for 25. 12. 2019
Was Charles Dickens turning vegetarian or fruitarian, if not vegan, when he wrote A Christmas Carol — in 1843?
That thought is unlikely to have occurred to anyone before this year beginning to drift into the past, in which Tom Parker Bowles — the stepson of Britain’s apparent heir to the throne — has actually published a review of vegan alternatives to the traditional Christmas meats. ‘Ban this sick filth,’ his verdict on one offering, includes the word furky for reasons that anyone curious enough will want to read about independently. About a seemingly inoffensive butternut, almond and pecan nut roast, he thunders in deepest gloom: ‘If this looked at me in the street, I’d cross the road to avoid it.’
A quick trawl through Dickens’s Christmas story, in the hope of rereading a luscious tribute to a crisp-skinned, succulent, (de-)feathered beast — surely one appeared on the Cratchit family’s table to a chorus of oohs and aahs? — proved pointless. It contains nothing of the kind. What Dickens says about ‘the Turkey’ that the newly reformed Scrooge buys at the novella’s end makes it merely a tragicomic victim of gigantism, or morbid obesity: ‘He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped ‘em, short off, in a minute, like sticks of sealing wax.’ In the scene that Scrooge is served by the Ghost of Christmas Present, Queen Victoria’s favourite writer states simply — about the goose that the Cratchits feast on — that its ‘tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.’
No — hard as it is to believe — the foods for which Dickens reserved his peerless powers of evocation are virtually all fruits:
There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples clustered high in blooming pyramids, there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water, gratis, as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown: recalling in their fragrance ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shuffling, ankle deep, through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.
Now, compare those enchanting flights of imagination with Dickens’s repetitive sizeism, whenever his Turkey is mentioned:
[ Scrooge ] was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell: bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash!
Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head.
… ’What’s to day?’ cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
‘EH?’ returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
‘What’s to day, my fine fellow!’ said Scrooge.
‘Today!’ replied the boy. ‘Why, CHRISTMAS DAY!’
… ‘Do you know the Poulterer’s in the next street but one, at the corner?’ Scrooge inquired.
‘I should hope I did,’ replied the lad.
‘An intelligent boy!’ said Scrooge. ‘A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there; not the little prize turkey, the big one?’
‘What, the one as big as me!’ returned the boy.
‘What a delightful boy!’ said Scrooge. ‘It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!’
H A P P Y C H R I S T M A S
It’s nice to read that description of food on the table, so varied, bountiful and lush…as it truly reflects a time of “ real food” instead of processed food, frozen food, canned food, fabricated food…in an era when humans now need therapy and instruction to find realness in the world. I have just read about books and courses for “ Rewilding” oneself, and if course the movements for “paleo” diets , vegan and gut healthy diets…and movement again..to “return to the land”. So these books of the past hold much interesting information to the modern world… more so than the writer ever dreamed would be so relevant. A prosperous new year for P-G, and thanking you for interesting and insightful observations of the world we live in.
Thank you, that’s very well said indeed, LCM — especially:
‘… in an era when humans now need therapy and instruction to find realness in the world. I have just read about books and courses for “ Rewilding” oneself …’.
Wishing you a bounteous New Year, rich in inspiration!
(Belated Merry Christmas, Cheryll)…I’ve often had a Quorn TM* roast on Christmas Day, a creation out of something called “mycoprotein”, it has egg white in it so not vegan. Neither turkey nor fruit, in between distinct poles of such reality…neo-quantum future fare with no legs at all that I know of. I used to make it for my Mum, and for Deb. You cook it for 55 minutes, like a big fat sausage, then “carve” bits off it when ready. Good with brussels sprouts, roast potatoes.
‘neo-quantum future fare with no legs at all that I know of … ‘
No legs, oh dear. And neo-quantum. Now that does sound deadly, John, and you must be grateful for the fine Highlander genes that have let you survive those experiences. What do you use to carve it — an axe? A chainsaw? I hope that it won’t be unbearable for you to know that there’s someone streaking ahead of the rest of us even faster, into this dubious future. I was in a gigantic grey warehouse store nine days ago. The shopping trolley of the man immediately ahead of me in the queue — who was deeply tanned, tall, slim, golfer-ish — contained what appeared to be his Christmas dinner. Two 18-pack protein powder cartons, and another box with a different brand of similar poison. Not a single other item. I decided that he was a Hollywood extra who was going to spend his entire end-of-year break dieting to improve his chances at auditions (and being miserable).
A belated Happy Christmas to you, too, and thank you for the most eye-popping comment this site has ever seen. Exactly what you’d hope to have from a fine science-fiction specialist: life imitating art.