Category Archives: Food

I Hate Chicken

It’s quite amazing, but in the U.S. anyway, it’s hard to find any fast food that doesn’t serve chicken, chicken, or chicken.  Why is that?

Because chickens are easy to grow, grow from babies to maturity very quickly, don’t eat much (when calculated over time), eat cheap food, and as a bonus, lay eggs in the meantime.

So my antipathy toward eating chicken started this way:  I used to have a friend who was a semi-vegetarian.  I thought that was admirable, and I like mostly vegetarian foods anyway, but couldn’t see myself giving up meat.  Who can live without bacon?

I decided I would focus on one animal only to start with, and that was chicken.  I would give up chicken, and then work on the other animals.  It didn’t hurt that at the time, I had recently seen an undercover video made by the Humane Society of the U.S. showing workers in a chicken house slamming chickens into a concrete wall and killing them, just for entertainment.

Never mind cattle feed lots so large they can be seen from space.  Never mind pig farms.  One thing at a time.

Here’s how that’s worked out.  I still eat chicken, though very rarely.  I’m a complete failure at eating according to principle.  I will only eat chicken wings, and then only two, because if I eat six, it means they had to kill three chickens for them.  (Not that they wouldn’t have anyway.)  Sometimes I get a two-piece chicken meal from somewhere, which consists of a wing and a breast.  I eat the wing, and I eat the skin from the chicken breast and throw the rest away.  I wish someone could come up with a way to skin chickens without killing the chicken.  You know, kind of like shearing a sheep.  (Except sheep-shearing doesn’t remove skin.)  Last I checked, skin is critical to survival.

So what’s happened is that not only do I feel guilty for eating chicken at all, I’ve taught myself to gag during  the process.  I didn’t realize that you could voluntarily condition yourself this way.

I’m hopeless.  I’ll never be able to do this.  And I think I shouldn’t have tried.  When my semi-vegetarian friend became very ill, she had to start eating meat again, for the protein.  She felt terrible.  I said, do what the Native Americans did:  ask forgiveness for taking its life so that you could live.

Me too.  I’m not sure that any of us can successfully be vegetarians.  From an evolutionary standpoint, we aren’t made that way.


This afternoon, I did something I haven’t done in just over 20 years.  I went to McDonald’s, and went inside, and sat down and had lunch.  I’ve been to McDonald’s in those years, but only to the drive-through, and usually for breakfast.  I’ve been through the drive-through for lunch and had double cheeseburgers, the occasional Big Mac, and recently, their fruit salad.  But never inside, even just to place an order.  So…why is that?

Because from 1986 until early 1993, I was a manager for McDonald’s.  It took some years for me to even go through the drive-through, but going inside was not an option.  I was afraid it would bring up too many bad memories.

Today, I went for a couple of reasons.  First, I had a serious and irrational craving for a Filet-o-Fish sandwich.  With extra cheese.  (Always order extra cheese, otherwise you only get half a slice.  Not that you can really call American cheese actual cheese, but still.)  And that craving was not quite so irrational–I saw an ad on TV.  It’s on sale for $1.59.  And I like them.  Yes, I know there are healthier alternatives–grilled fish sandwiches–but I like that little square, battered, fried, fish-like thing.  I also had a small fry and a milk. (Hint:  Never buy fountain drinks. But I don’t drink soft drinks anyway.)

Then I sat and observed the employees and the customers.  I was curious.  Who ever goes to McDonald’s anymore, at least inside?  Okay, well here’s one:  before I ever went inside, there was a woman about my age, parked next to me, apparently cleaning out her SUV.  She was wearing sandals, and had on light blue toenail polish.  Okay, that’s one.

Inside, just ahead of me in line, was a family (?) which appeared to consist of an overweight white mother, a black teenaged son with dreadlocks, and a younger teenaged daughter with the most enormous breasts I’ve ever seen on an adolescent girl.  She was about 4 feet tall, also overweight, wearing a pink tank top, and a bra, thank goodness, with the straps showing on her shoulders.  Is this like People of Walmart?

In the employee department, it appears not much had changed.  Both the cashiers at the counter were tiny little wispy African-American girls who mostly looked scared to death.  Probably due to the McDonald’s motivational method:  Smile and be happy and friendly, or we’ll kill you.

