Foods Everybody Loses Their Minds Over (But Shouldn't)
In your head, you are normal, anyone less adventurous is boring, and anyone more adventurous is insane. This explains the internet's attitude toward weird food. If a dish is a bit different from what we normally eat, we say it's not just unique but a gross abomination, and all who buy it should be formally committed. That attitude rarely makes as much sense as people think, so you should be a little skeptical the next time you see a website freaking out and screaming that ...
"Oh No! They Replaced The Bread!"
Remember when KFC introduced the Double Down, and it was a gift to comedy writers worldwide? We suddenly had super easy jokes about the decline of America, and of humanity in general, because people eating sandwiches with chicken instead of bread proved we were all gross and decadent beyond redemption.
That happens every time a chain tries something like this. KFC also offered a pizza made on fried chicken instead of dough, and we called this an "unholy alliance." Taco Bell replaced their tortilla with what we dismissed as "goddamn fried chicken" and another time tried a fried egg taco shell, making us say, "Oh no."
But Really ...
What's so great about bread anyway? It's fluffy, and it holds stuff together, but unless you need to avoid starving to death, it's not exactly good for you. And isn't eating less white bread supposed to be the healthy choice? That's what people on the Atkins diet think anyway, and the Keto diet, and people who want food gluten-free, and doctors. Now, you might think replacing bad bread with bad chicken would just make things ten times worse, but when you look at calories and fat and stuff, the Double Down is no worse than a regular-size fast food burger, and it's less than half as bad as big fast food burgers (and happens to be better for you than some fast food salads).
The only way you can conclude the Double Down is especially unhealthy is if you use the weird formula of dividing the fat and cholesterol by the number of calories. That logic (which says the Double Down would be healthier if you pour a cup of pure Cinnabon syrup on top) argues that you'll still be hungry after eating one Double Down, so maybe you'll fill yourself with even more Double Down. But I'm pretty sure people weren't all buying four Double Downs per meal. If only because if they did, KFC would have had a fiduciary duty to respond with a Mega Double Down or Double Down Footlong.
And while we're talking about overeating ...
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"Oh No! This Restaurant Serves Dishes Larger Than Most!"
Lots of restaurants offer novelty dishes that are ridiculously large, and every so often, the media will profile these places as culpable in the deaths of millions. The most famous is surely Las Vegas's Heart Attack Grill, frequently called out for promoting unhealthy eating. They've got enormous offerings called the double and triple bypass burgers, plus "flatliner fries" cooked in lard. "This food will kill you!" is the unashamed message, served up by waitresses dressed as nurses to customers dressed in hospital gowns.
Another restaurant called the Heart Attack Shack faced lawsuits ... not from health officials or sick patrons but from the Heart Attack Grill, for trademark infringement. A deli offering a heart attack sandwich defeated a similar suit. Unlike the Double Down, these meals really are unhealthy. One guy got an actual heart attack in the Heart Attack Grill, while eating a triple bypass burger. Killed by the very act he was engaging in! If that isn't ironic, well, then I evidently don't know what irony is.
But Really ...
So, maybe don't eat there three times a day?
Whenever someone calls out a burger for having like 1,200 calories, they seem to be assuming each meal must contain one-third of your daily caloric quota, tops, or you will die. But, maybe you can just eat slightly less in your next meal, because you're still full? And given that most Americans skip one or more meals daily, that should give everyone a little leeway to make their one meal a big and indulgent one.
Now, that doesn't cover the really hugest meals that places like Heart Attack Grill dish out, ones with like 4,000 calories. That's big, more than you should eat in a whole day. But one meal, no matter how big, isn't going to hurt you (it can trigger a heart attack only if you already have critical heart disease ... as can sex, with the same probability). Eating 4,000 calories today won't hurt your body more than eating a single M&M every day this year.
"Ah!" you say. "But that's the problem! I'm already eating an extra M&M a day. And then some, and this bypass burger is on top of that." Okay, well the other 364 days are the issue then, and your regular potion sizes, not the one gimmick burger. The Heart Attack Grill might glorify overeating (a burger with four patties is inherently glorious), but it doesn't normalize overeating, which is the real problem. As one expert said on TV, "The end result of our eating habits is all around us. It's an obesity epidemic that is killing the world."
That expert was Jon Basso, founder of Heart Attack Grill, who claims he wants everyone to come to his restaurant, but ideally just once each. As proof, he brought with him on TV a plastic bag with the cremated remains of the customer who died. You can doubt his sincerity (this stunt, like all the reports criticizing him, gives him free publicity), but at least this proves some items are even less appetizing than fries cooked in lard.
