Artichoke "Hartes" -- Food Prejudices Across Cultures

Jan 29, 2018

"He was a bold man who first swallowed an oyster," observed Jonathan Swift. He was right, but the first person to eat an artichoke was probably no less intrepid.

That's because food prejudices are hard to change. The notion that what one diner might consider disgusting, another might simply consider supper was driven home to me recently as I perused "Strange Foods" by Jerry Hopkins. One of the most fascinating books I've ever read, even if it doesn't contain many recipes -- and the ones it does include, like jellyfish salad and stir-fry bat, I'm not especially eager to try.

As Hopkins points out, what people eat varies greatly from one culture to another. Part of the reason for this is simply circumstance. If you don't live near a desert, you're not likely to think of making cactus jelly. If you're landlocked, you might never develop an appreciation for fillet of fish. If you've never seen a chicken, you're unlikely to wonder what one tastes like -- let alone try scrambling eggs. Which did humans eat first, I wonder, the chicken or the egg?

Most of us are rather prejudiced in our food habits, judging by what has been eaten by others. In ancient Rome, door mice were caged and fed nuts to plump them up before being served to the emperor. Records indicate that dogs have been eaten at least since the time of Confucius. Similarly, horse meat, a food we consider fit only for dogs, has is seen as a delicacy in France. The French like rabbit, too, but many Americans recoil at the thought of eating bunnies, unless they're made of chocolate.

In the American West, they like rattlesnakes, but it's the cobra that's preferred by connoisseurs. In China, they bring the cobra to the table, cut out its heart, and put it in the wine. And I thought table-side preparation at Cherries Jubilee was spellbinding.

Such knowledge should broaden our culinary horizons. After all, as Hopkins observes: "through history humans have eaten virtually everything that walked -- including each other."