There were three managers present, recognizable by their different colored shirts, and everyone in the store was working their asses off.  It’s a little iffy to go to any fast food restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, as I did, because quality standards start to slip.  But this particular store seems to be hopping at all times.  Which was good for me.

I don’t even like French fries, and ordered them only because I wanted some different flavor to munch on besides the fish sandwich.  These were perfect.  Blazing hot, and perfectly salted.  Golden brown, but soft on the inside.  That just took me back…I could have hopped over the counter (okay, I couldn’t have hopped), but I could have been right there cooking, salting and bagging those fries like it was yesterday.  (Three minutes at 330 degrees!)

I found myself feeling really sorry for the employees, though, especially the managers.  They were looking a bit disheveled, and you knew they’d been going like gangbusters for at least 5 or 6 hours already, with miles to go before they sleep.

I will never, ever miss it, but there is still a certain nostalgia there.  Stories I remember, and the camaraderie my fellow managers and I felt, as if we were in a combat zone together.

So I’d say the McDonald’s of today is the same as the McDonald’s of 20 years ago, and the McDonald’s of 20 years ago is the same as 20 years before that.  The principles are the same.  McDonald’s started in the ’50’s, the age of the automobile, when people could travel more than ever.  And what people wanted was food that was the same as they could get at home.  Americans are more adventurous now.  Okay, some Americans.

But that formula works for McDonald’s.  The main difference now is better gadgets.

Crazy Diets

There was the grapefruit diet.  The cabbage diet.  There’s the Atkins diet, which is the one where I think you can eat all the bacon you want, you just can’t eat bread.  There’s the South Beach diet, which I think is some modified version of Atkins, but I get them all confused.  There’s Weight Watchers (which I consider to be the perennially most successful) and Jenny Craig.  There is the all-protein diet, the all-carb diet, and the none of the above diet.

Dieting is not something I do on a regular basis, but I do it on occasion.  The impetus is that when I last went to the doctor, I weighed 126 pounds.  This isn’t bad in itself, although it’s dangerously close to 130, which I consider the Rubicon.  The problem is that it’s six pounds more than I weighed six months ago, so I’m going in the wrong direction.  Time to put on the brakes.

So here is my personal diet plan:  pay attention.  That’s it, pretty much in a nutshell.  I don’t deny myself anything I really love.  Say, ice cream, or butter. If I do, I’ll fail.  But I won’t eat it very often, and I won’t eat much of it.

Mostly I pay attention to calories. Of course, the experts say there is some danger in relying solely on calorie counting.  You can’t count a 1oo plus can of Coke as the same as 100 calories of fruit.  But I’m not in any danger of that.  Partly because I don’t drink soft drinks.  But I love fruits and vegetables.  I hardly ever eat any non-fruit sugar.  So to an extent, I’m already halfway there.

I have to laugh at myself.  I once went on a diet many years ago and here’s what I would eat every weekday for lunch:  a small number of saltine crackers, a boiled egg, a small can of green beans, and a small can of mushrooms.  Let’s not talk about the amount of sodium in canned food.  But green beans have like two calories and mushrooms have zero.   Then of course, on weekends, I would consume an entire cow.  Okay, I’m just kidding.  But I was miserable. Plus I had to gag to get the green beans down–they are my least favorite vegetable.

This week was challenging.  I went out to eat twice.  First my boss came into town and we went to lunch at a Japanese restaurant.  (Note:  no one will ever get fat eating Japanese food.)  I had the vegetable tempura.  Yes, it’s fried, but remember what I said about not denying yourself certain things.

The next day I went to the Go Pink! luncheon (honoring local survivors of breast cancer).  It was at a Country Club, where clearly, people don’t go for the food. As a bonus, I almost got run over by an eighty-ish guy on a golf cart.  I expected rubber chicken.  What I got was fried chicken and some sort of dried-out over-cooked pork (which might have been turkey).  Run of the mill salad.  I don’t eat lettuce, although I did put some on my plate to avoid looking weird while I ate cucumbers and red onion in ranch dressing.  My favorite was the broccoli casserole, which had these tiny little cubelets of a yellow cheese-like product in it, which resisted melting.  It was very good if you closed your eyes.  Also, I ate a roll.  And a pink cupcake, artfully displayed as a centerpiece on the tables.  But I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  It was otherwise very sweet and humbling.