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"Oh No! They're Eating The Wrong Animal!"
Every so often, there's a scandal when horsemeat is detected in beef, and people are outraged, I guess because horses are too sexy to slaughter for food. And when you look elsewhere in the world, you'll see people eating animals that are even worse. People in other countries eat insects! And insect larvae, and scorpions. It's just like in the film Snowpiercer, where our dystopian heroes are horrified to learn the protein bars they've been eating are made from insects -- and these are characters who've previously staved off starvation by eating human babies.
Now, to be fair, there's a reason you might favor pork, beef, mutton, and poultry over eating just some random creature. We've spent centuries selectively breeding livestock to be as edible as possible, while other animals are a gamble. But if you're okay with eating any kind of non-farmed animal (like venison, or duck, or most kinds of seafood) -- and especially if you think maybe it's better to eat those than to tinker with livestock so they're too fat to stand upright -- I say you should be okay with eating the weirdest animals out there too.
Because Really ...
We've previously told you about how the future will probably involve a whole lot of insect protein, and it won't be gross. You'll buy flour made from crickets, and you won't think about creepy crawlies, any more than whey powder makes you think of swollen cow udders. But I say that even if you do think about the insects you're eating, that still shouldn't disgust you.
Imagine you come home from vacation and see dead crickets in your kitchen. Actually, let's make it 10,000 dead crickets. You'll be majorly freaked out. But you'll eventually get over it and sweep them up with a dustpan and brush. Now, imagine you instead see a dead cow there. You'd be much more freaked out. It must be swarming with germs, and it'll have leaked body fluids everywhere, and even when it was alive, it probably smelled awful. So, why should eating that be less gross than eating the crickets? Even once it's been prepared -- once both have been prepared?
People are weirded out by eating animals that seem alien, different from they are. But surely you should be more comfortable eating food that's nothing like you. The food most similar to you would be another human, and you should be horrified to eat that. Next would be close animals that are part of the family, like dogs who have souls or cats who know basic arithmetic, and those too are generally taboo to eat. Furthest from us would be Twizzlers or worms, so we should have the fewest qualms about eating those.
I'm not recommending eating raw, diseased flesh, or brushing against exotic beasts rolling in caged feces. That's how you get superviruses. But once you kill an animal cleanly and cook it properly, feel free to dig in. So, yes, you can eat insect larvae. You can order them in a taco, and they're buttery and delicious. These escamoles are sometimes referred to as "Mexican caviar," with the tone of a sarcastic compliment, but if anyone can explain why this is gross and caviar isn't, I'd like to hear it. You can also get your taco with a scorpion in it, and while this is more of a novelty (there's no real reason why you should be crunching up some arachnid shell), I don't know why this is scarier than lobster ... which was also mashed with the shell once upon a time, force-fed to prisoners and POWs.
Is it the venom that scares people? Venom is dangerous when injected but not when eaten. Lobster tail would also be harmful when injected, probably.
"Oh No! They're Eating The Wrong PART Of The Animal!"
Stock sitcom plot: Our heroes eat at a strange restaurant, or in a different country. They look at the menu and then find, to their embarrassment, nothing's in English. So they point to an item at random, it arrives, and they eat. They finally look up what it was, or the waiter reveals the truth. They ate brains! Hilarious. A suitable punishment for their hubris.
Other animal parts you might find are even grosser. Like if you eat balut, a fertilized egg, who's to say you won't be choking on feathers and a beak?:
And have you heard that beaver anal glands are used to flavor desserts and perfumes? We're pretty sure that means humans are literally performing anilingus on aquatic rodents.
But Really ...
As with the previous entry, if you are vegan, feel free to continue being disgusted by anything you like. But for people who do eat meat ... you do know that meat is a body part, right? It's not even an especially well-disguised body part. Eat a steak, and you cut through obvious muscle fibers, and you might even order it served in its own blood (okay, technically it's not blood, but people think it is, and they gleefully eat anyway). Every time someone's disgusted at eating some other body part, it comes down to picturing it as a functioning organ with some purpose other than being eaten, but all meat is exactly that.
