Saturday, April 22, 2017

Food that's too smart to eat

photo by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons
photo by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently I read in the Huffington Post that Gwyneth Paltrow won’t eat octopus because they’re so smart. (This is what I do instead of writing my next book.)
Octopus are too smart to be food. They have more neurons in their brains than we do. I had to stop eating them because I was so freaked out by it.” One famously escaped from its tank at the New Zealand Aquarium, slithered down a drain pipe, and returned to the ocean.

Sound flaky? Not to me. There are several foods I won’t eat because they’re too smart. Octopus. Dolphin. Guinea pig. Whale.

So why is it okay to eat dumb food but not smart food?
This is a question I prefer not to ask myself.

Other foods I won’t eat for other reasons: shrimp that isn’t wild caught (they’re destroying mangroves that protect the coastline in order to farm at the little creatures and harvesting them with slave labor in Southeast Asia.) Swordfish more than a few times a year (mercury). Eggs from chickens raised in those awful cages.

What’s on your I WON’T EAT IT list, and isn’t it nice to be well-off enough to be making these kinds of choices?


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:
Well, I won't eat octopus because I don't like it. Calamari is too rubbery for me. I wouldn't eat anything that's endangered, and yes, there is something about dolphins that
would squick me if someone put a plate in front of me.
by Fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons

In the summertime, we get fabulously free range eggs from my friends - I can literally see their chickens free-ranging around the dooryard whenever I visit. I admit, I've been too cheap to PAY for the good, cruelty-free eggs, but you're making me re-think that, Hallie. Now the Sailor is being fed by Uncle Sam and we're eating a dozen eggs every two weeks instead of two dozen eggs per week, I could afford the more humane (and tastier) product.

Food I was really grateful to find out WASN'T endangered? Conch. I fell in love with it the first time we visited the Bahamas, and I almost didn't eat it in Key West until someone told me, no, it's okay. There are still evidently plenty of Conch in the sea.

RHYS BOWEN: We had this discussion on Easter Sunday when I always serve leg of lamb. Now neither granddaughter will eat lamb because it's... well, it's a little lamb, isn't it?

Daughter Jane and I agreed that we are coming to feel the same way about eating meat. Cows are intelligent, so are pigs. Actually we don't eat much red meat any more but I do try to make an effort to buy grass fed, humanely raised beef. And chicken. And cage free eggs.

The trouble with going vegetarian is that it's hard to get enough B vitamins and legumes don't agree with my stomach. I love fish luckily. Even calamari and I cook calamari steaks so they cut like butter, Julia. Breaded, about a minute on each side.

Photo by Sandos at the English language Wikipedia
I haven't eaten veal for many years after I read how it is raised. I don't think I could eat grasshoppers or ants.And definitely not guinea pigs! we had an adorable one once who used to sit on my shoulder while I watched TV. Definitely not dolphin, although the dolphin they serve in the Caribbean is actually dolphin fish and not the mammal.
And I just saw on TV that plants send out distress signals to other plants when they are being eaten. What is left? Fruitarian?

JENN McKINLAY: I don't know, Rhys, I think the bananas would probably have separation anxiety about being ripped apart from their hand, because, little known fact (at least to me), a single
banana is called a finger while a bunch of bananas is called a hand.

Okay, no more bananas for me! Honestly, I tried the vegetarian thing. I lasted two weeks. Hooligan 1 walked by me eating a burger and I ripped it out of his hands and ate it right in front of him. Wisely, he said not a word and slowly backed away.

I do try to eat all organic, cage free, not endangered foods, and I will try things like crickets just because you never know if you have a taste for them. Truly, feeding a family has never felt so complicated. And, yes, Hallie, we are sure lucky to have such first world problems.

INGRID THOFT: Tongue. I won't eat tongue. The idea of another animal's tongue touching my tongue and then swallowing it? It grosses me out!

I have no issues with lamb, veal, or anything else that is cute, nor do I give the alleged intelligence of the entrée any thought.

