Monday, May 13, 2013

Is it a cuddly cutie, food, or both?

Okay, this is another thing I refuse to eat.
Human are omnivores, though you wouldn't know it by the way we refuse to eat certain things.

I'm the same way, mind you.  There are things I refuse to eat (bugs, for example, at least the land dwelling ones, because I imagine them coming alive as I eat them and OH MY GOD I NEED MOUTHWASH AND LYSOL JUST THINKING ABOUT IT. Before you say Well, that makes sense, there are things like chocolate covered ants and grasshoppers, and there are places where people eat things like pan roasted grubs quite happily, and I'm told they are quite tasty).  So I'm not judging by a long shot.  But I can't help but notice what is considered food in different places.

There was a horse meat scandal in Ireland and the U.K.--apparently, the ground beef in the burgers sold in several major chains had horse meat in it.  IKEA also ended up being affected by this scandal. I was of two minds.

We all want to know what is in our food.  If you have a health or religious reason--or any other reason--to not want to eat something, you know if an item will violate your religious rules, endanger your health, or just gross you out.  I have Muslim and Jewish friends who will not eat pork; if they learned the meatballs they ate had pork in them, they would not be happy.  I have Hindu friends who do not eat beef. I have friends who will not or cannot (due to allergies or intolerances) eat dairy or wheat (celiac disease is no joke).

So what I'm saying is that I get it. I do! And we should be able to buy say, ground beef or ground chicken and be confident that we are getting that and nothing else.

But I am also bemused by the reasons--outside of religious or health--why we won't eat certain things.  Some people are horrifically offended by hunting but happily eat factory farmed chicken.  Some people are horrified that I eat venison and rabbit (you're eating Bambi and Thumper!).  Some people can't stomach the thought of eating goat (which is delicious, by the way. It tastes a lot like lamb).  We class animals into "those we can eat" and "those we do not eat" and sometimes the reasons are "but that animal is very cute" or "that animal is gross" or "that animal is noble and pure and wonderful" or "that animal was featured in a Disney movie and it offends my inner five-year-old."

It's not only meat.  Try and pick a bunch of dandelion greens and steam them for your friends. You will get a mix of reactions, I guarantee it.  Pick poke weed growing your yard? Better make sure it's served to people who aren't squicked by it.  You're eating weeds! Is a reaction I hear. Yes. They are edible. They are actually quite tasty.

In some parts of the world, horse meat is actually considered to be a great meal.  Lobster, currently seen as an expensive luxury item to eat here in the US, was considered trash food not so long ago.  Back in the time when white people in the US owned black slaves, it was served to them up North. And there is a rule on the books that prisoners will not be served lobster more than three times a week.  You know why? At the time, prisoners rioted after getting nothing but lobster.  Can you imagine the scandal now? My God! Why are we feeding criminals such luxurious and expensive food? But at the time, a lobster was considered a giant sea roach. (I try to forget that it's a big cockroach when I eat it as it is delicious.)

We would never eat dog or cat in the west, but we eat beef all the time.  Among Hindus that's just perverse.  I love me some sizzling bacon, but in I don't think it's going to be on any menu in the Middle East.  In some places, frog legs are considered viable food, as is snake.  (I have had both, actually, in Thailand.  The frogs legs were okay but way too much work for little meat.  The curried snake, or "serpent" as they called it, was good, if you didn't mind all the bones. By the way, neither taste like chicken. They taste like frog and snake.)  Historically, people ate songbirds, and there are places where they still do though I believe it's against the law now.  Seabirds used to be on the menu on coastal restaurants here until we realized we were clearing out the population.

I won't judge anyone's taste or repugnance. But I can't help but note our cultural love for certain foods, and cultural revulsion at others. 


  1. NPR was saying that some of the worry with the horsemeat was not that it was from horse, but that it wasn't food-grade horse meat, and thus may have been filled with harmful chemicals.

    1. That's a good point. Some of my friends were freaking out about the fact that it was horse meat but the animals not being food grade (that is. . .wow) is worrying.

  2. My two daughters attend an international high school. Most of the students are from outside the US. They get into interesting conversations of "what's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?" all the time. We're rather limited in what we'll eat, here in the US.

  3. The whole horse meat debacle made me extremely glad that I don't eat meat!

  4. So much depends on where you live. In Michigan, especially the rural areas, it's considered "normal" to eat venison, goose, duck, and my husband has been known to eat those cute little squirrels. We also eat freshwater fish but are suspicious of other seafood. I've owned too many cats and dogs in my life to ever consider them as a food source but I love pork ... I do try to keep an open mind (I even tried haggis on my one and only trip to Scotland).

  5. Melanie Joy has a book about this called "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism."

  6. I thought I left a comment here, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether :(

    As someone who was a vegetarian for fourteen years, this year I have gone the opposite direction and have tried as many different meats as possible! I'm starting with the cheapest (good quality) cuts to see if I like them, so have been eating organ meat and slow-cooking cuts.

    I may even try insects when I go to Thailand on holidays - we'll see.

    1. Yikes, I'm so sorry that your original comment got lost!

      How do you like eating meat again? I do enjoy tripe, though I'm not enamored of the taste of liver or heart so much (well, chicken hearts, since I've never had cow heart). That is very cool to try insects. I don't think I could do it; I'm too phobic about them as it is! But they are supposed to be good for you and many are reputedly tasty. Post about it if you try them!