Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten Foods That are Eaten Alive or Still-Moving

Ethnocentrism, the belief system in which the way your 'people' do things is seen as inherently superior by virtue of it being, well, your way of doing things is by and large a discredited, and seemingly abandoned, belief system - outside of the Republican Party anyway. Yet the one area where ethnocentrism is alive and kicking is in the area of cuisine. 'My God, I can't believe they eat that' is a common statement, usually followed up by some derisive comment about what life is like 'over there'. This affects Western perceptions of Asian cultures the most, and leads to the pathetic farce of a pig-headed bigot like Morrissey calling Chinese people a 'subspecies'.

Yet... there are things eaten out there, in Asia but everywhere, that certainly give me pause, make my heart race a bit faster and put me off my dinner. I do eat meat, but I can't see myself eating anything on this particular list.

You see, I'm of the belief that fought ought not to be moving as it's on your plate, or even in your mouth...

I've included an illustration of each. In some cases, it's ick-inducing enough. But since this is about moving food, obviously moving pictures are what's required. So I've included a YouTube link for each - my illustrations are actually stills from the linked videos. I like them instead of embedding because... well, in some cases, it takes a really strong stomach to get through them. You have been warned.

1.SANNAKJI: It's a weird list where this is considered one of the least exotic specimens. Sannakji, a specialty in Korea, is prepared from baby octopus. The baby octopus are not still alive. But having just been killed (and chopped up) for the preparation of the dish, the muscles are still moving. Thus the plate of seafood in front of you is squirming. Sannakji eaters need to be particularly careful that the suckers on the tentacles don't stick to the insides if their throats on the way down. Er, yum. YouTube link.Sannakji - Korean Baby Octopus Still Slithering

2.DRUNKEN SHRIMP: Technically, the term 'drunken shrimp' refers merely to shrimp marinated in alcohol. In many cases in China and abroad, the shrimp is boiled and then doused in liquor. Alternately, they may be dunked alive in alcohol and then cooked. But a third way to prepare the dish, not at all uncommon, is to keep the shrimp alive and, er, kicking. In this case the dish's name is very much accurate, as the alcohol stuns the shrimp and slows them down so that, while alive, they're not hopping about quite as much as they otherwise would. In other words, they're drunk out of their shrimp minds and completely unaware of their fate. YouTube link.Drunken Shrimp - Chinese Dish from Living Shrimp

3.YIN-YANG FISH: This one has a certain amount of YouTube notoriety, yet it is a very real dish of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese origin. The 'yin yang' part of the name refers to the fact that it's alive and dead at the same time - more to the point its bottom half has been cleaned and cooked in boiling water while its top half remains alive and gasping for air - by 'alive', I accede that it's a bit of a grey area. Perhaps it has actually died and is, like the others, exercising residual muscle contractions (à la beheaded chickens). But certainly a moving mouth on your dinner plate is a hard thing to shake off, and it certainly does appear to be alive,. perhaps saying, "Stop eating me!" in fish language. YouTube link.Yin-Yang Fish - Half-Alive Chinese / Taiwanese Fish Dish

4.IKEZUKURI: I have a bit of a problem with this one. Well, I have a problem with several of them, but this one seems unnecessarily cruel. See, I like sushi just fine. And I'm well aware that sushi involves fish that was very, very recently alive. But the fish kind of ikezukuri (there are other kinds, all involving 'dancing' seafood) seems to be about filleting and slicing the fish in the way one does for sushi, making every effort to keep it as alive as possible. The YouTube link shows a fish whose body now looks very much like sushi but whose head is still flopping about. Involuntary muscle spasms, I'm sure. But is this really necessary? YouTube link.Ikezukuri - Japanese Living Sushi