I agree with Julia on the calamari front; way too chewy for my taste. I'm not thrilled by the idea of bugs, but could probably swallow down a cricket or two. However, I draw the line at things that are still alive. Many moons ago, my parents were in Japan and were served lobster (which they love under normal circumstances,) and it was still squirming on their plates. Needless to say, the activity of the main dish detracted from the flavor!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Too smart. (Well, they weren't smarter than humans, but that's not the point.) There is a weird line that I draw, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

Eels, though, those I CAN put my finger on. Pass. Sea bass and other endangered things, I don't eat. And it's either halibut or haddock that's endangered, so I just skip both of them. No veal. I'm very fond of rack of lamb, so, even though it does give me pause...I grill it and enjoy it. Without a mental picture. Ingrid, with you on tongue.

I once interviewed a guy who was the director of the aquarium. And I asked (not for the interview) if he ate sushi. he said yes, absolutely, and he ate fish. His philosophy was that fish are provided by nature, and if we are humane and not wasteful, it's a celebration of how the world works.

The big change though, is duck. I love grilled duck breast, and it used to be one of my faves. Now, though, with Flo and Eddy and their duck friends swimming in our back yard pool, I cannot eat duck. When we see it on a menu, my husband and I exchange horrified looks.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hank, I think that's how the Native American people handle eating animals--to thank them for their sacrifice, etc, etc.

I will not eat veal, and try not to eat pork (because pigs are too
Squid photo © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia
smart), and won't eat squid after seeing them while snorkeling. We found a whole line of them--as we'd approach, they'd back away. We'd back away, and they'd approach. It seemed as if they were curious about us! (Not that I would eat squid anyway, LOL. Just ask Hallie...)

I feel almost as though I should be vegetarian, but I'm not there yet. But I do go the "kind raising" route, definitely no eggs from caged chickens. And yes, we are lucky, lucky, lucky to even have this question on our collective tables!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If vegetables send out distress signals, then fruit must, too, right? So where do you draw the line once you go down that road?

I would like to know that things I eat have been humanely treated. I buy good local dairy milk, and really expensive local cage free eggs, and local grass fed beef. I try not to eat endangered fish, and I support local farmers. I am a little squeamish about veal these days, but it doesn't come up as a menu choice that often--nor does octopus, although I'm happy to eat calamari. (Thanks for reminding me about the squid steaks, Rhys. They are amazingly good if you don't overcook them.)

I know tongue sounds really icky, but I grew up going to a German deli here in Dallas that sold it as one of their cold lunch meats, and I loved it! What do I draw the line at? Brains, maybe. I remember my mom cooking them when I was a kid. Was it with scrambled eggs? Or did they just look like scrambled eggs? Now we're all totally grossed out.

But I can't help but think these are all such first world issues. I'm a lot more concerned about how to feed hungry people.


HALLIE: So what's on your 'Won't Eat It' list and where do you draw the line?

45 comments:

  1. Okay, no guinea pigs, no grasshoppers or ants or crickets [even the chocolate-covered kind], no dolphins or whales or eels, no tongue or brains, nothing that’s still living . . . .

    It’s nice that we have so many choices about what we choose to eat . . .
    Sushi and calamari and wild caught shrimp would all make it to our table, along with fresh vegetables and fruit. We buy cage-free eggs, grass fed, humanely raised beef, no-antibiotic chicken, organic milk, non-GMO, no high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors and such --- I spend more time in the grocery store reading labels that actually putting stuff in the cart . . .

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    1. I know... factor in avoiding nitrates and non-recyclable plastic packaging and what's left?

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  2. I have never been a picky eater, although there are some foods that just don't work for me: organ meats, escargot, bananas and cilantro, for example. That's more a matter of taste than a matter of conscience. I don't have the right enzyme set to digest raw onion, so that's out. But, on the whole, I'll try anything that I consider "real" food at least once. Back in the day, I experimented with a vegetarian diet, which made me seriously anemic. I then got sucked in by engineered soy-based food and finally decided that moderate amounts of food that hasn't been overly processed is the best route for me. No more tofu that's been tortured into some semblance of turkey, and no more turkey that's trying to pass for bacon. Despite manufacturer's claims, it can't possibly be healthier for you to eat food that has been manufactured.

