Food is totally subjective: What is a delicacy in some nations is abhorrent to others. And Andrew Zimmern thinks we need to work on that if we want to effectively feed the world's population.
“I could list a hundred foods — some illegal, and others taboo," he says, "But in a time and place where so many are going hungry, many others forced to eat processed and unhealthy foods either by misfortune or circumstance, and eating so few foods has sped up the rise of factory farms and pillaged the seas of many species — it’s time to expand our diets,” the Bizarre Foods host says.
If we take Zimmern's words as a rallying call, it's time we start broadening our minds (and perhaps laws) and bridging countries' divides on what's cool or so not cool to put in our mouths. Here are 12 controversial items to ponder.
If you love blowfish, travel to Tokyo, Japan — but forget about eating the poisonous fish in the United States. “Chefs in Japan must obtain a special license to serve the Japanese delicacy, Fugu,” says Erica Gragg, founder of the wellness and travel company Escape to Shape.
Samosas, a traditional dish popular across the Horn of Africa and India, are a spicy triangular snack made from fried dough filled with meat or vegetables. “Samosas are banned in Somalia because Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group considers these snacks “too Christian” and “offensive” as their shape allegedly resembles the Holy Trinity. The decision was announced nationwide via vehicles with mounted loudspeakers,” says Sharon Schweitzer, a cross-cultural consultant, international protocol expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide.
3. Fois Gras
Fois gras is pretty controversial, and its production is even banned in some places. “Fois gras is banned in California because it is historically produced by force feeding geese and ducks through feeding tubes to engorge their livers with fat,” says Schweitzer. The consumption and import of fois gras is legal in the U.S., although production is banned in California.
Haggis is pretty popular in the U.K., however importing the savory pudding is prohibited because haggis contains sheep lung, a violation of 1971 U.S.D.A. food safety regulations. The USDA has had a ban on foods containing lungs since 1971. Travelers may enjoy this delicacy in Scotland.
Caviar is one our favorite guilty pleasures, but you can't get the good stuff everywhere. “If you love beluga caviar, travel to St. Petersburg, Russia but not to the United States, since it is illegal to import beluga caviar into the U.S.,” says Gragg.
6. Processed packaged foods
“If you love packaged processed foods with red, yellow, or blue dye, such as Jell-O or Kraft Mac & Cheese, you can get it in the Unites States — but don't expect to find it when you travel to Austria and Norway. The European Union even requires a warming on foods containing these dyes,” says Gragg.
“If you love ketchup, don't go to primary school in France, where it has been banned because it masks the real taste of food,” says Gragg.
8. Unpasteurized dairy products, including raw milk
Although it is widely available and consumed in Europe, 22 U.S. states and Canada ban the sale of unpasteurized dairy products, including raw milk. However, some states allow limited sales. In Wisconsin, buyers may acquire the semi-illicit substance only if purchasing it directly from a farmer. CDC states, “While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.” Avoiding listeriosis, Salmonella, E-coli, Campylobacter, and germs tops the list of CDC concerns.
9. Casu Marzu
Casu Marzu, from Sardinia, Italy, also known as fly larvae cheese, is a traditional Italian food and has maintained its legal status within the EU. However, that’s not the case elsewhere. “Casu Marzu is banned in the U.S. The cheese is made by purposefully introducing cheese fly larvae into Pecorino cheese to promote advanced fermentation. As the larvae hatch, they digest the cheese, and it softens,” says Schweitzer. Daring diners eat when the cheese is “good” — while maggots are alive and writhing.
10. Pink Slime
If you go to the EU, pink slim is banned from human consumption, however you’ll find it everywhere in the U.S.: Pink slime is the name given to a paste-like substance composed of meat scraps (once considered appropriate only as dog food.) “The meat scraps are soaked in ammonia with the goal of making it turn pinker. Pink slime is still the main ingredient in some hamburger meat, hot dogs, and sausages in the U.S.,” says Schweitzer.
Though it may sound kind of off-putting to Americans, donkey is eaten in dozens of countries from Italy to China. “Donkey meat is healthier for you than beef, several breeds raise to harvest size very quickly, and the meat is superbly flavored and delicately marbled,” Zimmern says. “The taste is sublime, dark red like beef, but with a mild veal flavor that’s remarkable, and the milk is delicious and healthy as well. Even the skin of the donkey can be eaten, and like pigskin has dozens of culinary applications. I can say all the same about eating horse, which I prefer to donkey for the deeper expression of flavor and the milk is the sweetest milk of any of the dozens of animals I’ve tried." He adds, "Horse is eaten in more countries than donkey and I can’t understand why we aren’t doing more to utilize donkey and horse in a country who is so red meat focused. In Central Asia almost all the countries not only eat horse, as they do on many other continents, but their food culture is built around the animals."
12. Guinea Pig
Sounds weird to you? Not to everyone. Guinea pig, and many species of rodents, are seen by some to be among healthiest meats on the planet. “They are quick to raise, and are popular in almost every country in the world save a few like Canada and the United States,” says Zimmern.
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