The rest of the week, I ate things like hummus and pita chips.  Brie and pita chips.  White grapes and saltines spread with butter.  (My favorite snack since childhood.)  And oatmeal.  And milk, always milk, just less of it.

But I have to tell you, it’s working.  Proving that Fakename’s diet plan works:  pay attention.  If you do, you will order a smaller steak and eat more of the broccoli casserole, mystery cheese-like ingredient included.

Grocery Voyeurism (New Episode)

It’s been a while since we’ve visited this topic, or the topic of food in general, but I didn’t stop being a grocery voyeur, nor did I stop being interested in (and eating) food.

To refresh your memory, grocery voyeurism involves observing the items the person in front of you is buying in the express checkout lane, and making up stories about it.  You should try it.  It’s fun.  So say the person has a dozen eggs and a can of spray furniture polish.  Okay, you are having guests over and need to polish the dining room table, and you are baking a cake for dessert.  There are many alternate theories here.

I started this because standing in line, even a short one, makes me crazy.  If there is more than one person ahead of me, I read a book.

One day last week I was in line behind an older Asian lady who had four items:  a container of grapes (half red, half white), a container of cookies from the bakery, one parsnip, and one mystery vegetable the cashier didn’t recognize.  Me neither.  So the cashier asks the customer, What is this?  And the Asian lady shrugs and says she doesn’t know.  You don’t know?  Okay, wait a minute.  Let me get this straight.

It instantly brought to mind all the stereotypes about Asian cooking you have ever heard.  Like we don’t know what this is, but let’s see if we can eat it.  We will put it in a soup and see what happens.  If you keel over and die while clutching your throat, we can assume it’s poisonous.  Although maybe not, if we cooked it a different way, a la puffer fish.

In all fairness, it looked like some sort of root vegetable.  It was almost round, and vaguely purplish.  So you could assume that you could roast it or slice it and put it in…a soup, like a carrot.  Apparently the cashiers have pictures of food on their cash registers, so while the cashier is scanning those, I offered helpfully, “Is it a turnip?”  I knew that wasn’t right, but it sort of looked like a turnip that was the wrong size and shape.

The cashier is unsuccessful and is about to call a manager when the cashier in the other lane just behind her says, it’s a rutabaga!  “Our” cashier checks her screen again just to be sure, and sure enough, that’s what it was.  Now we all know.  Me, the cashier, and the customer who bought it.

Looking back, I now think the customer did know what it was, but didn’t know the English name for it.  So she didn’t mean that she didn’t know what it was, she just didn’t know how to tell the cashier what it was.  And over a small thing such as this, this is how cultural biases and prejudices start.  You know, “They” eat weird stuff.  “They” are not like “Us”.

People say that music is the Universal Language.  Probably so.  But so is food.  It may create barriers in some cases, but mostly, I think, it breaks them down. There is some sort of craving we have as humans to connect.  We are willing to share “their” food, and offer “ours”, because whatever our differences, we do share a universal need for food.

And now after all that uncharactistic profundity, let’s examine the humble rutabaga.  First of all, I was kind of right!  It’s more or less a kind of turnip, thought to be a hybrid between a turnip and a cabbage.   A couple of its other names are swede (or Swedish turnip) and yellow turnip.  (They are yellow in the inside.)

The two following photos are from Wikipedia.

A herd of rutabagas

One of the most interesting things about rutabagas is that in Ireland and Scotland, it isn’t pumpkins, it’s turnips (or rutabagas) that are used as “jack-0-lanterns”.  Frankly, if I were an evil spirit, I would be warded off too by the carving below.


Depression…Or Not

I pretty much earned the Girl Scout badge for depression, although it was a long time ago.  But because of it (and lots of therapy), I can say that I recognize the signs very well.  And this week, I was headed toward depression, which culminated last night.  Fortunately, this is very rare, in fact so rare, I barely recognized it.  Because I had to learn to change so much, to perceive things differently.

But depression FEELS different.  It isn’t the same as being sad.  It isn’t the same as having a bad week.  I’ve been both for at least a week.  And as always, it’s a combination of things.

