I don’t know if it’s spring or the big rains we had a while ago, but bamboo shoots from the neighbours’ giant hedge are popping up everywhere. I say it’s the neighbours’ bamboo hedge but since it’s running bamboo, it’s ours as well. It makes a frequent guest appearance amongst the native shrubs, pokes through cracks in the concrete driveway, squeezes its way around the foundations of the house. Regularly hacking it back is the only thing stopping our yard slowly transforming into panda paradise (in fact, every time I get out the saw the kids accuse me of species-threatening habitat destruction).
But rampant bamboo is actually fine. In fact, it’s great, since I consider myself to be an artist whose natural medium is bamboo stakes and zip ties. So far my oeuvre includes four gates, a 10 metre long enclosure for the vegetable garden, five trellises in a range of styles, a pergola, some windchimes and more bean tripods than you can shake a stick at. Obviously, if you did shake a stick in my vicinity I’d probably grab it from you, attach zip ties to it and turn it into a trellis.
The wall of bamboo is a magical swaying whispering verdant thing. Every year it manufactures the living fenceposts that keep our property’s ancient teetering side wall more or less upright. And now it feeds us! Okay, it feeds us with grass. In fact, grass laden potentially fatal amounts of cyanide. But it’s still food, even if you’re not a panda.
Bamboo shoots, I think, should be included in a new class of produce I’m calling “implausible vegetables”. I’m not 100% sure how we define this category of foodstuffs. One possible definition: “a vegetable that, in the process of preparation for human consumption, shrinks to a tiny fraction of its pre-preparation size. The amount of the implausible vegetable that can actually be eaten is dramatically smaller than the quantity of peelings, husks, stems or leaves destined for the compost bin”. Another possibility: “a vegetable which even rats refuse to eat”.
But is it simply implausible vegetables, or should it be implausible and dangerous vegetables?
The pics above were taken for our 7 year old’s class presentation: an explanation of a simple procedure in the kitchen. In her notes, she did stress that you needed to boyl the sliced shoots for at least 20 minits or you will be poysned. Even so, if a wave of year twos with histotic hypoxia turn up at the local hospital, we will be keeping a low profile.
After three meals on the trot containing home-grown bamboo shoots, there has been some hypochondriacal consultation of Dr Google. Hard to distinguish the early symptoms of toxicity, though, since weakness, confusion and headaches are, in my experience, a fairly normal consequence of a day at work.
Globe artichokes, of which I am a passionate admirer, are also clearly implausible, to wit:
But lethal? Well, for a start, it’s clearly a mistake to allow anyone as unhygenic as I am near any kind of sterile procedure. The throwaway line in my recipe that inclusion of raw garlic in the jar could induce botulism did not significantly reduce Home Canning Anxiety, either. And to me, pickled veg and stuff in jars just scream deranged-scientist-in-subterranean-lab-full-of-body-parts-in-formaldehyde. My own disturbing inaugural effort at artichoke hearts in oil was no exception.
But the more I think about it, the more all plant-based foods seem deeply implausible and highly likely to be dangerous. You grow grass, pick the seeds, grind them into dust with rocks, add a single-celled micro-organism found on the human body, warm the mixture til it produces carbon dioxide, pummel it until the carbon dioxide diffuses, warm it again, pummel it again, heat it in a fire until you kill the eukaryotic microorganism, cool it and eat it. What a lot of effort. No wonder we all used to eat gruel. And I’m not even factoring in the possibility that along the way the grain might have collected another fungus that causes hallucinations, convulsions, burning of the limbs and gangrene.
But it’s not just modern, non-paleo foods. You eat the tiny tiny flower buds? You eat the tiny tiny inverted flower buds? You eat the stems of a plant traditionally giftwrapped before eating? You eat the extremely sour stems of a plant whose leaves are full of a toxic chemical used as a metal cleaner? You eat the fruits of a carnivorous plant closely related to deadly nightshade? You grow and then systematically bury a plant closely related to deadly nightshade so you can eat its roots without them going green and prompting delerium, hypothermia and paralysis?
And I’m not even considering the implausibility of cheese – stealing the breast milk of a lactating mammal, mixing it with the stomach lining of a ruminant until it curdles, straining it, pressing it, putting it in a cave until it gets mould on it and then eating it. Hard to imagine the weird circumstances that led to this culinary breakthrough – although I guess cow-keeping cave dwellers with an acute food shortage and limited access to the internet were less thin on the ground in the past.
My conclusion: hungry people will eat anything, even if it takes weeks to prepare it and if, at the end of all that effort, it may well kill them. We’re just lucky we have so many things that will potentially kill us on our doorstep.