5.LIVE GOLDFISH: And of course this is a classic frat-boy stand-by: swallowing live goldfish. I hesitated to include this one, as it's not a form of sustenance, but it deserves inclusion as yet another example of how the 'twain' meet much more frequently than Rudyard Kipling would have us believe. The person in the YouTube link, Stevie Starr, is a rather impressive performer who has built a several-decades-long career out of the art of swallowing things and bringing them back up again at will. I was lucky enough to see him when I was in university at a venue of perhaps 50 people at the most, and I can attest that he is most certainly the real thing. Pretty amazing, even if the poor fish might disagree. YouTube link.Stevie Starr Eating Live Goldfish

6.OPIHI: Opihi are a particular Hawaiian delicacy - being a form of limpet or snail-like gastropod found in the waters of the Pacific. Opihi is said to be a particular delicacy in Hawai'i, and while it can be cooked, it frequently isn't. It's most often served raw. And by 'raw', I mean 'it'll move if you poke it with a stick'. Opihi can be added to a raw seafood salad, or it can be eaten directly from the shell. Either way, if it were an animal capable of fast motion (which it isn't), it would certainly be running away, given the chance. YouTube link.Opihi - Hawaiian Limpet

7.SNAKE HEARTS: While we're slowly descending into urban-legend territory (live monkey brains!!!!), snake is a very real item in southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Vietnam. Not to say there's anything very strange about eating snake, but plenty of YouTube videos can attest to the very alive nature of the snakes immediately until preparation. Now, keeping an animal alive until the moment of cooking is not that strange - think lobster for example - and you could make a good argument that fresher is safer. As with so many other things on this list, involuntary muscle movements are a part of life for people preparing this kind of food (frogs' legs do plenty of dancing). But in this particular case, the movements make it all the way to the table - and the appearance of a still-beating heart is just way too horrorshow for me to ever think, "hey, I should put that in my mouth and eat it". YouTube link.Snake Heart - Vietnamese Food, Still-Beating

8.CASU MARZU: Here's a weird thing about the internet: who'd have thought that it would take the most modern of technology to increase the profile of this, er, traditional cheese. Yet this Italian cheese has never been more famous. While Italy has an unparalleled reputation globally for its cuisine, it's a fair bet that when people think "Italian food", they're not thinking of this Sicilian cheese, which is, and there's just no way to put this politely, crawling with maggots. As they say, 'I kid you not'. This is a cheese that has been left for flies to lay eggs in. When the maggots are born, their digestion of the cheese (a process generally called 'rotting') apparently gives it its flavour. It's essential you eat it while the maggots are alive, apparently. Because eating dead maggots would be, you know, gross. Where eating them while they're still alive is just good ol' Sicilian tradition. YouTube link.Casu Marzu - Italian Maggoty Cheese

9.LARVAE: What a difference a YouTube video makes. Superficially the eating of grubs seems tame compared to other things on the list. I mean, Hakuna Matata, right? But please, for the love of God, do not click on the link to the video for this one. Remember, you can not un-watch something you have watched. Now the video is ultimately "Survivor" / "Fear Factor" rubbish, so it's hardly indicative of what we're talking about. But foraging for grubs is a common protein source in large parts of the world. Me? I'd prefer tofu. YouTube link.Larvae - Eating Live Grubs

10.OYSTERS: To remind us that eating living things is hardly merely a foreign phenomenon, and also to come back slowly from extreme grossness, I present the humble oyster. It's not a requirement that you eat oysters raw (there's that euphemism again), but it is the preferred way of doing so. A quick tap and it ought to slam its shell shut. Which, of course, is not something dead animals can do. And speaking of 'animals', here's something strange: there is a strain of vegetarian ethicists that say there are no ethical reasons not to eat oysters. I don't know the details exactly, but I guess an oyster lacks a central nervous system and has no 'pain receptors'. It has no consciousness and is, for all intents and purposes, indistiguishable from a carrot. Except carrots don't move as they slide down your throat. And they make cute noses for snowmen too. Carrots ftw. YouTube link.Oysters Eaten Alive

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