When I was a psychologist in a mental hospital I had a colleague who was from China. Ming had come to the US for his PhD and had stayed after graduating. One day after doing our rounds and encountering some really strange and disgusting behavior among our patients we started talking about the most disgusting things we had ever seen. Ming became really quiet and in a low tone said he had experienced something in China he would never forget. He then described a banquet he had attended many years ago. It was a very special dinner in which guests sat around a table that curiously had a hole in the center. The table was constructed so that a monkey could be secured so that only its head came through the hole in the center. Ming then described how servants brought in a clean, live monkey and locked it tight under the table with a metal collar so that it head was exposed. The host then took a special hammer and cracked the monkey's skull, pulling away pieces of the skull while the monkey screamed. Diners then spooned out the living brain of the monkey and consumed it raw while the monkey writhed in its death throes. Ming said he was sickened by this dinner, but apparently being invited to the 'monkey feast' was a huge honor and he didn't want to offend his host who was some big shot official..so he pretended to eat the brain, or at least that is what he told us. Hardened as we were by working every day in the mental hospital we were pretty disgusted by Ming's story. How could people be so cruel? Yet if look closely at the factory system that transforms animals in our culture - from chickens, to cows, to pigs - to food it is every bit as bad. And this says a lot about us as a people...
I consider myself to be somewhat of a 'culinary anthropologist' in that I believe food tells a lot about people and their culture. When we examine the origins of different food and how they came to be used in specific cultures we quickly drop into an interesting study in sociology, psychology, politics, and history. For a glimpse into the world of strange food check out the following:
Strange Food Art (scroll down it gets better)
More Weird Food
Weird Food Laws
Disgusting Delicacies (not for the faint of stomach)
Surstromming (Scandinavian fermented fish in a can)
Harkarl (putrified shark)
Unusual Foods from Indonesia (don't watch if you like pigs, bats, or cute puppies)
Here is an Italian delicacy one of my former students reminded me of...
Also check out one of my favorite artists and extreme foodie Thu Tran
Thu writes and stars in the independent Film Channel show Food Party which has to be the most bizarre thing on television - highly recommended! (And no monkeys are killed - only a 'Cave Duck')