The censorship of a food writer’s Instagram post of piggy trotters and ears on a kitchen bench is a disturbing example of how disconnected from our food we really are.
The other day while I was mindlessly scrolling Instagram, I came across an image posted by London-based Ukrainian food writer Olia Hercules. My rapidly swiping thumb usually pauses for Olia because I love her posts, but this time I was stopped not because of something delicious and intriguing, but because Olia’s post was blurred with a “Sensitive Content” warning from Instagram. The warning read: “This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing.”
What offensive or disturbing thing could she have possibly posted, I wondered? Nudes? Racial slur? A soufflé that looked like a female nipple (surely not that horrendous!)? I tapped “see photo” on the image to reveal this so-called sensitive content.
Two pig’s trotters and two pig’s ears lying on a kitchen bench.
Ohhh, I get it – trotters and ears make an animal seem like a real, proper (once) living and breathing creature and heaven forbid people know they’re actually eating an animal when they’re eating an animal! They need comfortable, nondescript cuts that come wrapped in paper or in plastic containers or battered and fried and squished between buns. We can’t know that they once walked and heard and breathed.
At least, that’s what Instagram is telling us.
In a bid to soothe this initial flood of confusion and frustration, I went searching for answers – maybe Instagram doesn’t have a say in sensitive content? Maybe a couple of people flagged it as inappropriate because they personally found it offensive (I jolly well hope this means they’d report a rasher of crispy bacon) and that triggered a warning?
I found a blog post on the Instagram website from CEO Kevin Systrom called “Fostering a Safer, Kinder Community” that explained various new features of Instagram, including the sensitive content screen. Systrom says about this feature, “While these posts don’t violate our guidelines, someone in the community has reported them and our review team has confirmed they are sensitive. This change means you are less likely to have surprising or unwanted experiences in the app.”
I understand that pig’s trotters and ears may be classed as surprising or unwanted content for some Instagram users – these are parts of an animal that are not often seen on our menus and in our supermarkets, they’re rarely splashed across the covers of our favourite food publications or slipped into a pom-pom-topped pie on Food in a Minute. But we’ll never be able to change the belief that these lesser-loved parts are weird, gross and upsetting if a platform like Instagram is taking them away from our eyes and telling us they’re unusual before we’ve even seen them. If they’re going to put a trigger warning for a trotter, there needs to be a trigger warning for a pork chop or a chicken thigh.
It all comes down to connection with our food. If we know more about where our food comes from – whether it’s a peach, a pita bread or a pig – we can form more of a connection with and a respect for it. If you’re going to eat an animal, you should understand that it is an animal and be willing to eat any part of the beast from nose to tail. Hells bells, we know more and more about the detrimental impact agriculture can have on the environment. With all that water, land, methane and fuel involved in raising the blimmin’ thing, might as well eat it all like they did in the good old days.
Nose-to-tail eating is an exercise in minimising waste and saving money too. I applaud chefs like Olia who are engaging in conversations with their communities about this way of cooking and eating. In New Zealand, there are plenty of people devoted to this too, like Rebecca Smidt and Dariush Lolaiy from Cazador restaurant.
Last year at the North Canterbury Food and Wine Festival, Hector Henderson – son of famed UK chefs Margot and Fergus Henderson – ran a pop-up food stall called “Hendo’s Hearts” where he sold grilled lamb hearts wrapped in fermented potato flatbreads generously doused in salsa verde and served with pickles. It was fascinating seeing how people reacted to the concept. “So what exactly is the meat?” some said. “It’s lamb,” Hector would say. And that’s what it was, only it felt like more of a trap saying that – like he was tricking people into a Fear Factor-style eating experience because it wasn’t normalised cuts of lamb. It’s a bit odd when you think about it.
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Full disclosure: I’m not a meat eater. I realise this makes me the equivalent of a sex columnist nun. When I was a meat eater, I was pretty freaked out by the thought of eating a trotter or liver or ear or tongue. I think I’d have struggled with a Hendo’s Heart. So maybe I’m a hypocritical sex columnist nun too.
But since stepping away from the world of eating meat, I’ve seen that this is an area to which New Zealanders consider themselves very connected, yet it’s actually one where we experience a serious disconnect.
Social media already has such a say in how we connect with each other. Let’s not let it drive a wedge between us and our trotters.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.