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18th May 2011

By Cassandra Moss | 2011 May 18

The sinews, weight and bearing of a once living thing don't usually factor into the awareness of a typical omnivore when tucking into meat. Eating is a process of denial, or at least apportioned into some dungeon or other, of what's actually going on. An invader granted a pass. A dead thing inside a living one. At Katz's Diner in New York you can order an obscene heap of pastrami and stick it between two slices of rye bread. All the metaphorical clich├ęs of gluttony and consumerism apply. For several bites it's incredible and then it becomes a matter of persistence. When you're done, you feel relieved and disconcerted, like that moment when you realise it wasn't a rodent scurrying across your bed, just a tactile hallucination that might be a symptom of an as of yet undiagnosed problem. After a little convalescence, where you tell yourself it'll be fine once you walk it off, you start to really feel that you've ingested much more flesh than a flesh-covered being should. It feels like its lodged itself in between your lungs and rib cage, placing a strain on your oxygen intake, breaking off in aggressively angled chunks that take advantage of your vulnerability on their descent. A new wave of immigration is flooding your body. Transferring from their carrier to the frontier, the pastrami microbes enter your system, adding yet more variation to the biodiversity already there. Apparently, you are born 100% human, but die 90% microbial. Some of these aliens will be a threat to your ecosystem. They'll carry disease and could be antibiotic resistant depending on what may or may not have been injected into the farmed animal. In New York, the streets are on a grid, designed as if to regulate the chaos of the population. Heterogeneity's what makes it alive, but what still supplies unpredictability: the individualist nature of the USA at odds with the obvious need to function as a cohesive whole. No one's above suspicion; no one as entitled as you are. The development of your gut flora sees various groups come and go, some species setting down permanent roots that have shaped the neighbourhood, others not making it through the shifts in diet and environment. These long-term settlers occupy the prime spots, adopting native territoriality in their niches, which they're unwilling to share with foreigners. Those who are accepted are let in on the proviso that they'll benefit the majority, adapt and fit in. In this place, the local grammar insinuates itself into the very corners of existence, inserting backbones and supplying motives; errant structures from other grammars may resist, but ultimately become quirks as the imperative of self-progression turns one and all the same. Opposition and acquiescence create. Origin is a flipped coin. 'I am...' - what?

Eating, Microbes, Culture

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