Through some insignificant confluence of circumstance I'd come to be familiar with the term "offcuts" primarily as it relates to cooking. In this domain it seems more gastro-slang than common parlance. Nonetheless, I could not shake the image of the undesirable sides of a haunch when my friend Akira told me he was building a wall with offcuts. I have known these masons to be open to the unorthodox, but a wall of flesh could hardly be the right fit for a garden. He was referring to offcuts of marble, a beautiful green and jet blend that looks splendid in rain or shine. This stone that nobody particularly wants is turning into a wall that few would resist. But I will share more of that at a later date.
This idea of offcuts, of using offcuts, seems rather novel in an age that increasingly delivers us the prime cut: quality and consistency courtesy of industry. Take baby carrots, for example, which I was a bit startled to learn are actually made of regular grown up carrots. In a Procrustean technique, like something from an old cartoon, the large carrot is shaved down and portioned into smooth lozenges of sweet bright orange crispiness. Apparently the whole process uses a great deal of water and energy, like making steel. What then happens to the shavings, to the bits of carrot too small or misshapen? Does someone make them into soup?
There's something quaint and trendy about offcuts, their association with a crafty DIY ethos, which is largely due to the fact that this has become a diversion rather than a fact of life. Eking out a life from scraps has been replaced by a kind of cultural decoupage. Offal has become gourmet, squab a dish for the elite. Canning and preserving would probably seem a lot less indie if your life depended on it.
Of course, a life of lesser hardship is the inevitable outcome of city life, civilization in the broadest sense. It is precisely by living together and escaping the endless hardship of survival that one can have the time to focus on more important things. Surely then if an unprecedented number of us no longer need to boil mutton bones or eat carp, albeit still a tiny portion of the world's population, there should be some equally unprecedented flourishing of human excellence. Instead there is a return to the coliseum, a yearning for the undeserved release of an endless bacchanal, a resolve to live in slumber, in frivolity, a resolve to cram the long rotted remnants of the past into elegant mason jars. Have we become offcuts ourselves?