I can remember having a conversation with the psychiatrist about the kinds of things that made me depressed, and I would say, but that can’t be it.  It’s just too minor to make me feel this way.  And he would say, Yes, but what about Y and Z?  Couldn’t X, Y, and Z together make you feel this bad?  When I said, surely not, he would say Why not?  Hmmm.  So we would (or I would) painstakingly pick apart X, Y, and Z, and put them back together in a new configuration.  A way that wasn’t as scary and made just as much sense as my old way.  He was a genius, although I had to do the work.

So this week, here’s what happened.  I read a book that left me feeling very unsettled.  My sister’s dog died.  My boss sent me a snarky email.  (Okay, that one was easier to get over, but it just added to the general downward spiral.)  My bookkeeper and my assistant manager at work did a couple of really stupid things and I had to have a word with them.  (It IS my job, but I still hated it.  They are both marvelous, admirable people.) I found out that my neighbor’s dogs had been seized by Animal Control and one of them was euthanized.  Since I reported the neighbors in the first place, this is of course all my fault.  (Not.)  I’m having trouble with my computer.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping.  I always have very vivid dreams that I can remember, but I’ve been having nightmares that wake me up.  Yesterday the newspaper posted the videos of interviews they did with breast cancer survivors, which I participated in.  And that was the last straw.  All I could think about was how old I looked, and to a lesser degree, how I should have worn something different.

Last night I couldn’t even go to sleep, much less stay asleep.

Spiraling into depression is hard to describe.  It’s like falling down a well.  I had forgotten.  So what you have to do is refuse to fall all the way.  You have to grab onto the bricks on the way down and cling, even if your fingernails break. You have to dig your toes into the cracks between the bricks, like a rock climber, and cling.

The mental equivalent is that you have to force yourself to focus on the good things you saw or experienced lately, because they are there if you can find them.  A friend (that I didn’t think was speaking to me) unexpectedly dropped by my office and took me to lunch.  While reading at my picnic table this week, some sort of little black waspy thing that was annoying me captured some sort of very fat white larva.  It was apparently so heavy that the black waspy thing couldn’t fly.  So when I tried to wave it away, it would just waddle to another part of the table, because letting go of the prize was not an option.  I was so amused I was practically in tears.  But there is a serious lesson there…it might seem like a small thing.  It might seem like too small a thing to counteract the bad things, but it is, if you will let it be.  Plus, never let go of the bricks.

Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I was surfing TV channels. First I watched a little of Discovery ID (No.  Women killing people.)  Then NatGeo Wild.  (Okay better.  Wild cats killing food.) But the next program was about spiders.  No.  No spiders.  I finally ended up at the Cooking Channel where Alton Brown was doing eggplant dishes, followed by bananas.

I fell asleep somehere around Bananas Foster.  Today I feel cured.  Who knew that all it would take was eggplant?

Fakename’s Animal Planet: the Pangolin

I’m not sure I even knew there was such an animal until this week, when my Facebook friend Alix from Perth, Western Australia, posted a picture of one.  Then just today, my friend Rita posted a picture on Facebook of an armadillo.  I thought they had similarities to the pangolin, but as it turns out, not so much.

A pangolin climbing a tree.  Here’s another one.

They are very cute.  They curl up into a ball when they sleep.  Here’s a picture of two baby pangolins sleeping.

Pangolins are found mostly in Africa and parts of southeast Asia.  As described in the article to follow, this is due to the fact that their meat is used for food and medicines in these areas, and their scaly skin is used in clothing.  It’s forbidden to hunt or trade them, but they are served openly in restaurants.  Similar to lobsters, they are kept alive until a restaurant customer orders one.

So brace yourselves.  This is a picture of two pangolins who have been de-scaled and are awaiting cooking.  Needless to say, the de-scaling process kills them.  In the restaurants mentioned in the last paragraph, the pangolins are apparently boiled with the scales on, so that customers can keep the scales.  Kind of like finding a pearl in an oyster.

As horrifying as this is, I can no longer blame people for eating whatever they can get their hands on.  I do have problems when that eating is not out of necessity.  When it is a “delicacy”.  When it is eaten for the thrill factor.  I would rather see the species survive than eat it, or see other people eat it.  And I have the luxury of declining to eat endangered or threatened species.  (And frankly, there are a lot of species that are not threatened that I won’t eat either–like squirrels.  And alligators.  And grasshoppers.)