    Moving from a rural area into civilization, however, has brought home a new realization that might seem odd. Without a farmer's market, like the really extensive one we have here, you have to actually be a farmer to get grass-fed beef or free range chicken. If you live in the country but depend on grocery stores, your chances of getting organic milk and wild-caught salmon plummet. I once read an article about all the healthy stuff I should be eating and realized that nothing on the list was commercially available in my backwoods county.

    These days I welcome my citified access to grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and the occasional duck egg, and am simply grateful that Taiwan has outlawed the eating of dogs and cats.

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    1. You're so right about cities. The benefit of Whole Foods is that the more mundane chains are following some of their leads.

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  3. In agreement with many of you, although I do loved marinated grilled octopus. Yum. I love New England summers when I can eat fresh and local everything (peaches!), some of it from my small garden out back, and we only get our meat and chicken from a lovely farm two towns away. Now son #2 is working at a farm down near Providence, and on Tuesday we met the pig we're about to buy a quarter of. Very well treated.

    I also think eating should always include giving thanks to the plant, tree, or animal from which we draw our sustenance. We owe them our lives.

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    1. agreed, nothing tastes like fresh picked.

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  4. I am any omnivore at home and will eat pretty much anything. Unlike others, I love eating both octopus and calamari! But when I was travelling outside of North America, I drew the line and would not eat dogs (China) or horse meat (China, Japan and some countries in Europe)!!

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    1. I'm a big calamari fan, too - it's got to be cooked right. Either super hot/fast or a long simmer and it's not tough.

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    2. Hallie: Yes, that's the trick. Either quick is hot/fast or a slow simmer, and then you will never get a tough, chewy calamari/squid dish! Other Reds have just have BAD calamari experiences.

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    3. I enjoy octopus soup - my Portuguese in-laws make it. It's fantastic!

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  5. The one plant I refuse to eat is cilantro. Might as well put a dollop of Dawn on my food. But that isn't due to anything noble about me. I am a genetic taster, and it tastes like soap.

    We spend a lot of money on organic chicken and cage free eggs and local produce. I like to can pickles and jams and such from what I can buy at the public market, love knowing what is in my food.

    Rarely do we eat red meat, just because, but I draw the line at worrying about fish. I've been living on it for decades, and the fish lobby should just get over it.

    No horse meat, and no dog although I threaten.

    Ann in Rochester who has been up since dawn because Penny Lane had to go potty and that means a trip downstairs so why bother to go back to bed.

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    1. I've heard that cilantro thing is genetic. I remember when I first tasted it 30 years ago I thought it tasted like perfume. Now I love it.

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    2. Flinta and I might be related. Cilantro tastes like soap to me, too.

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    3. Hub has a salsa garden and cilantro is a main portion of it. To me it's got a peppery taste. Would definitely dislike it if it was soapy. Gah!

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  6. Americans have a worldwide reputation as picky eaters, don't we? So many schools serve pizza every single day, just so the kids will have a choice they'll actually eat. I think that's a shame. When my kids were at home we used to try new things at the grocery periodically, and they are mostly pretty adventurous, as I am.

    On a trip to Peru, where guinea pig is the national dish, I did try some at a home-hosted dinner. But I wouldn't care to eat it on a regular basis, any more than the kangaroo or goat I've tried on other trips. Someone brought eel to book club when we read a book about eelers, but it was pretty unanimous that we'd all have to be pretty darned hungry to make a meal of it.

    My criteria is mostly for health reasons: mine, and the planet's. Our reliance on beef as our main source of protein is not good for the world, between the factory farming and the wide use of it for hamburgers, etc. Our family tends to substitute it with venison at our house, shot on our own farm. One or two deer a year is enough for us, and there are plenty of deer, really in most areas of the US. And it's a healthier protein source, for the most part. Our renters at the farm have embarked on a new project, raising chickens. I'm pretty excited for the coming fresh, free-range eggs, too.

