Taboo Foods

I have to admit, I chickened out. I had this great idea for the latest Is my Blog Burning, and I didn’t have enough courage to hit the “Post” button.

It was a great idea for IMBB. Although one could quibble that the idea of getting friends to eat food that they are prejudiced against is self defeating, it certainly made me sit back and and actually think about what foods are taboo and why.

The difficulty for me when it came to this theme of taboo food is that their are very few foods that I consider taboo. To say that there are foods that I won’t try because said foods give me the willys to think about them goes against my own hedonistic nature of risk and reward. I’ll try most anything twice. Bugs, plants, all parts of meat, there’s very little that I won’t try.

That’s not to say that I don’t have taboos. I do. But they’re more of a political nature than that of taste. Shark fin soup? Sorry, I’ll pass unless someone can tell me how the fin was gathered. Beef or Pork? I work to purchase from locations that know how the cattle and pigs were feed. I didn’t want to compromise these ethics for the point of a blog meme.

In discussing food taboos with Tara on Saturday evening, I realized something that seems pretty straightforward now. One of the reasons that this topic was so difficult is that the term “Taboo” changes from person to person. The reason for that change?


How is that context created? By the culture in which you live.

If you grow up Hindu, beef is not on your menu. Hebrew? Pork is out of the question. These are religious taboos brought about by pragmatic necessity. In India, you didn’t kill the cow because it was sacred, you let it live because it helped till your soil and provided fuel (via its manure). To kill it meant short term gain and long term disaster.

Pork (and its blood) was banned also for practical reasons. Unsanitary conditions made pork an iffy proposition at best. Having Lord YHWH simply say “Don’t eat pig” was far more efficient than saying “Well, if you eat pig you could get sick”. Reay Tannahill’s book Food in History goes into greater detail on this, and is definately a great read.

So if taboo is purely based on context, what food is truly should be taboo? Is cannabalism taboo? The Russian Tartar’s didn’t think so, nor did the Aztecs. How about dog? Laotians and again, those pesky Aztecs found them tasty enough to eat.

The truth is, humans have tried everything from dirt (the Kai people of Papau New Guinea) to nettles (many catholic monks in the late dark ages). We’ve eaten peacocks (Romans loved them) to Guinea Pigs (Peruvians love ‘em). As you can see, taboo is as taboo does.

In realizing this, I thought of things that have made people react strongly of late, especially here in the Seattle area. The one story that struck out was that of a Sushi restaurant here in Seattle. They served sushi, and they recieved a fair amount of press due to the way that served said raw fish…the raw fish was served on naked women. The question then, does this constitute a food taboo? Eating sushi is good, yet eating sushi off of a naked body is bad?

To that end, any food can be made taboo, simply by putting it into a specific context. To that end, I offer the following recipe:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup baker’s sugar

Mix the whipping cream. Add vanilla and sugar. Whip until cream thickens into peaks. Serve where ever how ever you please.

I’ll leave it up to the reader’s imagination on how to make this food taboo.

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