A recurring event in reality competitions like Fear Factor and Survivor is the eating of nasty stuff. Bugs, body parts and creatures we don't think of as food have all taken a turn in the "What Will You Do if the Price Is Right?" sweepstakes. And the audience, as ratings attest, is enthralled, fascinated and repulsed all at once. Who wouldn't be?
Those among us who by cultural forces, curiosity or plain bad luck have nibbled the un-nibble-able, that's who.
Like my friend who boldly chomped on a mealworm while feeding zoo animals in front of a cluster of preteen boys from whom "Eeeuuw, gross" is the ultimate praise. David was cocky that he could swallow it, but karma caught up with him years later. As an environmentalist volunteer in the Peruvian jungle, he was honored by tribesmen who insisted he taste such delicacies as turtle (eggs and meat) and the very same endangered fish he was trying to save. Tough choice: save face or save fish?
Decades ago, another friend was a naval attach in Hong Kong where he fostered the sort of connections that make the State Department proud. They're also the sort of connections that get you invited, often as the guest of honor, to unique cultural events. In Whitney's case, that meant being offered the eyeballs of the roasted ox -- and having to eat them.
Closer to home, before she graduated from Colorado College, my pal's niece took a field course on the culture of the Rio Grande, a hardscrabble culture wherein nothing is wasted. Translated, that meant after a cow is slaughtered, even the head is used. In this case it was wrapped in aluminum foil, buried and slow roasted in a fire pit -- sort of a Southwestern clambake. By all accounts, the cheeks are a delicacy.
Certain food customs don't translate. How hard should it be to eat well in Italy? Four friends had weeks of culinary mishaps initiated by wobbly language skills. With barely enough Italian to order more wine, they wound up on different occasions eating pizza with bits of hot dog on it; ordering what sounded complex and sophisticated and getting a plate of cheese; and ordering four entirely different choices from the menu and each getting the same thing. Or maybe the waiter was toying with them. At least they avoided tripe, better luck than I've had.
It was in Korea and it might have been tripe. It also might have been dog. It was a darkened little place down an alley. There were no printed menus. The only means of communicating with the owner-cook was pantomime. There was no choice involved. He brought us stringy meat in a greasy broth, and we ate it with the same awkward graciousness that Whitney displayed at his Chinese banquet, the same flair that Nicole took with her down the Rio Grande. As unpalatable as some things may feel ('cause it's really all about texture), "Eeeuuw, gross" just doesn't cut it in the real world.