When it comes to crunching bones or feathers, I guess people are weirded out because these are indigestible. But if that's true, you should also be weirded out by lettuce. So long as it doesn't kill you, indigestible food is the least harmful thing you can eat, because it has no effect. There must be some additional reason Americans are disgusted by eating chicken in an egg, but I can't figure out what that is, given that they're fine eating chickens, and eggs. Balut (a salty tasty snack) is sometimes referred to scare-mongeringly as "aborted chicken fetuses," but if killing/eating fetuses disturbs you more than killing adults, that raises troubling questions.
As for anal glands, again, you have to stack those against everything else you eat. You eat actual anuses mixed up in your hot dogs. You eat intestines (as in, one step deeper than the anus) wrapped around hot dogs. But a gland somewhere close to the anus, wow, that's where we have to draw the line? It's got to be the sexual implications that are scaring people, right, and "beaver anal" sounds more sexual than the pig rectums we eat routinely. All I can say is, take heart, eating a cooked animal is not the same as performing a sex act. I had the chance to eat some fried fugu sperm one time, and I promise you, I have yet to be charged with zoophilia.
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"Oh No! This Cocktail Mixes Foul-Tasting Stuff!"
In Mongolia and Kazakhstan, there's a drink called kumis, which is fermented mare's milk. This horrifies tourists from the West. Aside from the usual revulsion people have at suckling from the wrong animal, there's disgust here at mixing liquor with something God did not want it to join.
Closer to home, you might hear of a more mundane variant called "horse jizz," which mixes liquor and non-horse milk. Or you'll see shots mixed with mac and cheese, or mayo, or egg. And then there are the really terrifying drinks, which drop in bits of snakes or mice. All taste beastly, one assumes.
But Really ...
Alcohol needn't taste good. Alcohol is inherently gross. It's a waste product produced by microbes, and we recoil at the taste because it's toxic. The first caveman who stumbled upon this germ poop and drank some didn't say, "Ooh! What an enchanting flavor!" He said, "I hate how this tastes. But I like what it DOES to me! I'm going to make some more." And thus we invented agriculture and civilization.
If a drink doesn't taste good to you, try a second glass. Repeat until drunk; then you'll know it was okay after all. Kumis tastes like eating pizza while drinking beer, so it's basically breakfast. Try some snake liquor, and you won't even really remember what it was like other than that it was strong, and the absolute best drink I've ever had was a Bloody Mary blended with Goan sausage. Mixing food into your cocktail sounds disgusting, but if you've ever sipped a beverage while eating (which, they say, is the most refined form of dining), you made a mixture in your mouth as bad as any cocktail imaginable.
A special mention should be made of cocktails that mix dairy and citrus because this causes curdling and tastes like vomit. But even vomit doesn't taste that bad with enough alcohol, and if you go out drinking and don't plan to throw up just a little in your mouth and then swallow it back down, you're not even trying.
"Oh No! They Combined Two Trashy Foods!"
A while back, it was really popular to make fun of Jimmy Dean foods, specifically Jimmy Dean frozen combinations of shitty other foods. Like hash browns filled with meat, eggwiches filled with bacon ("they replaced the bread!"), and pancaked-wrapped sausage on a stick. The joke might have begun with The Daily Show and spread from there, much like the time Jon Stewart totally randomly started mocking Arby's, and the rest of us decided, "Okay, I guess we all hate Arby's now."
When someone puts two trashy foods together, you don't even need to come up with a punchline. Like when Taco Bell came out with Doritos Locos Tacos or Burger King debuted Cheetos chicken fries. Or when Pizza hut decorates their pizza with a bunch of hot dogs or mini cheeseburgers.
But Really ...
Every recipe ever has involved combining things. A fairly high percentage of those combinations had previously been considered unthinkable. Sweet cacao seeds mixed with salty nuts. Cayenne pepper dumped in moldy cheese sauce. Exploded corn kernels and burnt sugar. Call the ingredients shitty if you like, but they still taste great, especially together.
Sometimes, people will try to justify their scorn with health concerns (the cheeseburger pizza is "nearly 3,000 calories!" a newspaper might complain, as though a large pepperoni pie isn't even more), but that's not the true source of their cruel prejudice. You'll never hear these same people warn against the calories in pate or quiche or fondue. No, it's just that they see how low-class a particular food looks and conclude that they're too good for it.
Don't do that. Whenever you're in doubt about something, try putting it in your mouth for a little while and seeing if you like it (this doesn't apply to anti-freeze or power lines, please don't sue us). The medical community wrote a whole book on this, and higher authorities have confirmed that all foods are ultimately acceptable.
Unless, like, the food is still crawling around on your plate or contains a human toe. That shit is weird.
Top image: Vova Shevchuk/Shutterstock