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Where the Food Comes From

No matter what you do, do not even think of arguing with a Spaniard that tortilla is just an omelette. Never underestimate the power of food in Spain. I made that mistake and have regretted it deeply ever since.

Admittedly, when newly arrived in Spain, it’s an experience seeing the wider picture; the bullfights, jamón legs on display everywhere, whole lambs hanging behind supermarket counters and vacuum packed piglets, but it didn't take too long to understand why Spaniards take such pride in their meat industry. This broader picture shows a completely different message, something I didn't see before, or wasn't prepared to see.

Rise and Fall

There is no doubt to the Spanish as to where their food comes from, and often it is known what life the animal had and how it was reared. Pigs roaming freely in oak groves and feeding on acorns or bulls living like kings for four years, before their sad downfall. Most of any animal is eaten. Yes, even that bull is taken out of the ring to be consumed whole, including its testicles that are a delicacy, symbolising bravery and celebrating its masculinity. Sounds a little chauvinist? Perhaps, but it definitely isn't hypocritical as even the Spanish admit when it comes to most animals you only throw hooves and teeth away.

For example, 'the bulls sent to the ring are the lucky ones' a friend of mine told me. He pointed out that for four to five years it really does live like a King, is well looked after, roaming excellent pastures for years and being introduced to “the ladies” and basically enjoying life to the full. What happens in the ring to the bull when the time comes is of course sad, but not really much different from what happens to a much younger bull in a slaughter house. The end result is the same: it's only what you see, or chose to see, that is different.

Nothing Goes to Waste

During our time in Spain, there was always something new in store for us, literally, as even a quick trip to our local supermarket often turned into exploration. Much to our amusement, we always found something in the grocery department we were not used to seeing back in the UK. The never-ending aisles of overwhelming choices of rather exquisitely tasting wines and manchego cheeses of all sorts, not to mention the delicious olive oils and the jamón aisle itself. This led up to the dedicated ham tasting counter with the jamonero, the ham carving maestro himself, ready to advise you on your purchase.

The meat aisles were always predominant and larger than the others. Being meat eaters of a great calibre, the butcher's counter always caught my attention with whole bodies of rabbits, piglets, kid goat carefully packaged and displayed together with various heads, feet and tongues of other animals. The one item that I will always remember was the large bucket full of hair pigs ears, again something regarded as a delicacy.

Whichever way you look at it, the Spanish just love animals, although some love them more when served on a plate; they are after all one of the largest ham and meat consumers and producers in the world. In any case, one thing is clear, Spanish culture does not allow for any waste, everything, including its head and feet, is consumed, and there is absolutely no doubt of what food comes from where. This isn't exactly like the view that's often quoted of Brits not knowing where their sausages and bacon come from!

Whatever personal views one might have on the subject; quite frankly, if you are going to eat meat then this is probably the most respectable way of doing so. However, I’m not sure this would be the subject of a heated debate over Sunday roast!


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