Eating the Bizarre, Sustainable Way

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Katey Parker

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You may have come across him with something slippery and slimy wiggling from his mouth. A pure look of joy as he digs into squirrel brains or stuffed alligator or goose intestines. What Andrew Zimmern, host of “Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Travel Channel, loves most, and has made a professional career is what most would consider, well, disgusting. 

But his crazy eating adventures have a higher purpose. In his recent post on the James Beard Foundation blog, ‘Eating to the Extreme:  How Broadening Your Culinary Horizons Can Help Improve Our Food System", Andrew suggests that expanding our palates and looking for more exotic ingredients may actually help to improve our food system.

For every roast goat leg with lemon and rosemary you offer your guests there is one less feedlot head of beef needed, one less commodity chicken purchased, and so on.

Our reliance on standard items such as chicken and beef, and even vegetables like your standard tomato or iceberg lettuce, has turned each into it’s own industry, causing many corporations to profit from Americans’ selectiveness. The problem is that most of the time, its done inhumanely, and with cost to our health. Whether it’s pumping in hormones, spraying pesticides or genetically modifying our foods, Big Ag knows our dependence on these foods, and has found multiple ways to produce quantity over quality. Diversifying our dinner plates may actually be a healthier, safe and more economical way to eat.

The question is, do we have the guts to change our tastes? 

If history is any indicator, than we have a chance. Take lobster, for example. Before the mid-1900’s, it was considered mere peasant food, and most wouldn’t be caught dead eating it. Indentured servants are even said to have written in their contracts that they couldn’t be served lobster more than twice a week. Today, however, lobster is an expensive, highly sought after seafood item that has become its own industry, stimulated the economy and become the base of many coastal communities and cuisines.

Andrew also suggests that, through experience with his own son, teaching children to become comfortable with trying new foods is possible, and a valuable lesson that may encourage continued diversity in our food system.

The degree to which we try new things and attempt to teach our kids about expanding their food choices is the degree to which we make acceptance the norm. I teach my child that food comes in many forms, just like language, or religion, or skin color. At seven, he responds better to crispy pig ears, risotto with squid ink, and grilled rabbit than he does to lectures about race relations from his old man. Eating is a common language.

After reading Andrews article, I made a point to stop at Savenor’s, a local market in Cambridge, MA with a diverse meat selection. It took some extra strength to walk past the Canadian bacon and slabs of rib eye, but I knew it was time to branch out. Each label became more shocking than the last. Whole rabbit? Wild boar? After giving myself a pep talk, I settled from some elk and a carton of big, round duck eggs. The duck eggs were ten times more flavorful than my typical store-bought eggs, and the elk was chewy, but juicy, much leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken.

A good start, and what turned out to be a delicious one at that. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll go for the kangaroo with a side of alligator.