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Thursday, November 8, 2018

What You Would Be Willing to Eat

There was some question at the start of this discussion of why we decided to call it "What you would be willing to eat." Essentially, the focus of this discussion was not food in general, but what things we consider edible vs. not edible, appetizing vs. not appetizing, and why. Kat immediately pointed out the "cute taboo," which says that we don't feel like eating animals we consider to be cute, like dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. There is also the sentience taboo - don't eat things that are sentient. This depends, of course, on how one defines sentience (which would be another whole discussion).

Apparently you taste like what you eat, and this means that carnivores taste bad. Perhaps piscivores are ok.

Then we launched in to talking about unusual things we had eaten, and what that was like. I had crocodile chili, and found it almost fishlike in texture. Apparently domestically raised crocodiles eat a lot of chicken. There are some specially formulated foods intended for atypical pets like "crocodile chow" "monkey chow" and "ferret chow."

Kat told us she's trying not to eat octopus because of the sentience question.

I talked about the most morally repugnant thing I have ever eaten, which was a spread made from the sake-marinated cartilage of a whale's nose. I ate it in a circumstance where I was the guest of a professor in Japan and didn't feel I had the option to refuse. (It was awful.)

Kat said she had a bout of psychosomatic nausea once when, 24 hours after eating it, she learned she had eaten dog.

Kangaroo is more commonly eaten than we might imagine, because it is a cull animal. This is the result of colonialism, which pushed the dingo predators back into the deserts, and provided kangaroos with large amounts of cultivated wheat and other grains for food. You can't domesticate kangaroos because they are "basically, boxing deer." Australia sometimes says it's the only country that eats its coat of arms, because they eat both kangaroo and emu.

Kat mentioned that her comfort food is often viewed with suspicion. Nattoo, fermented soy beans, gets flak here and also in some regions of Japan. However, it's not that terribly different from stinky ammoniac cheese. It's very easy to make cheese sound disgusting.

It's worth thinking about the ways in which we talk about foods, and what we do (consciously or unconsciously) to make those food choices seem "other" or somehow unappetizing.

How can people refuse food and enforce their boundaries without being rude? That differs from culture to culture and might be somehow special in your fiction.

We talked about the Wendig sandwich, which involves mayonnaise, peanut butter, and pickle with the possibility of onion, bacon, and cheese. People often react to this description with disgust, but it's not that far off the Thai dish satay with peanut sauce and pickled cucumbers. It's all in how you think about it.

Kate noted that if you are not in Earth's atmosphere, it changes your taste buds. You also get a stuffy nose because with no gravity, nothing can drain. The result is that astronauts like spicy food because they can enjoy the flavor. Many astronauts request foods based on their country of origin.

In science fiction, people seem enamored with the idea of food pellets or generic all-nutrient sludge. This appears to come from exploring the idea of food as fuel as opposed to food as a social and multisensory experience.

Paul said he wouldn't go for the pellets because it would be too boring, and he likes eating.
Che said she'd like to photosynthesize. Kate hypothesized that you might end up overfed in the tropics, especially if you were accustomed to 9 months of darkness in the north.

Some families have a set of six meals they eat constantly, in order. Some people eat more seasonally. What that means depends on where you live.

It's important to draw distinctions between indigenous foodways, immigrant foodways, and colonizer foodways. The colonizer approach is to take land and force it to grow food that originated 100+ miles away.

We don't really know all the nutrients that go into our food, which makes a challenge for realistic hydroponic growing.

Kate asked, "Whose food gets sent to space?" Kat asked, "what level of stinkiness is acceptable in an enclosed space?" How do we balance practical technology and cultural priorities?

Kat pointed out that in the Meiji era, the Japanese thought butter smelled bad.

Everyone assumes their own diet is neutral.

Paul said that it helps you to keep an open mind if you are born and raised in an area where lots of different foods are available.

People decide whether foods are appetizing based on flavor, but also based on texture. Kat pointed out that if a vegetable food is slippery, that means it has a high protein content. She also said that the bacillus in nattoo is different from that of sourdough yeast, and it makes it hard for her to do sourdough in her kitchen.

Che talked about a story, Silver Spoon, in which a kid goes to an agricultural high school, and there was a rule that if you had had nattoo in the last week, you couldn't make cheese.

If you are a sourdough baker, the air in your kitchen will be imbued with sourdough yeast. If you move, it will be overpowered by the local yeasts of the area you  move to, which causes the sourness of the bread to change. The yeast combinations in San Francisco and Finland make great sourdough, but this is why you can't take them somewhere else and expect the same flavor!

We talked about salmiaki, a sour salt-flavored licorice from Finland. We also discussed Vegemite (yeast spread) and umeboshi (salt-pickled plums), all of which are "difficult" foods. In Japan, umeboshi is considered a universal cure-all, usable on wounds etc. Li hing mui is popcorn with an umeboshi/licorice flavor.

I told everyone about when we encountered the liqueur called "genepi" in the French Alps. It's an infusion of artemisia, which is a plant in the same family as absinthe, but it tastes herbal, more like basil or rosemary than licorice. It's also very powerful.

Root beer is another very complex and distinctive flavor that not everyone enjoys, and it comes in a great variety of recipes. So is alcoholic beer, which would require a whole hour of discussion in and of itself.

Sometimes people have trouble with the idea of green drinks, but there are a great many of them. Mattcha tea is one. Kale or wheat grass drinks are another type of green drink, and so are mint drinks.

Kat mentioned that she makes maple bacon marshmallows, and Paul immediately volunteered to have some.

Some kinds of medicine have very distinct flavors, like cough drops or Robitussin.

Jägermeister is a flavor unlike any other.

All of these taste traditions and judgments are based in our world cultures. We gain associations with flavor based on our own experience. Some cultures use rose flavor in their food, and in fact, before the advent of vanilla, it was also very commonly used in the US.

I mentioned a violet-flavored tea I had tried, which tasted like soap when I tried it without milk, but with milk tasted like the candies called "violet pastilles." Kat said she likes black tea with rosebuds.

This was a really fun discussion, and I think it made everyone hungry! Thanks to everyone who participated.