We are what we eat' is a phrase often bandied about with little understanding of the truth of the matter. Essentially we comprise about 7x1027 atoms,[ Facebook glitch, means 10 to the power 27] arranged variously into about ten trillion cells and sundry associated odds and sods like body fluids, gases, etc. We are about two thirds Hydrogen, a quarter Oxygen and one tenth Carbon, the remaining 1% being trace metals and other elements. We and all other animals are completely dependent on plants for our survival, and they form the first link in the food chain.
Plants, with deep and mysterious chemistry, turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into a myriad complex substances. These are then eaten by animals, including us, and voila! You, me and everyone else, with all our weird and wonderful diets, spring forth from this alchemy. We could eat almost anything, and many people do, but certain curious fancies abound, and are marvellously unlikely.
Out in Africa, home of many a 'gruelling nourish', the locals learn not to be too fussy, as the alternative is starvation. The largest swarms of flies on Earth erupt from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika: trillions of insects gather in great clouds, and the locals turn out with baskets to catch them. Whirling the baskets around their heads at speed they gather the flies, which are then mashed to a paste and turned into highly nutritious fly burgers cooked over charcoal fires. Somehow the tourist slogan "Come on out to Africa and we'll chuck another fly on the barbie!" doesn't have much appeal.
There are very many examples of unusual foodstuffs, including rotting fish, clay and other unlikely items, but a trip around a few restaurants raises the whole issue to a comic level. Someone once said “The Chinese eat anything with four legs, except tables. And everything that flies, except aeroplanes” Given that they will even eat Yak penis, this seems a fair summary, and certainly in the Far East unusual foods abound. 'Stewed Abalone with Three Things' , 'Jello with green bean', 'Fibber of great interest to passers-by' and other delights clamour for our mirthful attention in a Thai restaurant I once visited in Toronto.
When it comes to fussy eaters, though, people have an unending series of quirks and foibles. A lady friend of mine tended towards what I came to call the 'Snow White Diet'. As she was sweet and lovely, her nickname was 'Snow White', and this is what she preferred:
Twig tea (my interpretation of the odd stuff from which she brewed a thin, beastly infusion).
Toasted Owl Pellet and bran muffins (me again).
Acorn coffee (familiar in Germany in WW1 and WW2).
Green Rice (With black specks. Best not to ask about this, as International Quality Standards
permit a certain amount of rodent droppings in rice. Fortunately it is not mandatory).
Imprisoned Seeds (peering out through thick brown glass jars).
Kelp. No comment necessary.
Rose Hip Burgers; an offence against God, man and McDonalds.
Unsurprisingly, she was a slim, pale girl. With no visible black specks...
One of the oddest meals ever prepared, surpassing even the feast of giant beetles, eyeball soup and fresh monkey brains in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was 'mitochondria on toast'. Mitochondria are microscopic structures within our cells which generate energy.
They were once isolated in huge numbers back in the 1960's by some British university students, labouring mightily for weeks, who then served the resultant teaspoonful of goo as a pate on toast to honour their retiring Professor, who had been a leading light in the study of these organelles.
Despite all these revelations, I'm still curious about the 'Fibber of great interest to passers-by', and wonder if it is on the menu at the House of Commons canteen?
Mike Biggs, August 20th, 2014