Japanese Revere, Eat Insects

You might notice I've been on a Japan kick recently, so here's a pice from Aeon in which Andrea Appleton describes Japanese insect love

Insects have been celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries. ‘The Lady Who Loved Insects’ is a classic story of a caterpillar-collecting lady of the 12th century court; the Tamamushi, or ‘Jewel Beetle’ Shrine, is a seventh century miniature temple, once shingled with 9,000 iridescent beetle forewings.

Insects continue to rear their antennae in modern Japan. Consider ‘Mothra’, the giant caterpillar-moth monster who is second only to Godzilla in film appearances; the many bug-inspired characters of ‘Pokémon’, and any number of manga (including an insect-themed detective series named after Fabre). Travel agencies advertise firefly-watching tours, there are televised beetle-wrestling competitions and beetle petting zoos. Department stores and even vending machines sell live insects.

Nor do the Japanese merely admire insects: they eat them too. In the Chūbu region, in central Japan, villagers rear wasps at home for food, and forage for giant hornets that are eaten at all life stages, while fried grasshoppers or inago are a luxury foodstuff. Entomophagy once had a place in Western culture too: the ancient Greeks ate cicadas, the Romans ate grubs. But while modern Westerners blithely eat aquatic arthropods – lobster, shrimp, crab, crayfish – we’ve lost our taste for the terrestrial kind.


Raw Meat Punches Holes in Your Brain

Mettbroetchen

European friends often mock me for my aversion to raw meat. 'So American', they say, fingering their monocles and twirling their mustaches. But I defend my disgust for raw animal flesh. Mankind realized fire made meat good thousands of years ago -- forgoing cooked meat makes as much sense as trying to live without wheels. You wouldn't decapitate a pig and drink the blood spurting from its arteries, so why would you bite into its raw muscle? Besides, raw meat is full of bacilli, viruses, cysts, spirochetes, worms -- you name it.

Yet the Europeans, disdaining my advice, continue to eat it raw. Germans in the form of Mettwurst (seen above spread on a roll -- würg), the French in the form of steak tartare. Generally, they survive. The key, they will tell you, is freshness and quality.

But no matter how fresh the meat, it still contains nasty brain-changing parasites, says this fascinating article in The Atlantic about toxoplasmosis:

The parasite, which is excreted by cats in their feces, is called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii or Toxo for short) and is the microbe that causes toxoplasmosis—the reason pregnant women are told to avoid cats’ litter boxes. Since the 1920s, doctors have recognized that a woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can transmit the disease to the fetus, in some cases resulting in severe brain damage or death. T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage. Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells—or at least that’s the standard medical wisdom.

But if Flegr is right, the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”

You can avoid toxoplasmosis by not eating cat parasites. So far, sounds pretty simple. But not eating cat parasites is harder than it might seem:

After an infected cat defecates, Flegr learned, the parasite is typically picked up from the soil by scavenging or grazing animals—notably rodents, pigs, and cattle—all of which then harbor it in their brain and other body tissues. Humans, on the other hand, are exposed not only by coming into contact with litter boxes, but also, he found, by drinking water contaminated with cat feces, eating unwashed vegetables, or, especially in Europe, by consuming raw or undercooked meat. Hence the French, according to Flegr, with their love of steak prepared saignant—literally, “bleeding”—can have infection rates as high as 55 percent. (Americans will be happy to hear that the parasite resides in far fewer of them, though a still substantial portion: 10 to 20 percent.) Once inside an animal or human host, the parasite then needs to get back into the cat, the only place where it can sexually reproduce—and this is when, Flegr believed, behavioral manipulation might come into play.

The rest of the article details the mind-breaking human behavior changes caused by those hundreds (thousands? millions?) of toxoplasmosis cysts in your brain, including reduced attention, risk-taking, even changing your reaction to smells.

Germans, I've found something new for you to be terrified of. You're welcome!


America Wants to Sell You a Foodless Future

Soylent liquid meal replacement, 'a functional simulation of food', is now a thing:

‘According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people spend about 90 minutes a day on food,’ Rhinehart explained. That figure is an average that includes grocery shopping, food preparation, consumption, and doing the dishes. By opting out of food, and replacing it with Soylent – named after the soy lentil burgers in the sci-fi novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966) by Harry Harrison, rather than its much better-known film adaptation Soylent Green (1973) which came up with the cannibalistic plotline – Rhinehart told me that he’s saved ‘easily an hour a day, plus’.

Rhinehart came up with the idea for a nutritionally complete liquid food substitute in December 2012, spurred by dissatisfaction at his expensive, time-consuming and nutritionally dubious diet of fast food, frozen quesadillas, and pasta. In February 2013, he wrote a blog post entitled ‘How I Stopped Eating Food’, in which he reported feeling like the ‘six-million-dollar man’ after just 30 days of replacing food with a ‘thick, odourless, beige liquid’ made up of ‘every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial’.

...

