giving a la Marcel Mauss. It will also importantly help to break the anomie so characteristic of living in such impersonal and large-scale societies. So don’t just keep piling more and more items into your freezers, pause now and then, prepare a feast for your friends, slow down and enjoy yourself. You can also incorporate this into the Morialekafa diet regimen: eat and drink all you want, no limits, but only do it every ten days.

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