Our friend Riva begins with a mirepoix, as so many recipes do. But instead of dicing her onion, carrot and celery, she has an innovative approach: She peels the onion, and then bites into it as if it’s an apple, chewing it until it’s about the consistency of a dice, and then spitting it into a bowl. “A bit teary,” she says, as the onion’s pungency begins to overwhelm her, and her nose runs. Then comes the carrot and the celery, chewed and spat. “Put it in your mouth, chop it up a bit further, and get it out, so we’re getting nice, even pieces,” she says.
She rips parsley apart with her teeth. She bites chunks off a loaf of bread. A lemon comes out — “for safety’s sake, I am not going to use a zester,” she says — and she zests the lemon by scraping it with her front teeth. She crunches peppercorns with her teeth, and warms some butter up in there. And to bind the stuffing, she cracks a raw egg into her mouth, swishing it around as if it were mouthwash, before spitting it out into the bowl, mashing it all together (with her hands, thank goodness) and defiling a poor turkey by cramming this giant spitball into its carcass. When it comes out of the oven, crisp and brown, she kisses it.
We are only four days into 2018, and already, it has unleashed some absolutely insane ideas about food. Earlier this week, the world learned about “raw water,” which is unfiltered and untreated, and can command prices as high as $60 for two and a half gallons (included in that price: the potential to get a parasite!). And now we have mouth cooking, which should be called “baby birding” because that’s nearly what’s happening here. Even though the food is cooked, potentially killing some of the germs that a diner could catch from the cook’s mouth, to think about the health effects of this practice is to take it too seriously. Because the visceral reaction, for most people, is a resounding “Oh hell no.” The video quickly went viral.
The whole thing seems so provocative and asocial that you might think: Is this some kind of conceptual art?
You are correct: The video was directed by Nathan Ceddia, a 29-year-old Berlin-based filmmaker from Australia. The viscerality of food is a major theme in his films and photography. Other works include “Man vs. Gut,” juxtaposed images of people messily eating fast food and squishing the pudge on their bellies; a series of photos of women poking retro Jell-O dishes and a man shoving hot dogs into his underwear; “Cake Holes,” a series of bare butts sitting on frosted cakes meant to explore “the strange underbelly of food and eroticism” (it’s also a sexual fetish called “sploshing”); and “The Glorious and the Grotesque,” a series of images of women posing suggestively with dripping foods.
His work is not without precedent: It has shades of the artist Marilyn Minter‘s “Food Porn” series, or Carolee Schneemann’s 1964 work “Meat Joy.” Lupton, for what it’s worth, designs pop-up experiences for brands like Peroni and has created “food-centric experiences from L.A. to Sydney, climaxing with a sausage installation in Taiwan.”
Ceddia said the video “was made in all seriousness,” believe it or not. “We wanted to create a new type of cooking.”
He had been mulling the idea of a video that would shake food trend-watchers out of their complacency. Seeing other food videos go viral, “No one’s pushing the boundaries, no one’s thinking outside the spoon or the plate,” Ceddia said. “I wanted to create a type of cooking that makes people think a bit more.”
Perhaps it’s a different type of Paleo diet: “Why not bring it back to where it all began, when [people] had to cook with their mouth?”
For the record: There is no evidence that ancient humans pre-chewed their food as a method of combining ingredients to cook it for other adults. According to the anthropology magazine Sapiens, humans have been using tools to prepare food for 3.4 million years. Scientists believe that ancient cooking techniques were developed so that early humans would have to chew less, not more. And while there is a micro-trend of American moms premasticating their infants’ food, led by the actress Alicia Silverstone — and this is also a practice in some less-developed countries — it poses a disease risk for children.
Ceddia, who says he practices both conventional and mouth cooking at home, isn’t afraid of germs, though. “If the food is properly cooked afterwards, it’s fine,” he said. “Wash your mouth out with a bit of mouthwash. Cook for a partner — you don’t have to cook for a whole group of people.”
Knives, he thinks, are more dangerous. He still uses them, but he’s very careful, after a friend of his needed a trip to the emergency room after attempting to remove an avocado pit. Choking, another potential hazard from mouth cooking, is less of a concern for Ceddia, but statistically, choking is more dangerous: According to the National Safety Council, more than 5,000 people died of choking in 2015. In a 2005 report, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that nearly all of the deaths caused by kitchen implements were related to fires, not knives. Pocket knives cause more injuries than kitchen knives.
Nevertheless, Ceddia is working on more mouth cooking videos and says he has about 50 recipes ready to go. He says many things are easily adaptable to the format: “If you’re at home and you wanted to make a quick omelet, all you have to do is crack a few eggs, and whisk them in your mouth. That would only take a few seconds,” he said. “You could create a Bolognese by mincing the meat in your mouth.” He realizes that measurements can be a bit iffy — the volume of one person’s mouth might be a quarter of a cup, while the volume of another person’s mouth might be less. “Just do what feels right,” Ceddia said.
Lupton, who identified herself as Riva Godfrey at the top of her email reply to The Washington Post and Iska Lupton at the bottom, said that despite her onion tears, she enjoyed the process — and that she wasn’t paid to be in the video.
“As your eyes start moistening up and your nose starts running into the mix you just feel an incredible sense of release and oneness with the food,” she said.
The recipe comes from Lupton’s aunt.
“Cooking with your mouth is an incredible feeling of freedom, creativity and control over your ingredients and finished article,” she said. “It’s hard — garlic really hurts — but the feeling of control [is] so worthwhile.”
And Ceddia is not disturbed by eating premasticated food, though he understands why viewers might be: “It’s maybe a bit too real for people. But if they were to see the realness of how their meal got to them on their plate” — the slaughter of livestock, for example — “no one would eat their meal at the end of the day.”
The next episode of “Cooking with your Mouth,” which he says will be posted in a few weeks, is “going to maybe be a little bit grosser. It’s a lot of chewing and chopping and pulling and gnawing.” But even though the food has been between someone else’s molars, it usually looks pretty good at the end. “On a plate, it looks like it could have come from a restaurant.”
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