I hate it that whales are killed, but the Inuit depend on whales to survive.  It isn’t like you can raise cattle in the Arctic.  So what would you have them do?  Sit there while we ship them beef?

For more about pangolins and their cute little selves, here is the article I took much of my information from.

Dietary Habits…Or Not

It’s dawned on me for a while that I possibly have the worst eating habits of anyone on the planet.  I know all the things you are supposed to do.  Here are a few (not an exhaustive list):

Eat several small meals a day.  Never skip breakfast.  Eat foods that are healthy for you, including several servings of fruits and vegetables.  Even if you’re a vegetarian, eat protein in some form.  Ignore the food scares.  Carrots will not give you cancer, and eggs won’t kill you either.  And what the hell is that thing about the food pyramid or whatever it is now?  Has anybody ever paid any attention to that?

Okay.  Here is Fakename’s food rule.  Only eat when you’re hungry.  I’ve used this rule for umpty gazillion years and the result is that it has kept me relatively thin my whole life. I never eat because it’s “time”.  I never eat anything just because it’s good for me. And when a system works for you, it’s hard, if not impossible, to give it up.  Even if it’s wrong.

My system is not foolproof.

There are many days when I’m not hungry at all, and have to force myself to eat something.  But I’ve become accustomed to that and often cruise the grocery aisles hoping for a spark of inspiration.

Lucky for me, I actually like those foods that are good for you.  I’m not a Cheetos addict, in other words.  So on those days when I’m “not hungry”, it’s not at all uncommon for me to eat a piece of chicken and some fruit.

And then there are days where I all of a sudden become ravenous.  I think it’s sort of the same phenomenon dieters experience.  They can be good only so long, then they are ready to eat the doorknobs and the neighbor’s dog.

I had one of those days yesterday.  One of my employees brought me lunch that he had cooked himself, so I had to eat it, right?  Not that you had to twist my arm.  This lunch was a classic Southern combo:  a breaded fried pork chop (a thin one, thankfully); White Acre peas (aka “field peas”), and yellow rice.  A note about White Acre peas.  Normally they are food for animals, like cows.  Somewhere along the line, someone discovered they taste really good.  The only difference between us and cows, is that we don’t eat the leaves too.

He flavored them with some sort of pig parts that had small bones.  Probably was the feet, but I was afraid to ask.  He told me later that he also cooked them with okra, but since he didn’t know whether or not I liked okra, he picked it all out.  Too bad.  I love okra.

A couple of weeks ago, another employee gave me a small container of butterbeans, flavored with ham (you know, actual ham, added later, not nearly as fun).  She told me that that morning, as she was putting them in the container, her boyfriend said,  I thought you were going to take her some beans.  This is not enough to keep a bird alive.  She said, you don’t understand.  Fakename IS a bird.

So I had them for lunch, along with (count them) two chicken wings.  I said to the employee, Go back and tell Keith that I had trouble finishing all those beans.

Back to yesterday’s lunch.  It was very salty, and I have to tell you, you almost cannot get too salty for me. I love salt,  Evil Substance that it is.  But this was definitely on the fringe.  As a result, later that afternoon, I had an insatiable craving for something acidic.  I had some grapefruit in our little work refrigerator, and before I knew it, I had eaten the entire jar (according to the jar, it was 1 pound, 4 ounces).

I ate a few Godiva chocolate pearls after that.  Then as I was leaving, a customer gave an entire pizza to the cashier, so I had a slice of pepperoni pizza, cold.  Of course I only ate the topping, not the crust.  But on the way to my car, I was like, What is wrong with me?  I feel like a blimp!

So here is the problem:  I am going through a weight-gaining period.  And I don’t like it.  It isn’t out of control yet, but it means I’m going to have to start paying attention to food.  What I eat, and when I eat it.  I am so annoyed!


Random Thoughts About Going on Vacation

It seems like forever.  Actually, it was 6 months ago.  How slowly time passes.

I have a swimsuit, which I look ridiculous in.  But who’s going to notice 🙂

I managed to dredge up a (clean) beach towel.

Since I’m going with two other friends, that means I have to have pajamas or something like them.  I won’t wear them to sleep, but I’ll put them on in the morning.  We will each have our own bedroom.

