Gross! You Really Eat That Stuff?

Given any control over the remote, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch a television show about “bizarre foods.” But stuck in a crowded waiting room, with no reading material, in a seat close to the mercifully muted TV set, I didn’t have a lot of choice.

The show featured closeups of food in the process of being caught, cleaned, or cooked—all of it artfully arranged for maximum grossness by some luckless intern food designer. The limp tentacles of octopi dangled over the rims of bowls, squishy shellfish oozed slime, and various sorts of crabs displayed their eyestalks and claws to best advantage. These shots were interspersed with closeups of attractive young women whose busy bloody fingers were gutting fish and skinning piles of songbirds the size of robins. All this culminated with closeups of the intrepid reporter tasting various completed dishes and commenting with his mouth full.

All in all, it was enough to make me vow never again to forget to charge my Kindle.

Really, though, for anyone familiar with butchering chickens or cleaning fish or pheasants, there wasn’t much about the foods on the show that was truly bizarre. Well, maybe except for the tentacles.

“Bizarre,” would be a better description of some of the things that creative cooks, with strong imaginations and even stronger stomachs, do with sausages or spaghetti or frosting for Halloween parties.

But all those things, disgusting as they might be, aren’t half as bizarre as plenty of the stuff you can buy in any grocery store. Such as items so processed that the manufacturers feel obliged to clarify on the label that it’s intended for human consumption, with descriptions like “processed imitation cheese food” or “meat product.” Or “fruit” snacks that are made primarily of sugars, starches, and filler, but that are touched by actual blueberries or strawberries somewhere on the assembly line.

Then there are the weird forced marriages of substances never meant to go together, like jalapeno bacon ice cream or chocolate pumpkin pie.

And let’s not even get into the secret home-alone comfort foods we might enjoy in private but would never eat in company. (I promise not to ask about yours, and I’m certainly not telling you mine.)

Of course, whether food seems normal or weird depends mostly on what we grew up eating. My own limited middle-of-the-country palate recoils at anything spicier than a green bell pepper and thinks “curry” is something you do to horses. One of my friends, raised in the Southwest, thinks green chili is a basic vegetable but is repulsed by rhubarb. In truth, I suppose, almost every dish that is someone’s “bizarre food” is someone else’s “just like my mama used to make.”

Note to anyone who grew up eating my cooking: please, be nice and keep your comments to yourselves.

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