In Australia, we live plentifully and can choose whatever cuts of meat we desire most. Our socio-economic conditions do not ask for rationing or a major rethink of our diets. The only major impact on our diets in recent memory has been the failure of supply chains during COVID-19 to give consumers what they want. Selecting offal is a choice, not a necessity—but it should be considered as much as our chicken breasts or pork chops.
While researching for this piece, I decided to experiment with a few recipes to see if I could incorporate more offal into my diet. These recipes were primarily from western authors like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson. My experience with Henderson’s famous parsley and bone marrow salad recipe was a disappointing one—my rendition was doomed from the start. I had selected bones too small, had them cut the wrong way by the butcher, and left too much stem on my parsley. The end result was much more fit for a rabbit than a human. This anecdote reveals one reason why offal is rarely considered in contemporary western diets—we have no idea what to do with it.
In Australia, we live plentifully and can choose whatever cuts of meat we desire most. Our socio-economic conditions do not ask for rationing or a major rethink of our diets. The only major impact on our diets in recent memory has been the failure of supply chains during COVID-19 to give consumers what they want. Selecting offal is a choice, not a necessity—but it should be considered as much as our chicken breasts or pork chops. Instead of basing your diet around the supply of mince and chicken breast, why not rely on animal parts that are cheaper, more plentiful and more diverse in nutrition?
As our population grows, feeding the world will become an increasingly pressing problem. Overall, our food production must grow, however there are ways we can extract more nutrients from what we already produce. Offal and bones are considered a degenerate form of meat, only suitable for our pets and hardly ever for human consumption in the Western context. These negative cultural associations have blocked off a whole world of nutrition to us in Australia. Other cuisines across the world make wider use of animals—these same techniques could easily be adopted into our own diets.
Arguing for holistic animal consumption instead of veganism is a daunting challenge. While utilising every part of an animal may be an incredibly sustainable way to live, the fact that an animal was slaughtered to begin with is ethically questionable. However, it is a fair assumption to make that until everyone adopts a vegan lifestyle, animal meats and products will continue to be used. From a purely economic standpoint, it is wasteful to raise a chicken only to use its breast meat. We as consumers should change our habits to ensure these components don't go to waste if we are to continue eating animal products.
Another cultural block preventing a higher offal uptake is meat’s role as performative food in contemporary western culture. Similar to our ideas around working in groups, dishes in our cultural culinary climate require a clear leader, otherwise we perceive them as convoluted or misdirected. If food were a music festival, a steak or parma would be the headliner—widely recognisable, always popular and guaranteed to satisfy a crowd. Livers are not as strong as performers, requiring lots of preparation to be comparable to a pub meal. Even if they are at the top of their game, back up components are necessary to get diners on board and willing to try. Roast beef with veggies, chicken parma with chips and salad—offal cannot meet the expectations we have of their fleshier counterparts in performing a headlining act. Instead of holding back, we should all embrace this indirection: your dinner does not need to represent a certain order.
In the media, the consumption of offal is presented as a fad. Programs such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern never present offal in a domestic context. In an attempt to broaden culinary horizons, shows like these conflate eating offal with the fleeting novelty experienced while traveling and incidentally other these cultures instead of joining with them. While eating offal remains an unusual practice in the West, the consumption of hyper-processed foods is increasingly normalised throughout western society. Chicken nuggets, a primary meal for picky eaters across the globe, are made using hyper-processed poultry offal and disused parts. We have no anatomical reference point to consider these processed foods abnormal to eat. Conversely, animal organs bear a striking resemblance to our own organs, and are therefore off-putting and vulgar.
While the aforementioned Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating offers some intriguing recipes, they are primarily popular dishes served at his London restaurant St John. The domestic cook lacks the skill, time and effort to transform offal the way St John and other restaurants can. Offal is an excellent way to improve many practical skills for the aspiring home cook without needing to splurge on expensive ingredients. A common mantra during recipe testing for this piece was “better to fuck up a liver than a pork belly.” Simple skills like cleaning up hearts can transfer easily to chicken thighs. On the topic of hearts, they are excellent entry points to braising and stewing, as well as a good substitute for dark meat if in a pinch. Home deep frying—as hazardous as it may be to a domestic cook—can be easily practiced with a pack of livers.
Many of these offal recipes require preparation impossible in the home. An inadvertent consequence of this involves a bit of conversation with your local butcher. Though a daunting task for some, this is a simple way to feel more connected to your food through the beings that prepare it for you, lifting the veil on the food supply chain. Our food does not magically appear in edible form; there are passionate people who we should acknowledge for their role in keeping us well-fed.
These careers in food are all dependent on having animals to serve to others. However, our perception of these creatures is based on what parts of them will give the most pleasure to us, therefore we treat them as inferior. Our relationship with our food is like that of a predator and prey—the animal is being eaten by the superior human being. Offal puts us off by looking like our organs, but we forget there was once a life that these organs were a part of. We should not be disgusted that these inferior creatures bear resemblance to us, we should recognise that all of us creatures on Earth aren’t too different after all.
The adage of “tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are” combines consumption with identity, restricting eating habits to what is culturally accepted. Breaking free of culinary peer pressure exposes a much more holistic view of our foods and how we eat them. Our world is not divided into steak and pork belly naturally. There will always be blood and guts and liver and heart. To deny yourself these things is to deny experiencing the world as it is. So instead of getting some pork on your fork, maybe try some brains in your bowl instead.