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Flash in the Pan

Show me the meat



Making my way towards Frijof Capra talking about the multi-faceted benefits of a hydrogen energy economy, I was hungry and weary from day four of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Another day of harmonizing on the positive frequency with 100,000 people all trying to figure out the same thing, namely: given that humans are a relatively intelligent species, how can we figure out a way to inhabit our bountiful planet in such a way that everybody has enough food, shelter, hope, and satisfaction, and in such a way that is fair to the non-human members of the world as well.

6:17 p.m.—bought a meat skewer from a guy on the street.

I chew and chew on my meat skewer, but I don’t get anywhere. What’s up with that? Isn’t Porto Alegre the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, aka, gaucho country? The gauchos being of the Euro-cowboy culture that flourished in the plains and lowlands of the Rio Plata, a region that includes much of Argentina and Uruguay, as well as southern Brazil. The gauchos, with their cowboy boots, hats, and belt buckles, and their gourds full of steaming hot yerba maté, are allegedly the keepers of some of the best meat on our bountiful little planet.

Still I kept chewing, until finally I had to spit it out. I suppose even in the land of plenty, there is still plenty of shwag. Think about it, Chef Boy Ari, what else but shwag would the vendor of 30-cent street kebabs use?

6:51 p.m.—In the tent next to the stage where Jorge Ben played Friday night, I chased the street kebab with another batida de coco—my new favorite drink (see previous issue’s installment). Back on lip-smacking track.

That afternoon in Gigantinho soccer stadium, 15,000 sweltering bodies had crammed in to watch Noam Chomsky et al lay down some rhetoric. The woman next to me kept fanning herself with a newspaper. From time to time, she turned her fan upon my face and neck, evoking a smile of pleasure as chased away the sweat. Beleza. Then she handed me a cold can of Coca-Cola. I drank of its sweet, ultra-thirst-quenching tangy carbonation.

Hmmm, Coca-Cola. The taste of the blood of Colombian labor activists; the flavor of corporate globalization; the epitome of why the corporations have so much power in our world—because we buy their product, their over-priced empty calories, packaged in energy-intensive, smog-generating, earth-devouring aluminum cans. You would think that Coke would be banned from the World Social Forum.

That kind of left-wing puritanism is problematic. We can’t change the world by imposing our values on others, can we?

Maybe. Think about it. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if Chef Boy Ari was king? After mandating a 10-fold increase in mayonnaise production—as well as a generous budget allocation for research—I would ban Coca-Cola. Then I would ban low-grade street kabobs. Maybe then I would even ban meat eating. Don’t worry, I would make an exception for Montanans.

Indeed, there are some sensitive, benevolent types who look at the slaughtering and eating of animals with the same horror that the do-gooder social activists of Porto Alegre feel at the concept of slavery or poverty. There are many who believe that soon the circle of inclusion—the very same circle that the WSF types are trying to widen to include all humans—will some day widen to include all animals, or maybe even all beings!

Then, King Chef Boy Ari would command the birds not to eat worms, cats not to chase mice, wolves not to kill deer, and trout not to gobble caddis flies.

All I know is, no such laws were in place when our Missoula group coalesced around Mbicho’s hammock that evening. More accurately, we were gathered around the bottle of Maracuja wine that Quente (pronounced “kentsh”) pulled out of his bag.

Soon the conversation turned toward the quest for food. Chef Boy Ari took a swig, and took a moment to collect his thoughts, and then explained the meaning of the word churascuria, while not failing to mention that there was a churascuria very close by.

Our gang of nine walked toward Garcia’s churascuria, Porto Alegre, 2K3. I hoped it would still be open at this late hour. When we got there, the sign said “Till 7 a.m.”

Inside a big, well-lit dining room packed with tables—maybe ten of which were occupied at this late hour—the waiter was eager to seat us. But before I budged, I told him “let’s see the meat.”

His eyebrows raised. So did mine. No more shwaggy seconds for Chef Boy Ari. I was ready for my throne at the top of the food chain.

A good-natured fellow, the waiter asked if I wanted to inspect the kitchen. Yes, I nodded. He beckoned me. I beckoned the rest of the gang. Being as how none understood Portuguese, nobody knew where we were going or why.

“Chef Boy Ari” they asked, “where are we going?” Tune in next week, for the fulfilling conclusion—including the mayonaisa.

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