Drawing An Unscientific Maggot Line

I have a high regard for scientists . . . generally.  But sometimes scientists don’t exactly have a solid appreciation of the sensibilities of normal human beings.

maggots_lede_photo_bigstock_2100-768x526Consider, for example, this report on the work of scientists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.  They conclude that, given the population in the world, humans need to start turning to alternative sources of protein besides animal meat.  The article linked above quotes “meat science professor Dr. Louwrens Hoffman” — apparently “meat science” is a discipline that has been developed since I’ve been in college, because otherwise that would have been a pretty darned tempting major — as saying:  “An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food.”

So far, so good.  But Dr. Hoffman and his team at the University of Queensland are looking to replace beef and chicken and pork with — gulp! — maggots and locusts.  They reason that the world’s insect population is a far more sustainable source of supply for such protein.  They also recognize that most people rebel at the notion of consuming chitinous locusts or squirmy maggots, so they are working on developing “prepared foods” that include locusts and maggots as disguised ingredients.  So far, they’ve worked on a maggot sausage with promising results, and Dr. Hoffman swears that a student has developed an insect ice cream that is “very tasty.”  Who knows?  Soon you may be able to have an ice cream cone with a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of “insect.”

According to the article, there are already some insect-based products available in the U.S., such as Chirps chips and Chapul protein bars.  I haven’t had any of these items, and I haven’t noticed them flying off the shelves at the neighborhood grocery store, either.

There’s a basic repulsion issue involved in eating maggots.  With a nod to the French government defense strategy before World War II, you might call it The Maggot Line, and scientific-based arguments aren’t going to cross it.  I think the the issue with insect-based foods is whether ingredient lists on food packaging are required to accurately and clearly disclose the insect element.  If maggots can be called by their scientific names — which are Lucilia sericata and Phaenicia sericata — and jumbled in with the other scientific sounding ingredients for prepared foods, like sodium benzoate and monosodium glutamate, then maggot sausage might stand a chance.  But if the packaging has to use plain English and disclose maggots as an ingredient, forget it.

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The Sausage Test

We’re not exactly sure how old Kasey is. She’s a rescue dog, and her records have long since been lost in the mists of time. The vet recently looked at her teeth — what’s left of them, that is — and concluded she’s anywhere from 14 to 16 years old.

So, naturally, we look for tangible signs of advanced canine age. Kasey’s teeth issues and horrendous breath are one sign, and the arthritis in one of her rear legs and her general gimpiness is another. But the real acid test is sense of smell and appetite. We figure that if Kasey doesn’t react to fragrant cooked meats — like sausage, bacon, or brats — that’s a very telltale sign.

So I’m pleased to report that Kasey reacted to this morning’s sausage test with a scampering visit to the kitchen, hearty barks that quickly became annoying, and rapid, gobbled consumption of some sausage bits when we just couldn’t stand the barking any longer.

Our aging pooch still has some kick!

Not An Afishionado

My doctor has long been after me to eat less meat and more fish.  It’s easy to rationalize ignoring his heartfelt advice — which is what most of us do with doctorly advice, when you think about it — in Columbus, Ohio, which is more than 100 miles from any substantial body of water.  It’s not exactly the fish capital of the world.

In Belize, though, there is no viable excuse or rationalization.  So, I’ve been eating seafood until it’s coming out of my ears.  Ceviche.  Grouper.  The whole red snapper shown above, complete with head, eyes, and little bones that you pick out of your mouth.  And lots of shrimp.

It’s all fine, I guess, and I suppose I’ve added a few minutes to my lifespan by adhering to doctor’s orders.  But to my mind the highlights of my Belizean culinary experience so far were the stewed chicken I attacked on Tuesday and a flavorful jerk chicken sandwich yesterday.  

Nothing satisfies like meat.

Prime Rib, Medium Rare

Last weekend Kish and I visited a new steakhouse in town.  I was looking forward to the visit, because I was hungry and eager to tuck in to a well-prepared piece of beef.

That night I had a special hankering for one of my favorite cuts of meat: prime rib, medium rare.  Alas, when we arrived and I had the chance to carefully review the menu, I was disappointed to learn that prime rib wasn’t among the offerings.

oEh?  A self-proclaimed steakhouse that doesn’t offer prime rib?

