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Eating Like a Local: Where Do You Draw the Line?

Buzz Poole
03/26/2013 - 06:44
Mealworms and Crickets, via Popsci

Of late, for reasons that escape me, I've been reading quite a bit about people who seek out exotic meals, what some might call gross meals. Personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have popularized traveling great distances to eat uncommon foodstuffs, which has created a niche of sorts. Of course, the niche isn't new or particularly original, nose to tail eating has long been a necessity for people all over the planet. What some might find unpalatable in Kansas might very well be a delicacy in Borneo.

Elyse Pasquale runs Foodie International, as this Daily Mail article explains. Fueled by her "philosophy that food is living history," Pasquale has dedicated the past few years to jetting around the world eating, everything and anything it seems. She's logged 350,000 miles and visited sixty-three countires on this quest, according to the article, and her blog details these food adventures. While Pasquale certainly enjoys plenty of meals that are considered good, if not great, by anyone's standards, she does not shy away from uncommon cuisine, like raw sea cucumber and codfish sperm sack. She does offer sage advice about how to avoid getting sick when eating outside your comfort zone: "1. Eat the local yogurt. It’s full of good bacteria that will aid your digestive system. 2. Lots of hot sauce. I believe those fiery hot peppers are effective germ killers! 3. Wash it all down with the local booze. If the hot sauce didn’t anesthetize your stomach, the local moonshine will."

As Pasquale and plenty of others have pointed out, in New York you don't need to travel the world to eat the world, no matter how out there you want to get with a menu. Just check out some of the highlights from the most recent Explorers Club dinner, as reported at Popsci: Kidney and Spleen Ragout, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches Infused with Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey and Citrus, Strawberry Pastry Cups Filled with Maggot Sprinkles. These annual galas draw attention to food alternatives that many people have never considered, but should both in terms of understanding other cultures and exploring sources of protein that a growing global population demands.

I think of myself as a person who will eat anything, but in truth I probably do have limits. I've munched on some crunchy insects and they're fine -- salty. I've never been offered something that so turned me off that I had to say no, which is lucky since when I'm traveling I'm not looking to offend the locals. Because it's true to say that food is the best way to understand a culture and when it comes to eating "weird" food, chances are that people have been doing it for a long time. It might make you squeamish, but that doesn't make it bad. But there are some psychological hurdles that need to be cleared. I've eaten veal brain, but I'm not sure I could handle eating eyes.

Where do you draw the line? Would you eat horse? How about stinky tofu? Or a century egg?  

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