Note to self:  Among the T-shirts, don’t bring anything black.  (And a huge majority of my T-shirts are black.) Black absorbs heat.

I can’t find my really comfortable shorts.  I’ll buy some when I get there.  Too bad they don’t have a Target on this island.  (I don’t do Walmart–or K-Mart for that matter.)

My grocery shopping is done.  My plan is to cook exactly one meal–steaks on July 4th, with grilled asparagus, and whatever else.  And I’ll make popovers one morning.

St. George Island is only 80 miles from here.  It takes about 2 hours though, because you can only get there on little roads where you can’t go fast.  Not to mention one very scary road where the Gulf is more or less lapping at your tires.  So you would think that a place 2 hours from your house would not lead to excessive planning.  Well, that depends on how obsessive-compulsive you are.

I will worry until the last minute about what I forgot to bring.  This morning I had a moment of extreme panic because I thought I had lost my “list”.  You know, the All Important List.  And the two friends I’m going with will have forgotten some things too.  So we will have to stop along the way many times for gas, salt and pepper, and lip balm.  In other words, it will take us 4 hours.

I will only stop worrying when I am actually in the car and whatever I forgot won’t matter any more.  Then the only thing I have to fear after that  is crossing the 4-mile bridge onto the island. My only phobia, but it’s better as long as someone else is driving.  Especially if she is driving a honking big Ford Expedition, instead of a little baby Toyota.  We went once, when she was driving a Ford F-150, and she was literally fighting for control of the truck as we crossed the bridge.  If I’d been driving the baby Toyota, there is no doubt in my mind I would have been blown off.  I was trying to think of how I would explain that to my boss.  See, the reason I can’t come to work today is that the wind was blowing really hard.

But have no doubt–I will have a good time.  As soon as I quit worrying.   We’ll see ospreys, and pelicans, herons and egrets.  And I have a lot of books to take 🙂

Raw Oysters and Other Weird Foods

This is, after all, a blog about politics, animals, food, books…and the occasional insect.

The occasion is that my boss came to town this week on Tuesday night, planning to spend Wednesday and Thursday with me, and leave Friday morning.  But on Tuesday night he ate some oysters.  Now there are only certain trustworthy places here where you can eat oysters this far from the coast.  If he had asked me, I would have told him.

Wednesday he showed up in my office about 11:30 A.M. when I was already at another meeting, went to lunch with my client, and my client later said, “He hardly ate anything–I knew something was wrong then”.  That’s a snide remark.  My boss is a really big guy.  And the client is a shrimp (to continue the food theme).  Of course, I am a shrimp too.  We shrimp are a little amazed by the amount of food a person twice our size can put away.  But the client makes it a criticism–as if he is some noble being, and my boss is merely a glutton.

So on Wednesday, I ended up only seeing my boss for an hour, because he was too sick to stay at work.

Thursday morning, when I hadn’t heard from him by 9:30 A.M., I called him, and got voicemail.  He never answered.  At 12:30 P.M., I called again, and got voicemail again.  He also never answered that.  At that point I had a whole rescue plan in place.

I was going to call his hotel and find out if he was still registered. If he was, I was going to go there, speak to Management and ask that they go with me to his room.  I would insist on a response, and if he was too sick to get up or didn’t respond at all, I would ask Management to let me in.  Then if he was there, I would call an ambulance.  I would have them take him to Tallahassee Memorial ER and I would meet them there.  Then I would call his boss.

But at 2:30 P.M. he finally sent me an email, the subject being “Alive but not well”.  He said he was sorry for the inconvenience.  Maybe he went to the ER on his own.  I hope so.

Now that I know he is okay, I want to kill him.  I wasn’t inconvenienced, you…Idiot!  I was scared to death!

The things that can go wrong with raw oysters are legion.  And people who are more sensitive than others can die.  Let me clarify:  DIE.

Whoever it is who inspects the oyster beds in the Gulf (the FDA?) do a very good job, and will temporarily shut down oyster beds where there is a risk.

One of the most common risks is E. coli.  Then, there is Norovirus.  But the worst and scariest is Vibrio vulnificus.

So will I still eat raw oysters?  Probably so.

A brief posting about this on Facebook engendered a lively discussion about who first said, I bet you could eat one of those?  My favorite example has always been lobster.  Who first said, if we can figure out how to kill one of these, I bet we could eat it?  My other favorite is artichoke hearts.  Sea urchin has now been suggested as well.

