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Talk “Dirty” to Me: Blood, Purity and Cuisine

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Maybe it’s because of the recent popularity of True Blood and Twilight, but I’ve been thinking about blood consumption a lot lately.  Not actually consuming it myself, but the act of blood consumption, and why it isn’t more common.  You might say, “That’s easy–it’s because my meal doesn’t  follow a long day of lion hunting.”

The Maasai of Tanzania drink cow's blood mixed with milk. Flickr user JaviC

Or perhaps your meals don’t usually come from someone else’s neck.

From Flickr user twm1340

Or maybe tiger blood just isn’t your thing.

From Flickr user ssoosay

While it may sound strange at first, after considering international dishes, it seems blood has managed to seep into many recipes.  Just to name a few–carnard au sang is a French dish made with duck’s blood, blood tofu (congealed blood on a stick) is common in China, cabidela is a dish using the blood of rabbit or chicken popular in Portugal and Brazil, and there are many variations of blood sausage worldwide.

Still, the consumption of blood is prohibited by several religions including Judaism.  Animal’s blood is seen as a pollutant and is forbidden to be included in a meal.  Leviticus 7:26 states:

And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal.

Paradoxically, animal blood can be used as a cleansing agent in some ritual purification processes.  Leviticus 17:11 states:

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

How can an object used to purify be simultaneously considered dirty?  In her classic book Purity and Danger (1966), anthropologist Mary Douglas hypothesized that ideas of purity and pollution are integral components of society.  She used Lord Chesterfield’s definition of dirt as “a matter out of place” meaning objects can either be in the appropriate place or in violation of organizational rules.  “Dirt” is a relative term left to be classified by the perception of the definers, leading it to be subjective and relative.  Likewise, the analysis of dirt differs according to cultural interpretation and perception.  Objects may be perceived as both “clean” and “dirty” depending on the situation and according to how cultures arrange and classify objects to organize their surroundings.

The concept of purity is synonymous with order.   In other words, a sense of being “in order” connotes purity.  An object that is perceived as pure is also viewed as in its correct place and where it belongs.  Every culture maintains categories of purity to give society a framework of identity and a guide for acceptable and desirable behavior.  Purity is not just limited to objects– it can also include other people and occasions (Hanson, 1993).

To use a relevant example, on Halloween it is traditional to wear silly outfits and go trick or treating.  Any other day, wearing outrageous costumes and making absurd demands would be completely out of place and make no sense–unless of course this is your daily life:

From Flickr user Cate.Sevilla

In which case, I’m sorry, I still totally don’t get it, but let’s get back to blood.  By viewing blood as “dirt”, when it is used in a cleansing ritual it is “in place” and pure because it is acting as a detergent.  However, ingesting it makes “out of place”.  In this situation, it becomes taboo because it is perceived to be a pollutant.

Since its publication, some of the theories in Purity and Danger have been reinterpreted and revised by scholars, including Mary Douglas herself (see the updated preface in the 2002 version of Purity and Danger.)  Despite the debates, one of its most enduring aspects of her work is the shifting of attention to practices existing within Western societies.  When contextualized, beliefs seem less exotic or primitive.  Applying the definition of dirt to practices that surround us, whether it’s blood taboos or dressing for Halloween, may be the only time when a party filled with vampires, a Masaai warrior and Charlie Sheen wouldn’t be out of place.

Bloody Mary Douglas

Make it “dirty” by adding in some olive juice or “pure” by omitting the vodka.

It starts with some natural ingredients:

Image by the author.

Combined with some not so natural ingredients:

Image by the author.

To make some delicious drops of blood:

Image by the author.

Serve along with vodka:

Image by the author.

Blood Alcohol Contents:

¾ Cup Tomato Juice

4 Tablespoons Beet Juice

2 Tablespoons Carrot Juice

1 ½ Teaspoons Freshly Grated Horseradish

1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice

1 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce

1/8 Teaspoon Celery Salt

2 Grams Sodium Alginate

2 ½ Grams Calcium Chloride

4 Cups Water

Optional:

Red Colored Vodka such as Vampyre Vodka

Olive Juice

You will also need some additional gadgets:

  • Immersion Blender
  • Syringe
  • Scale (to weigh the sodium alginate and calcium chloride)
  • Strainer

 

  1. Combine all the ingredients together, excluding the sodium alginate, calcium chloride, vodka and water.
  2. Add half the Bloody Mary mixture with the sodium alginate and blend.  Add the remaining Bloody Mary mix.  Blend using the immersion blender for about two minutes and set aside.  The mixture will thicken up a bit so that it almost coats the back of a spoon.
  3. Mix water and calcium chloride together until the calcium chloride dissolves and set the strainer in the water bowl.
  4. Fill a syringe with the Bloody Mary mix and begin dropping the mixture into the water and calcium chloride.  The drops should set up immediately.
  5. Allow the blood drops to set for about 45 seconds before lifting the strainer out.
  6. Place the strainer in a separate bowl to rinse the calcium chloride off.
  7. Rest the strainer over some paper towels to allow the excess water to drain.
  8. Serve with vodka filled syringes, adding as much or little as you’d like.

 

Have a fantastic Halloween and remember to drink blood responsibly!!!

Douglas, M.  Purity and Danger:  An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo.  New York: Routledge, 1966.

Hanson, K.C. “Blood and Purity in Leviticus and Revelation” Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture, 28. (1993): 215-30.


 

Layla Eplett About the Author: Layla Eplett writes about the anthropology of food. She has a Masters in Social Anthropology of Development from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies and loves getting a taste of all kinds of culture--gastronomic, traditional, and sometimes accidentally, bacterial. Find her at Fare Trade. Follow on Twitter @LaylaEplett.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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