...Soylent claims to fulfil all your body’s nutritional needs. ‘It contains all of the elements of a healthy diet,’ confirms the website, ‘with limited contribution from less desirable components such as sugars, saturated fats, or cholesterol.’ Rhinehart’s formula blends vitamins and minerals at the levels recommended by the US Institute of Medicine, tested on himself and a handful of friends, and refined under the supervision of Xavier Pi-Sunyer, professor of medicine the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University.

Now that we've overcome chewing, can America's Hygiene Magicians® free us of other bodily functions? 


Bourdain on Butter

From Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential:

Butter. I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favorite
restaurant, chances are, you’re eating a ton of butter. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost
always the first and last thing in the pan. We sauté in a mixture of butter and oil for that nice
brown, caramelized color, and we finish nearly every sauce with it (we call this monter au
beurre); that’s why my sauce tastes richer and creamier and mellower than yours, why it’s got
that nice, thick, opaque consistency. Believe me, there’s a big crock of softened butter on
almost every cook’s station, and it’s getting a heavy workout. Margarine? That’s not food. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? I can. If you’re planning on using margarine in anything, you can stop reading now, because I won’t be able to help you.


Zedler's Recipe for Spiced Beer Against Melancholy

800px-Adriaen_Brouwer_010

A couple of German libraries, assisted by the German Research Council, have scanned all 63,000 pages (g) of 'Johann Heinrich Zedler's Great Complete Universal Encyclopedia of All the Sciences and Arts', published in 1732. It's even searchable. And it's fantastic.

I searched for melancolia in various spellings and came across this recipe for 'Spiced Beer Against Melancholey'. The antiquated spelling and Fraktur script make it a bit hard to read, but the recipe seems to have at least 15 or so ingredients, including young beer, 'hermo-dates(?)', carrot seeds, radishes, white wine, coriander seeds, juniper berries, St. John's Wort tips, and much more:

Krauter beer melancholey

There's got to be some philologist out there who can interpret the weights, measures, and cooking instructions. We can only hope all the spices are still available.

Let's all get together and whip up a giant cauldron of this stuff and get rid of our Melancholey once and for all! Who's with me?


Surströmming: Horror in a Can

One of mankind's more regrettable discoveries is that you can eat fish at a certain stage of decomposition and survive. Confusing ought with is, some people then decided that because it was possible to do this, it should be done. If you were ever to be transported back to ancient Rome, you would immediately be confronted with the omnipresence of garum, the fermented fish sauce that was used as a seasoning and widely mocked as repulsive even in Roman times. The Vietnamese also use fish sauce to this day.

But the Swedes take it one step back, refusing to wait until the fish liquefied. A friend recently brought back from Sweden a bulging tin can of 'fermented' (that is, half-rotten) chunks of herring, a Swedish specialty called 'surströmming'. A genteel Swiss food critic described this dish as 'horror in a can' (g) and described a tasting 'party' thus:

The biggest challenge when eating strömming is to vomit only after the first bite, not before. The word 'bestial' aptly describes the odor, the taste is just plain disgusting. Spicy, bitter, tangy, and sour. No-one in the group was able to take more than 5 grams into their mouths.

My friend, who staged a tasting party of his own, reached deep into his richly-stocked clearinghouse of metaphors to describe it:

Unspeakably vile. I managed one bite without throwing up and couldn’t get down any more than that. It was a taste that resembled a rotting corpse in a plastic bag left in an alley behind an Indian restaurant in the sun for a few days. It was like what I imagine it would taste like blowing a syphilitic homeless man who has pissed himself for the past three days straight. It wasn’t pungent or offensive in smell beyond a ripe fart, it wasn’t sharp, or tangy at all, but dear lord – in the mouth, it was like licking the worst thing imaginable. The sheer sickly putrefaction taste just conjured up dead flies in the bottom of a cheap beer bottle in a deserted crack house.

In the following video, the indomitable Aussie Louis barely manages to choke down some surströmming, which is really something, seeing as he has no problem eating roadkill and live scorpions


It's Offensive Pastry Time Again in the Rhineland

It's carnival time here in the Rheinland, which means it's time for offensive baked goods! Around here, we have the Mohrenkopf (g). or 'Moor's head'. These appear just in time for the growing controversy in Germany about outdated language in childrens' books (g) and racially-loaded imagery in everyday life (noted right here in 2012 and 2005).

I found this beauty at my local Bader bakery:

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He suffered a bit of maxillofacial trauma on the way home, but -- most importantly -- the tiny cowboy hat stayed on. I like to think of this pastry not as a crude stereotype, but as a loving hommage to the unjustly neglected black cowboy. I called him Sheriff Bart (see clip).

Unfortunately, things soon took a tragic turn. Upon removing the tiny hat, it became clear that it had somehow become fused to the unfortunate Sheriff's very skull. The second photograph, in which Bart's soft, foamy yellow brain is clearly visible, highlights his almost-unbelievable composure. How many of us would still be smiling after such massive cranial trauma?

Eventually, to put Bart out of his misery, I ate him. He was delicious.

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