There are actually quite a few foods that fit that category, as well as foods that someone tried for the first time and died doing it.  Then somebody said, I bet we could still eat it if we cooked it/took off the skin/only ate it during a full moon.  We humans are truly the ultimate omnivores.

Sushi Fish

I know very close to nothing about sushi.  I used to go with some regularity to a sushi restaurant in town (“Jasmine”) and my grocery store also started selling it.  I’m not sure which exposure came first.  More recently, I’ve gone a few times to a very authentic Japanese restaurant in town (“Sakura”).  The little sushi I’ve been brave enough to try, I’ve liked.  But I’m still very wary.  I need to go with someone who’s sophisticated about it and can give me advice. 

So, you may wonder, why am I posting about a topic I admittedly know almost nothing about?  Look again.  The title of the post is not “Sushi”, it’s “Sushi Fish”.

I recently read a book entitled Eels.  Subtitled:  An exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the world’s most mysterious fish.  You always wonder about an editor who lets an author get away with a subtitle that long.  I followed that with Tuna.  Subtitled: A Love Story.  Tuna was written by Richard Ellis, who also wrote On Thin Ice, the book I read about polar bears. 

Of the two, Eels is by far the better book.  Tuna tends to be dry and repetitive.  Plus it employs a technique I despise, that of putting footnotes at the bottom of the page.  In a book, those should be in a section at the end for references. The best thing Tuna has going for it is its subtitle.  It’s intentionally ironic.  We are loving tuna to extinction, particularly the bluefin. 

Nevertheless, both books are chock-full of facts about the creatures involved.  I found eels more fascinating, maybe because I knew least about them to begin with–although before reading the book about tuna, I wouldn’t have been able to identify one in a police line-up. 

Here’s the most fascinating fact about eels:  they are catadromous, meaning they are spawned in the ocean and return to fresh water to live out their lives until they are ready to spawn themselves; then they make their way back to the ocean–assuming they can, assuming we haven’t built hydroelectric dams barring their path in the twenty or so years it took them to mature.  Catadromous is opposed to anadromous, like salmon, who live their lives in the opposite direction.

North American and European eels are thought to spawn in the Sargasso Sea–but that has never been proven.  Eels are thought to die after spawning, like salmon, but that has never been proved either.  Ergo, they remain the world’s most mysterious fish–at least until 2010 when this book was published.  Sometimes science moves very fast, and sometimes not so much.  I venture to say there is more money worldwide going into finding the search for the spawning grounds of eels , and of trying to find ways to successfully farm both them and tuna, than there is in all of cancer research.  Which makes a certain kind of sense. 

Both books discuss, at length, the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo,  It’s the largest in the world.  Eels are sold there mostly frozen, but eel is considered best when it’s freshest.  There are videos you can find of how to clean fresh eels, but I’m sparing you a link.  Essentially it’s done while the eel is still alive, with it’s head spiked to a table.  The chefs are doing it with bare hands, which is kind of interesting, since I learned that eel blood contains a neurotoxin.  I was somewhat comforted to learn that for that reason and others, all eel in sushi is cooked. 

One of the interesting side effects of reading these two books, along with the last novel I read (Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice ), is that the more I learn about the Japanese, the less I like them.  It seems wrong to judge an entire country based on WWII, and I’m not.  It’s only recently that I’ve begun to see that we misjudge them.  We forget that their only reason for surrendering in WWII was being forced into abject submission.  We did not change their world view, so to speak.  They’ve merely taken it underground. 

When it comes to fishing, for example, the Japanese have cheerfully agreed to any limits or quotas the various (toothless) regulatory agencies may set–because they have no intention of ever following any of them anyway.  They have lied and stolen their way through it all.  You have only to look at the whaling “ban” and Japan’s response to it.  They’re permitted to take a certain number for “research”.  And those “research” whales end up in Tsukiji.  Because it’s all about what Japan wants or needs.  It’s a mindset that has not changed by defeat in WWII. 

Sushi is a Japanese phenomenon, and one, I was surprised to learn, of fairly recent origin.  We can hope they tire of it before fishing some species to extinction, but I wouldn’t count on it.