Thursday, January 10, 2013

Food. Sort Of.

It's a starfish, but it's fried so it must be okay. 
Children's food aversions are one of the universal struggles that parents face. On the scale of importance, getting our children to eat broccoli is not as important as teaching them not to make campfires in the living room or drink Drano, but establishing good eating habits early offers a lifetime of benefits.  Why then is it so hard to get our children to eat the right stuff?

I have heard that food aversions are the result of instinctive behavior that prevents us from  unwittingly killing ourselves by ingesting poisonous foods but that doesn't explain how a child can be terrified of lettuce.   If food fear is protective and instinctive behavior then my kids are wired for survival because there is no chance that any of them would accidentally ingest something poisonous, much less healthy. They view unknown and untasted food with the same circumspection that you and I would have for a plate of dog poop. 

We plead with them.  "We'd never make you eat something that we wouldn't eat ourselves," we say.  "So what?", they think, "you are adults and are idiotic." We beg them, we threaten them and we bribe them but they would rather confess to murder than eat green beans. So, given how much of a challenge it is to get kids to try something new, is there anything more  irksome than a parent whose child has a cultured palate and will eat anything?  They lord it over you as if it were a perfect SAT score or some other genetic gift. Here you are looking for a little commiseration as you tell the story of your child's refusal to eat peas, only to be told by your friend that his/her child has been eating sushi since age 3.  

What?  

F*** off.  

Well guess what?  In earlier times, those kids would never have made it out of the wading area of the gene pool because they would have eaten those poisonous toadstools and—after a crazy psychedelic trip—died.  End of story. The only reason that they are still here today is because those of us who are scared of food are nice enough to watch out for them. 

"Hey, don't eat that!  What are you, crazy?"

I was a picky eater as a child. I once had a standoff with a plate of vegetables that lasted until 10 pm, but I didn't crack.  Finally, my exasperated mother gave up and sent me to bed.   I have gotten more adventurous as I have aged but I couldn't call my palate expansive. I'll eat all the regular foods but do not even try to get me off of Main Street and onto Exotic Foods Avenue 'cause I ain't going.   As a matter of fact, I have quashed any thoughts of traveling to Asia or the Middle East specifically because of the cuisine in that part of the world. 

Just today I received an email that reinforced my wisdom in this regard. The email contained photos of some of the different foods (I use that term with some hesitation) that Walmart sells in China. Have you seen what these people eat? Nothing is off limits. Call me a homer if you must, but I'll stay right here and eat chicken and get my culture on the National Geographic channel. I am not going over there to experience those ancient cultures only to subject myself to a meal of chilled monkey brains or live eels.  No way.  

The gross out food scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
doomed my chances of visiting that part of the world.

The Chinese will and do eat anything. Literally anything. I hate to sound so ethnocentric because I suppose it's possible that the Chinese find bacon revolting, but given that they consider caterpillar fungus a delicacy and that KFC sells more chicken in China than anywhere else, I have to assume that they are not as scared of our foods as we are of theirs. 

You know how they get you to eat their weird food?  They tell you it is an aphrodisiac.  Everything is an aphrodisiac.  If my Chinese hosts made me eat caterpillar fungus "getting busy" would be off the table, I gotta tell you. There are a billion Chinese already and the government won't let them have more than one kid. What do they need to eat horny food for? 

Caterpilla Fungus is a species of parasitic fungus that grows on insect larvae. The fungus invades the body of the Thitarodes caterpillars, eventually killing and mummifying it. The dark brown to black fruiting body (or mushroom) emerges from the ground in spring or early summer, always growing out of the forehead of the caterpillar. The fungus is commonly used as a Chinese or Tibetan medicine where it is used as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for a variety of ailments, from fatigue to cancer. It is also served in soup (as you can see in the image above).
I suppose people in this part of the world should be applauded for their thriftiness.  Nothing goes to waste.  Organ meats may be a fringe dish in our culture but over there it's all on the menu.  Eyeballs, testicles, snouts, brains...you name it, they eat it. 


Who wants some delicious pig face?
So, here's to the person who was crazy enough (or hungry enough) to eat the first raw oyster. That was a giant leap of faith, huh? Maybe that's were the term intestinal fortitude comes from because it literally took just that to look that raw oyster in the face and decide, "okay, here goes."  

Right? 

Take a look at that.  I mean really take a look at it.