Unfortunately, it’s becoming an increasingly common occurrence.  Most non-vegetarian, American-style restaurants have filets and ribeyes and New York strips on the menu.  Most steakhouses will offer different sizes of those staples, and typically a porterhouse, a Kansas City strip, or a hangar steak option, as well as lamb chops.  But prime rib, which was a common menu option in restaurants of days gone by, seems to have hit the cutting room floor.  It’s getting to the point that if you want to get some prime rib these days, you have to go to a medieval-themed eatery where suits of armor line the walls and the waitresses wear costumes with bodices.

Tastes change, sure, but nevertheless I’m mystified by this development.  I just don’t get the filet phenomenon.  Filets are too soft and mushy for my tastes.  They’re like the non-steak steak, eaten by weak-kneed, vegetarian-wannabe steak apologists.  The heck with that!  I want a cut of beef with some texture to it, that provides some resistance when you chew it and isn’t described as being like butter in your mouth.  Sometimes, only a prime rib, medium rare, thick and juicy and ready to be carved into bite-sized morsels by an oversized steak knife, with a side of horseradish, will really do the trick.  But good luck finding it these days!

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking.

The Summer Grilling Report

For those of us who associate summer with grilled cheeseburgers eaten on the back patio, brace yourselves:  beef prices recently hit a record and are expected to remain at high levels indefinitely.

The causes seem to be Mother Nature, the domino effect, and the law of supply and demand.  There have been sustained droughts in the cattle-herding states, which makes feed more expensive.  More expensive feed has caused ranchers to cut back on the size of their herds.  And smaller herds mean fewer cattle available to be converted into those steaks, and burgers, and roasts that Americans relish.  With the supply of beef diminished, the price inevitably increases.

Don’t expect to find cheap relief for your beef craving at the local restaurant, either.  They’ve been hit as hard by the spike in prices as anyone.  And don’t be surprised if other meats are more costly — with beef prices hitting the pocketbooks hard, consumers will be looking for alternative meats like chicken and pork to slap on the grill, and the increased demand is causing an increase in those meats, too.

There’s nothing quite like a piping hot, melted cheeseburger straight from the grill on a summer’s day.  This year, though, we may be making do with hot dogs.

Meatless

Today, I did not eat a single piece of meat.  Not one!

For most people, this would not be newsworthy.  For me, however, it is the first time in my memory that I did not, during a standard calendar day, consume the cooked flesh of some mammal or fowl that walked the surface of the Earth.  I honestly cannot recall any day, ever, when I did not eat a cheeseburger, or a hot dog, or a sausage pizza, or a corned beef sandwich, or gratefully enjoy some other delectable, mouth-watering meat morsel.

Instead, I skipped the morning meal — and therefore avoided the temptation of a bacon-filled breakfast — and then had some warming potato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and finally polished off rare yellowfin tuna and calamari for dinner.  Quite tasty . . . but I still feel a wistful sensation, as if something warm and satisfying and comforting has been missing from my day.

Having successfully leaped over the previously insurmountable no-meat hurdle today, tomorrow I plan to learn how to appreciate rap music.

Vegetable Week: The Cultural Impact

Another way to assess the value of vegetables versus meats is to look at their impact on our culture. In that regard, vegetables fare very poorly indeed. Many of our holidays revolve around preparing and eating a traditional meat dish, such as the Thanksgiving turkey. If you go to a baseball game, you have a hot dog. The characters in American Graffiti keep returning to a particular hamburger stand that is the locus of their cruising activities. In America, there is an entire genre of restaurants — the steakhouse — that celebrates meat consumption by featuring particular cuts of beef and, typically, oversized portions. There is, of course, nothing comparable on vegetable side. People don’t eat a beet at a hockey game, or feast on the broccoli casserole at Christmas, or hang out at the fava bean palace on a Friday night.

Of course, another way to measure cultural impact is to consider poetry, and literature, and song. In these categories, too, meat blows vegetables out of the water. Consider:

But man is a carnivorous production
And must have meals – at least once a day;
He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,
But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
‘Don Juan’ (1821)

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Robert Burns

And then there is Shakespeare:

‘Brutus’ will start a spirit as soon as ‘Caesar’
Now in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great?

Julius Caesar, Act I, sc. 2, l. 146

And, as to song, I give you Tom Waits: