2007.09.19 Wait, I wouldn't eat that
By DAVID GREEN
Over the years I’ve taken great delight in occasionally writing about odd foods. It’s stuff I’ll never eat, but I’ll gladly talk about it.
I remember telling about an interesting fish dish from the far north, far beyond the beet fields of Benzonia. Fish is wrapped in grass and buried in the mud along a river for properly fermentation.
I think it’s somewhere in South America where a plant is chewed for a while and then spit into a pot for fermentation. Pass me a bowl of that stuff.
Those are the two really odd items that come to mind. The remainder was more a matter of cultural differences. One group of people thinks that drinking cow’s milk is the most disgusting proposition they’ve encountered, but they love spiders and dried snake.
Today I read about a Cambodian specialty which the author described as “fermented mudfish sludge” known as prahok made from mudfish, rice and salt. Traditional preparation calls for stomping the mixture with bare feet.
John McPhee recently wrote in the New Yorker about his “life list” of eccentric food. McPhee doesn’t go looking for strange food, but occasionally it comes his way via his job.
When he wrote about Alaska, he ate grizzly bear shoulder. The wife of his host, who was a native of the area, gladly ate lynx and wolf, but not grizzly meat; it has terror in it.
Rattlesnake appears on McPhee’s list, but he admits that it was canned, unlike the food he ate in Georgia that was just plain dead. He wrote about a biologist who ate what she found freshly killed alongside the road, such as weasel and snapping turtle and squirrel.
McPhee writes about eating puffins from Iceland, muskrat, musk ox, porpoise, whale, sea cucumbers and lion. There’s also a section about harvesting mountain oysters and about the restaurants that serve them.
Many of the items on McPhee’s list aren’t as exotic as lion, they’re just not part of most people’s diet. They came from a camping trip he took with the famous wild food man Euell Gibbons.
Dock, burdock, chicory, chickweed, ground-cherries, groundnuts, Jerusalem artichokes, oyster mushrooms, watercress, water mint tea—this is stuff you can find around here. I’ll never forget reading Gibbons’ obituary: He died of natural causes.
My food adventures are more along the lines of questionable foods rather than exotic foods. My experience is gained not from traveling the world; it’s as close as my refrigerator. It’s a puzzling situation that’s been going on for years.
An example: There was some sliced turkey in our refrigerator recently. I hate to see food thrown away, especially when some animal gave its life for a meal, so I offered to make a sandwich.
“I wouldn’t do that,” my wife said. “It’s too old.”
I computed the days since she made the purchase and concluded that it was OK. I ate it with no ill effects. It was better than road kill.
A day later, I needed a quick meal before running off to a meeting. Colleen was still working at the library so I opened a can of tuna fish, added some mayonnaise and vinegar and made a sandwich.
Colleen arrived home shortly afterward, saw what I had concocted and let out with a gagging sound.
“Now what have I done?” I asked.
“You used the old mayonnaise.”
Impossible, I said. I just opened it. She explained that the new jar was an old jar. It was past the eat-by date and needed to be thrown away.
Then I had to ask the question I’ve asked many times before: “Why do you keep old food? Why don’t you throw it away?”
I took a bite of my sandwich. Old mayo wasn’t going to stop me. It should have been used by July 4. That’s not to so bad.
But before I took the first bite, I added some pickles. Wrong move again. Those were pickles from a jar that was opened in May and, once again, they should have been throw away.
I believe the brine will preserve them. I sat down and enjoyed my old meal, wondering why there’s so much toxic waste in our cupboards and refrigerator.
When the coroner examines my untimely death, I hope one of my readers points out the obvious. It’s not a matter of natural causes; someone is trying to bump me off.
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