Ugly Food is a love letter to the dishes Horsey, an international political analyst based in Myanmar, and Wharton, a musician-turned-academic at the University of Brighton in southern England, have encountered in their quest to delve “beyond the [chicken] breast.” But the recipes it serves up — Maldivian curried octopus, boiled sheep’s head from Scandinavia, rabbit stifado from Greece, French giblet pie and, of their own devising, ice-filtered squirrel consommé among other delicacies — throw into sharp relief a mainstream Anglo-American food culture fixated on the sanitized presentation of flawless specimens of a few favored foods. Besides being a cookbook, Ugly Food is equal parts culinary “manifesto,” earthy polemic and disquisition into why we embrace some ingredients but balk at others no less nourishing and delicious and often considerably cheaper.
In perhaps the most celebrated English-language novel of the 20th century, set in Dublin on June 16, 1904, James Joyce introduces Ulysses’ everyman lead character with a description of his culinary habits:
“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”