    A friend won't eat "anything with a face", which is a good line to draw, I guess. And if push came to shove I could manage as a vegetarian. With more than seven billion people on the planet, we might have to.

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    1. When we were in Peru I had a tiny taste of guinea pig. Just couldn't do it. Though eel doesn't bother me at all. Problem with it is it's bony.

      "anything with a face"... hmmm. I think we're all drifting toward vegetarian.

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    2. Karen: I am planning a trip to Peru, so thanks for the heads up about guinea pig.

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    3. Grace, I never saw it on the menu anywhere, but we did see a guinea pig farm, which was hysterical. Several dozen guinea pigs in a stall.

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  7. I think the cilantro quandary is so interesting, Ann… Apparently it's a scientific reality that it tastes like soap to some people… And others can't understand why they think that way.

    In other news, I have never heard of eating guinea pig… and happy about that.

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    1. I hadn't either until we went to Peru. It's like our Christmas turkey. For special holiday only.

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  8. I was raised on a small farm--our own cows, pigs, chickens. Sometimes we became so attached to an animal that it never entered the food chain--like the pig that lived in the doghouse with our border collie. He eventually was given away as breeding stock. Ditto the little bull my mother named Peanut. I never went vegetarian, though, because, like Gigi, I struggled with anemia. But I am conscious of where my food comes from and I also ascribe to buying local and fresh, even if it means the food budget doesn't go as far. No octopus, no eel, no squid, no dolphin, no guinea pig--even if it were to be a local delicacy wherever I might find myself. And as for plants knowing fear or pain--when I had a garden, I had happy plants--and I was grateful and happy every time I went to the garden either to work or harvest.

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    1. Laughing, Flora, because right now I'm in the middle of watching Babe.

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  9. This is reminding me of guests we had to brunch a few weeks ago. I asked if they had any food issues and he goes "No food issues. But Marianne can't eat meat or dairy." MEAT OR DAIRY?

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    1. What on earth did you serve them?

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    2. Orzo and artichoke and red pepper salad. Two big fritattas of eggs and red pepper and asparagus... one without parmesan cheese. And an antipasto platter that had cheese and meat in separate quarters from the olives and vegetables. Bread. Lots of bread.

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    3. So, I wonder how he didn't consider Marianne's aversions or restrictions a food issue.

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  10. I keep it simple. Vegetarian. (no,no,not Vegan, because for me, that way lies starvation).

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    1. I so admire this, Susan. I do plan to try again - maybe when the Hooligans are launched. If only I could live on dessert.

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    2. Yeah, dessert tends to lean towards vegetarian. Especially chocolate.

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  11. I will not eat liver or kidneys are anything of that ilk. Just no. I grew up eating Tex-Mex and still remember when cilantro was not an ingredient. I hate cilantro. We tried eel in Spain; I'm not a convert. I try to buy grass-fed beef. I will not buy any seafood that has been caught or processed anywhere in Asia. Last weekend we ventured down to Matagorda Bay and bought some locally caught jumbo shrimp. And dined at a local joint on shrimp, local oysters, etc. Yum. And yes. I do eat raw oysters as well as cooked. I stay away from veal because of the conditions they're raised in although I did succumb to having some in Spain. Fried calamari is good. I've never tried tongue. I have had head cheese when in Louisiana. I have had alligator; crawdads are almost a staple down here. I did try the infamous haggis in Scotland. The portion we got was actually delicious. I draw the line at sausages in Ireland and England. Not a sausage fan particularly but theirs are NOT good.

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    1. Haggis is good! Unless you ask what's in it, though honestly I think it's mostly grain.

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  12. Deborah - did you get the tongue at Kuby's? I love that place, but must admit to never trying the tongue.

    I love calamari if it is cooked and breaded just right -- if it's rubbery, supposedly it's been cooked too long.

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    1. Too long.. and not long enough. If it's cooked a really long time it gets tender again. Sort of the same with beef.

