Why is eating ducks and chickens socially accepted in many countries of the world while eating swan is a food taboo?
In this era of large customs clearance on the level of food taboos, starting from the introduction of insects edible in the kitchens of the world, both for nutritional and environmental sustainability issues, up to western fashion to experiment exotic meats in a gourmet key, talking about recipes based on ants, grasshoppers, kangaroos and crocodiles is socially more acceptable and "trendy" than in the past. Yet, on the bird front, the swan meat remains morally not accepted in many countries of the world, as opposed to ducks and geese that belong to the same family and which are commonly accepted as a possible food.
Let's then find out what are the reasons, historical and culinary, that hide behind this reticence to use the meat of this splendid water bird in the kitchen.
1) From food of the English nobility and real animal to "inedible" animal
There are many historical evidences that, especially in England, but not only, ascertain the culinary use of swan meat in the Middle Ages, or until the mid-1400s. The event that would have radically changed the cards on the table was The Act of Swans in 1482, or a statute approved by the then King of England Edward IV who made the swans property of the royal family, the nobility and the landowners. Since then, until the end of the 1800s, the swan's beak was marked with the royal coat of arms or with the symbol of its noble owner, anyone who wanted to own or hunt a swan had to pay a deductible and, above all, anyone who had been found to hunt or eating a branded swan would have been accused of theft. While the people had to distance themselves from it because of its illegal and inaccessible nature, swan meat became a prerogative of the English nobility and a frequent food of royal banquets. A recipe Christmas present in a cookbook of 1870 called Victorian manual for housewives he indicated to fatten the swan meat with aromatic herbs and barley, to roast it on the spit and then to serve it with a side dish of red turnips carved in the shape of small swans.
After the Victorian era, however, the tastes of the upper classes changed and the swan was associated more and more with a concept of beauty and grace rather than exalted for its gastronomic characteristics, while the idea that his flesh was inedible spread among the poorest. The food taboo born in the twentieth century and still present, spread also in the United States through colonization, and meant that in many countries of the world the swan increasingly passed from the "food" category to that of "wildlife".
2) Myths and beliefs of the past
Another historical reason that would have at least partially shaped this food prejudice concerns myths and beliefs of antiquity. In many ancient traditions and religions, in fact, the swan was seen as a symbol of purity, elegance, feminine beauty and in some cases even eroticism, sensuality and tender love. In ancient Greece, for example, the swan was the protagonist of the famous myth of Leda; according to legend Zeus fell in love with Leda, the beautiful queen of Sparta, to meet her, she came down from Olympus in the form of a white swan and finally two eggs were generated from their union, from which the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux and Elena and Clitennestra would come out. In the Leviticus of the Bibleinstead, the swan is mentioned in the list of unclean animals that cannot be eaten by man, along with birds of prey, ostriches, storks, herons, bats and many others.
3) A meat that is not easy to prepare?
Beyond the repulsion and indignation that commonly generates the consumption of swan meat, seen as morally wrong, and the beautiful and elegant aesthetic appearance of the animal that probably discourages hunting, its meat is said to be difficult to prepare, fatty, tough, difficult to digest and with a singular flavor slightly reminiscent of that of fish. Although the recipes of the world that have this animal as protagonist are very rare, these myths seem to be incorrect and many declare that its meat is actually light and thin. Whatever the truth, the consumption of this meat remains a taboo rooted in many cultures and one wonders if it will remain so in the future.
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