I grew up eating food. I see your skeptical eyebrow raised, smirk on your face saying, no kidding, Einstein. What do you think the rest of us ate? Do you think our fathers brought home mirages? Do you think our mothers cooked those mirages and fed us vapors and promises? A precursor to NFT bread? Awino, usitupime akili, pris (say pris is a centrooo accent)
Your judgmental stance is warranted if, like me, you grew up in a place where everything that landed on your plate could be directly traced to a plant or animal that lived on God’s green earth. But, stay with me, come srowry, take a deep breath, get a cup of tea, or whisky, have a seat; you are not the one I speak of. Let me tell you of the suffering of some of our American and other brethren from developed countries and cities over the last few decades, maybe even centuries.
I am no fan of cheese. I don’t get its appeal. It tastes ok. It makes Pizza palatable. Beyond that, cheese is wasted on me. A quick search of the world’s top 10 most expensive cheeses yields names like: Lord of the Hundreds- not to be confused with Lord of the Rings, Rogue River Blue- even though no thievery was involved in the making of that cheese. My absolute favorite on that list is also the creme de la creme, Pule cheese. From a donkey. Yes, you read that right. People are out here forking out $600/pound to eat cheese made from a punda. A punda! My fellow Kenyans, we are literally burdening our fundas with hulking loads, when they could be making us loaded. Has any Kenyan, in the history of Kenyaning, ever thought to milk a donkey? Let alone make cheese from said milk? I will graciously receive royalties from whoever implements my idea.
You know who didn’t make the list though? Parmesan cheese. You know you have hit rock bottom when you are not deemed worthy to appear on the same list as the by-product of a donkey’s milk.
Why, you ask, with such a fine name, didn’t Parmesan make the list? Did it not wear the right bow tie and top hat to number 5-Old Ford’s father’s funeral? Did it, by chance, loudly yell that the obituary was incomplete, seeing as it didn’t mention the old goat’s second wife and six love children? Is Parmesan that guy who shows up to a wedding dressed in jean shorts and a t-shirt so shrunk and faded, whose original color is only decipherable after visiting a jajuok from Alego and offering a sacrifice of a white chicken?
Did it have one too many drinks, snatch the microphone from the MC, stand on the table and start rattling off the names of all the bride’s and groom’s exes, some in attendance? Or did it, in a bid to gain some clout, run off with cheese number 10, Lord of The Hundreds’ wife, usurping him to become the new Lord? Or, maybe it loudly chewed with its mouth open and farted at the dinner table, scandalizing Mrs donkey-milk Pule, who being one who only farted rose scented perfume, was so scandalized she keeled over, prompting her loving husband to immediately strike Parmesan’s name off The List?
Unfortunately, the real reason is far more grating. You see, in the USA, there are three classifications of cheese. Bear with this brief dissertation as your body digests the Parmesan you ate ten years ago.
Pasteurized process cheese = 100% Cheese
Pasteurized process cheese food = at least 51% Cheese
Pasteurized process cheese product = less than 51% Cheese
What is in the missing percentages? Usitake kujua.
This whole conversation started when my husband and I were discussing the recent discovery that a leading sandwich shop sells “food” consisting of, and this is true: ‘bread’ made of materials found in yoga mat foam, leading me to wonder if that explains my increased flexibility, since I partook of their cheap sandwiches quite frequently in my grad school days, being on a tight budget and all. The pièce de résistance on their menu however, was ‘tuna’ that turned out to be unusually fishy, and not of the pescaterian variety, but of the ‘this tuna has been all over these streets’ variety. To use a word my fellow Kenyans are deeply fond of, this tuna had been gallivanting everywhere. The intrepid tuna looked around the ocean, sighed and decided it was so over the deep blue sea, packed its fins and found its way to Old McDonald’s farm, where it proceeded to slay with chicken, cows and even pigs. A.k.a the United Nations of sandwich meat.
My husband then asked if I had ever heard of cheese food, a term I had never heard before.
“Isn’t all cheese food? “I asked, baffled, at which point he looked at me as one does someone who has led a very sheltered life, and whose bubble is about to receive a tornado of grim reality. It sounded to me like saying, rice food. Well, what else would rice be?
He went on to explain, in great detail, and to my horror, that it was something that can be spread on sandwiches from a tube. A tube? Like toothpaste? I asked, another culture-shock moment loading, long after I thought I was done with culture-shock. Apparently, some Parmesan and the rest of the ‘cheese food’ family contain everything from sawdust to other ‘coagulants’. Basically, Parmesan is the sausage of the cheese family. You really do not want to know what’s in it. Eat it if you must, I know I have, and maybe, and that’s a big maybe, by the time your newborn infant is joining high school, your body will be done digesting it, if your metabolism is a furnace.
And apparently it doesn’t end there. Everything from tomato sauce to your veggie burger probably contain sawdust too (silver lining, at least sawdust is vegan). Even the tongue-twisting Worcestershire sauce contains it. Why the British chose not to spell it like it is pronounced, ‘Woostashar’, or even name it after India, the country that brought us its flavor, is beyond me.
I will chew on my sawdust while I digest that, if we are what we eat, then we are all sawdust.