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  13. I would give the guinea pig a taste, but it really doesn't appeal. I've had kangaroo in Australia, which reminded me of chicken, and horse in Paris, by mistake. We were kids, and my parents realized partway through the meal that we were eating horse, not cow. They opted not to tell us because at that time, we were spending a lot of time riding horses and bonding with them. The truth was revealed later and lives on in family lore.

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  14. I've thought about that, that maybe all we should be eating is that which drops off trees. So nuts, over ripe fruit. Doesn't really allow for a nutritious meal. I suppose if you kept chickens and let them range freely the eggs you find would be allowed. I'm not much of a meat eater at all, mostly for reasons others have mentioned, but I'm not even leaning towards veganism although my son tells me there are so many good choice and restaurants out there. I admit I haven't even tried Ben & Jerry's vegan ice cream, well you can't call it ice cream, but son says it is good. And expensive as is other vegan products I've seen in the store.

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    1. NUTS! I was surprised no on mentioned them. The problem with mot vegan restaurants I've been to is they leave out the taste.

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  15. I'm with Ingrid on the no tongue. I do not ever want to see that in front of me. I feel the same way about brains. Liver, well, I used to fix beef liver for my husband when we were first married before I decided I didn't have to do that. The bloodiness and the smell of the liver was just awful, although the taste was okay. I do, however, fried chicken livers, even though I haven't fixed them in ages. I don't eat much fried foods these days.

    I will not eat octopus. First, I tried it on a salad in D.C. once, and it was a tiny octopus in the salad that was rubbery and awful. I have no desire to try it prepared any other way either. Also, I have the book by Sy Montgomery (The Good Pig author), The Soul of an Octopus, which apparently focuses on the intelligence and delightful personalities of the octopuses (I wanted to use octopi, but, apparently, it isn't the preferred form). I haven't read the book yet, but I have become interested in the octopus as an object of fascination. I bought a glass octopus and a necklace with an octopus on it during my recent trip to Hawaii.

    I also can't bring myself to eat veal. I don't ever want to eat horse or dog or guinea pig. I'm trying to think of what local delicacy was placed in front of Kate Capshaw in the Indian Jones movie. I think it had an eye in it. None of that for me either. No dolphin, although Rhys did mention that the dolphin fish is a different matter than the mammal. I think my daughter tried the fish.

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  16. Tripes, will not touch it. Too ugly to eat. My parents loved them and tried to everything they knew to get me to at least taste them. That was the rule in my house - taste it, if you don't like it, fine, but at least you made the decision. Never happened, couldn't get it past my eyes.

    I do try to eat fresh and local. Love fish, but won't eat farmed, only wild caught. By the way, the mammal is a porpoise, the fish is a dolphin. I think the confusion is why we see mahi mahi on the menu so often. I too would try for vegetarian, but the one time I did I had the same reaction as Jenn. I can still recall the feeling. It was right after I saw Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror. If you remember the scene where she's waiting for her boyfriend to show up...well that's how I felt just waiting for someone to remind me I wasn't eating meat.

    Because of my parents attitude, I've tried most everything else, although sometimes I haven't known what I was eating. Sometimes because I just didn't know (guest) or wasn't told (restaurant opening), and I've discovered I have simple tastes. Safer that way!

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  17. No dogs or cats. No bushmeat. There was a restaurant in our town which advertised kangaroo steaks, lion, water buffalo...mercifully it went out of business within a year.
    I've heard the bit about pigs being nearly as smart as humans, and I'd like to say I quit eating them. I'd like to say it, but... well... barbecue. So instead I just feel guilty when I do it.

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  18. Would NOT eat Octopus Nor Shark! I was shocked to discover there is Shark Fin soup! Yuck! And my Dad, who served in the military, told me that in Asian countries, people eat dogs! Yuck! I remember when I was little, I learned that meat came from cows and I said I did not want to eat meat. The explanation was that we need protein. Now I know there are other sources of protein.

    This is the first time I heard of smart food. Though I have heard of brain food. My great uncle's wife Never liked Fish and would not eat any kind of fish at all. In the last few years of her life, she had Alzheimer's Disease. I have no idea if there is a connection, since I am not a medical doctor.

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