When it’s all just pretend
It sounds like the start of a bad joke. Or a dad joke. But it isn’t. It’s a serious question. What do air fryers, fish braais, cauliflower mash, and Beyond cheeseburgers have in common? The answer is that they all pretend to be what they aren’t.
And in almost all cases, there seems to be a social contract that I haven’t had sight of or signed, that everyone is obliged to go along with.
This makes me feel like the kid that calls out that the emperor has no clothes. And worse, that he’s naked.
But it’s the week of Purim and it’s the time of year when masks slip, when the hidden is revealed and when truths are revealed.
So here we go. Air frying isn’t frying. There’s no amount of pretending to yourself, your kids, or your CrossFit friends that it is. It might be healthy, might make you live longer than you would have, but it’s still food that has been prepared in a hairdryer.
Every fish braai wants to be a meat braai when it grows up. Without exception, at every fish braai I have been to, someone will say, “This Cape salmon or hake or kabeljou is unbelievable. It actually. tastes like chicken.” And everyone will nod in agreement. Exactly like chicken. Which not only proves the aspiration but begs the question why we aren’t braaing chicken in the first place if that’s what we wanted.
Either way, there’s an unwritten rule of fish braais that each invitee is obligated to repeat at least four or five times before they’re permitted to leave how much they absolutely love fish braais. The sad truth is that no one does. No one has ever liked a fish braai, and no one ever will choose to be hungry. It’s not who we are. Even if we pretend otherwise.
Cauliflower mash is just cauliflower. And whereas I’m as fond of the tasteless vegetable as a plate filler as the next person, pretending that it’s rice or potato doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t. The construct might be good for the cauliflower’s self-esteem and might make us feel superior to the glutton heaping carbs with an actual flavour on their plates, but cauliflower will never be mash or rice. Never.
Just as vegetarian burgers don’t bleed, and just as non-dairy cheese will never cause us a lactose-intolerant reaction. Because they are just pretend.
One of the magnificent things about Jewish festivals is that they not only punctuate the year, give us reason to celebrate, they also offer a platform on which to reflect on the world around us. Purim is the festival of masks, a festival that celebrates the hidden.
For a moment or two, the masks fall, truth is revealed, and we see everything for what it is. And although we know a limited amount about the food of the era, we know for certain that the feast of Achashverosh wasn’t a fish braai.