It has always bothered me when someone would suggest a new or exotic food and by way of recommendation would say, “Really, it tastes like chicken,” because that would mean there are hosts of food groups that are not usually consumed by people (re: me) that could be masquerading as chicken to unsuspecting eaters. And because it slanders chicken. And slanders whatever food you’re trying to pass off as chicken.
We’ve all probably heard that frog legs tastes like chicken. No, they don’t, they taste like frog. Anyone who has ever eaten in a less-than-sparkling Chinese restaurant is afraid that cat actually tastes like chicken. And I happen to know from accidentally eating something on a stick that I bought from a fried foods push cart in Korea that rat kind of tastes like chicken. Wrong. All of these foods taste exactly like the food they are, only the food that they are brings to mind memories of chicken.
There is a tragic list of foods that I have eaten that most of society would not think of as food, thanks to my parents and their horrendously punitive views on child rearing. In our household it was a mortal sin to embarrass your parents in public, especially if you happened to be somewhere without them which automatically made you the actual Ambassador to the Entire Family, deceased relatives included.
That dubious honor is how my brother and I, ages ten and eight respectively, ended up eating a live octopus.
If you’ve had any dealings with tentacled seafood, you might already be envisioning calamari or sauteed baby squid. Nope. This was octopus. It was wheeled in on a rolling cart and it was behemothly squirming on the silver platter. It died slowly as the servers cut it (yeah, I would stop eating right now if you are checking your email on your lunch break). Think back to that great feast scene in the second Indiana Jones movie, the one where the American showgirl passes out when they bring in the monkey heads.
Weeks later, one of the adults who had been in charge of us at this evening of food stuff house of horrors bumped into my mother and immediately fell into worshipful admiration mode.
“Your children are the best behaved kids I’ve ever seen,” she gushed. My mom did the sweet hand-over-the-heart thing and thanked her. “No, really, they were incredibly well-behaved. You should be so proud of them.” My mom patted her arm and assured her that she and my father were both very proud of all their children.
“And when they had to eat the live octopus, those two didn’t blink an eye. They just scooped it up like they’d been eating this every day of their short little lives. Well, gotta run!” she called back, leaving my mother woozy and reeling from the thought that her babies had eaten live sea creatures captured in the ocean in the toxic waters off the coast of South Korea.
When she got home, syrup of ipecac in one hand, activated charcoal and a tetanus syringe in the other, she demanded to know what possessed us to eat that “thing.” My brother, even at that young age destined to be a rational adult at all times, replied, “It didn’t occur to us not to.” Needless to say, we suffered no ill-effects other than waking up screaming in the night from time to time for the rest of our lives, but he and I do have suspiciously amazing immune systems now.
That event actually began a long list of foods I had to endure, usually because I found myself once again at an event where it would have been unacceptably rude not to eat it. Shut up with your tales of hating lima beans or trying to sneak your steamed broccoli under the table to the dog. And you can stop right now with your one-upmanship attempts, I don’t care if you’ve eaten rattlesnake or gator meat. Hell, who hasn’t? I’ve eaten kangaroo.
I’ve eaten raw horse meat at a “Welcome to Our Country,” dinner in my family’s honor in Italy and I have to say, nothing says, “we’re glad you’re here,” like the grossest concept for meat ever. I’ve eaten camel and goat in a Bedouin tent in the Negev dessert, and I tried buffalo and antelope willingly just because you don’t eat camel and then turn up your nose at buffalo and antelope. I ate dog knowing when the waiter took our orders that it was dog meat and I have to say, somebody send those poor people a cow because dog tastes hideous. It reminds me of beef that has gone very, very rancidly bad. I’ve eaten the usual suspects, the deer, the squirrel, the aforementioned snake and gator, the crawish (crayfish if you’re a fan from Louisiana, thanks for reading), lamb and veal even though they were just babies, etc. If God made it out of meat, I’ve probably had to eat it.
I actually found out recently that I can no longer give blood and the reason literally printed in the blood collector’s manual was because I may have eaten beef that had been infected with Mad Cow Disease from the years I lived in Europe while growing up. No, the octopus was fine, but the ground beef I ate for years may have infected me, or at least made me a carrier. My husband was all for them sending my head off to the state lab like a rabid dog’s, just to be sure. He actually thinks a positive test result could be quite likely because it would explain a lot.
This lifetime of ingesting things that most of the people I know would not consider to be food has made me really question how we eat in our own country. A slice of raw horse is probably healthier for us than the chemicals we eat on a daily basis. I know people who wouldn’t consider eating the deer that my husband shot last month, an animal that has subsisted for its entire life on leaves and berries and acorns and has never once met the antibiotic/hormone cocktail that we call cattle feed in this country, but they’ll scarf down a preservative-laden fast food hamburger made from cow parts that has sat under heat lamps for the better part of an hour, after being cooked by a barely literate teenager whose TB test results still aren’t back from the lab. Pass me a drumstick of freshly killed buzzard any day, I hear they taste like chicken.