Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's All Relative

This is a delicious, nutritious dish served up by a gourmet chef somewhere in the recesses of the American South. At first glance, one might think it to be escargot (a.k.a. snails, the kind I vanquish in my garden), the choice of Francophiles and bone fide French citizens. Upon closer inspection, it is a singing insect that fills the night air with a piercing sound that reassures the listener that pollution hasn't killed off every living creature yet -  the cicada, apparently the "other protein."

Astute analysts of our food sources show that raising cattle for beef consumption has far-reaching, detrimental effects on the environment that even contribute to global warming. (Go figure. McDonalds may be an even greater culprit than General Motors for our ever-increasing crazy weather patterns, not to speak of our ever-increasing girths.)

So, our little singing friends might be an answer to the devastating effect that hamburger and steak lovers wreak on our stratosphere, not to speak of the health care system. 

Perfect solution? Yes and no.

My gut reaction to the cicada dish (nauseating) harkens back to a time when I was in 7th grade - the era of middle schoolers, as in sweet young ones who are rapidly turning into mega-brats as the ravages of puberty descend upon them. 

It is lunch hour in the fluorescent-bathed school cafeteria, and I have brought a tuna sandwich from home with lots of mayo and crunchy celery squished in between two slices of Wonderbread. A little squirt with slicked back hair hails me over to his table, smiling with such charm that I plop down my tray across from him. Before digging in, I head for the drinks counter for my apple juice carton; in those days Coke was not de rigueur.

Fast forward: half of a tuna sandwich down the gullet, but me thinks that the celery seems overly crunchy. Curiosity compels me to open the second right triangle and behold - a bevy of fried grasshoppers interspersed amidst tuna flakes, celery and mayo; dead as dead can be although if they were still moving, my horror would have quadrupled.

The little hoodlum across from me laughs manically as he pulls out his extra stash of dead hoppers, proving that he is the source of this prank. As for me, my usual voracious appetite is gone, as well as sandwich half number 2, thrown directly into the trash.

This begs the question: I never tasted anything 'bad' in my tuna, just something extra crunchy. And with my current knowledge that insects are actually an excellent source of protein, with as much flavor variety as a garden filled with herbs, then why the extreme aversion, even now, as I contemplate the artfully displayed nouvelle cuisine?

The cause is something called "cultural relativity." Which means in laymen terms, whatever we have been taught since birth that falls within the range of customary and reasonable we accept. Whatever is foreign, different, or unknown in our small world is deemed unacceptable, repulsive, dangerous, or benignly weird.

As our tribes, towns, and cities become globalized, we are now exposed to a larger array of behaviors than ever before. Cultural relativity is challenged to become less relative and more universal -  which means opening our minds and noticing what our judgmental inner voice is telling us when we encounter "the other."

While I think that I will never be a convert to the cuisine of the creepy crawlers, there may be a time on planet earth where we will be grateful to our insect friends for their sacrifice. In this spirit, I applaud that Southern chef for his bravery in advancing civilization and daring to propose a viable solution that crosses the boundaries of cultural relativity and pushes them into a bigger playing field. 

If the US is to remain a global player, then wake up shoppers of America! Over 2 billion people in 80 countries already consume1,400 different species of arthropod. Who knew?

(photo courtesy of HOM MOD, Andrew Tarant)

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