My father used to talk about how when he was younger, he and his siblings would eat toast with Schmalz as a snack. Schmalz and salt when they were in the mood for something savory. Schmalz and sugar when sweet. I used to love the way it sounded. Schmalz. Like something rustic, real. Romantic even. Thick, crusty bread still bakery warm and slathered up with Schmalz, whatever that was.
One day I discovered that whatever it was, was lard. Yes, just good old fashioned rendered and congealed fat. Slap that on a piece of toast and eat it up.
Recently, for work, I was translating menus and got stuck on one of the dishes for the snack buffet: Auswahl von Brötchen mit Schmalz. How was I supposed to translate Schmalz? I couldn’t just call it “lard” and stick it on a menu. What sane English speaker would want to eat “Assorted rolls with lard?”
So I just called it Schmalz: “Assorted rolls with German-style Schmalz spread.” Which sounded much better.
French gourmanderie is full of words like this. Caviar, escargot, and foie gras sounds much more appetizing, for instance, than fish eggs, snails and goose liver. It seems we have a tendency for not translating the names of foods whose origins we’d rather not think about.
Not every nation, however, needs to hide food behind a name. In Colombia, for instance, hormigas culonnas are a delicacy on the northern coast. Vendors sell small, medium, and large-sized bags of the salty snack along the highway. Literally translated, the name means “fat-assed ants.” In New Zealand, there’s a wild foods festival where huhu grubs dipped in chocolate are a regional specialty.
Are Americans squeamish eaters? (Yes, probably.) Is that bad? (In some cases, probably not.)
In any case, when it comes to eating animals, there seems to be a disconnect between the food we eat and its source. Supermarket meat is cup up and wrapped in plastic. It’s not called pig or cow, but pork chops and steak. We rename our food, as if that makes it less real, less once living. (Birds seem to be an exception here – for some reason, they’re ok to eat…)
So let’s keep eating, but let’s call it what it is. Let’s call it pig, let’s call it cow. Let’s have a dinner party with fish eggs and goose liver. Let’s call it snails. Let’s call it lard. Creamy lard sandwiches. A snack of sugared lard and toast. A spoon of lard licked straight from the jar.
Let’s just eat lard.
Let’s not call it what it is.