You Are What You Eat

WARNING: Video features the slaughter and consumption of animals.


If you were to visit China in the 21st century, you may well stumble across one of the popular speed cooking competitions, where frenetically paced chefs transform live animals into animated culinary oddities: snakes are decapitated then chopped up into inch-long segments, which squirm on the plate several feet away from their freshly-severed heads; Ying Yang fish, their sides deep-fried and coated in sweet and sour sauce are devoured as they stare up, still breathing (if the fish isn’t breathing, naturally the chef is disqualified).

For those of us who are a little squeamish about eating their dinner while it’s still alive, the popular dish Drunken Shrimp might be more palatable. The shrimp are served stunned in baijiu, a distilled white liquor, perhaps to impart a final pleasure to the creature before its untimely demise (although diners run the risk of becoming one of the 22 million people worldwide subjected to the food-borne parasitic infection Paragonimiasis – a fair compromise, from the perspective of the shrimp).

Eating animals before they’re dead is something of a rare – and some might say cruel and sadistic – delicacy. Some Japanese seafood connoisseurs share their Chinese neighbours’ predilection for live animals, eating their fish, lobster or octopus ikizukuri-style, a preparation of sashimi using live seafood, or intoxicating baby shrimps in rice wine to make odori ebi. Koreans might prefer sannakji – raw, live and freshly chopped octopus which literally tries to escape as hungry locals and adventurous tourists attempt to cram the wriggling creatures into their mouths.

In the Western world such practices are often condemned as inhumane or even outlawed altogether, as is the case with ikizukuri in Australia and Germany. Most of us prefer our food to be dead before it reaches the plate, rather than staring at us with a mixture of desperation and horror as we tuck greedily into its flank. It is perhaps ironic, given the techniques used in the West for the mass production of animal food – from factory farms to industrialised slaughterhouses, where animals suffer torturous conditions before being killed en masse – that much of the opprobrium levelled against the approach to fresh meals in East Asia comes from those who live in regions of the world where animals have been reduced to mere commodities controlled by multinational corporations.

Ethical concerns bogged down in the quagmire of cultural relativism aside, few are likely to have any sympathy for the hapless victims squirming in the dish Casu Marzu, a pungent cheese made of sheep’s milk left out in the sun to become infested with maggots, a favourite on the Italian island of Sardinia. As a species it seems we have some way to go before extending our compassion towards insect larvae. A “Prehispanic Snackeria” in San Francisco called Don Bugito specialises in providing customers all their protein and vitamin needs in insect form – this enterprising advocate of “entomophagy” – the human consumption of insects – includes on its menu such delights as Wax Moth Larvae Tacos (“crunchy and tasty!” according to one satisfied customer), Salted Cricket Tostadita and Toffee Covered Mealworms over Vanilla Ice Cream.

Eating insects might be a something of a novelty – or perhaps a challenge – even for the residents of San Francisco, a city more deserving than most of the label “cosmopolitan”, where writer H. L. Menken felt the “subtle but unmistakable sense of escape from the United States.” Perhaps only New Yorkers can challenge San Franciscans in the arena of quirky cuisine – the East Coast plays host to a number of unusual restaurants which give Don Bugito a run for its money, where the clientèle can be found tucking into guinea pigs, finely chopped goat testicles and frog porridge. Such dishes, however, are not indigenous to the Big Apple; rather, they reflect the eccentric tastes of a city where obscure ethnic specialities sit comfortably alongside dining blindfolded to “challenge your palate to tease out the mysteries”.

The eclectic restaurants of New York represent a tasting menu of the unusual foods to be found around the world. Well over a thousand insect species have been recorded as being eaten by over 3000 ethnic groups. Over 300 species of ants are eaten globally, from Thailand to Australia, sometimes grown on a special farm and encased in lollipops, sometimes covered in chocolate, providing children with a delicious, nutritional snack. Bug-themed special eating parties in Tokyo offer cockroach sushi, while the peckish shopper perusing the street stalls of Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing can choose from a selection of silkworm cocoons, fried scorpions, centipedes and locusts to stave off hunger. For something more substantial the Cambodians offer tarantula, stir frying the arthropod in mashed garlic, salt and oil.

It is unlikely that the widespread practice of entomophagy is just around the corner (in the western world, if not Asia), but the advantages to consuming the occasional grub or beetle may be greater – both to the individual and the environment – than most would assume. As well as being high in protein, insects could provide the ever-swelling human population of the planet with a possible alternative source to animal livestock. Environmentalists argue that this would reduce the need for huge tracts of land used for cattle grazing presently requiring extensive deforestation and the corresponding reduction in biodiversity, while simultaneously drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The only obstacle to such a radical revision of the human diet, some environmentalists lament, is the cultural taboo against eating insects which exists in Western culture.

While efforts by the Food and Agriculture Organization to promote entomophagy have so far largely focused on the Asia and Pacific region (and, if the foregoing overview is anything to go by, they have so far been hugely successful), cricket sticks and scorpion sandwiches are not likely to appear on the shelves of supermarkets in Europe and the US any time soon.

Or at least, not labelled. Many food laws limit the quantity of insect parts found in food rather than prohibiting them altogether. For instance, according to the US Food and Drug Administration’s “The Food Defect Action Levels” booklet, contamination of less than 150 insect fragments per 100 grams of wheat flour poses no threat. Whether you’re curious or not about trying out insects with your next meal, the chances are you already have.

In the modern world, we throw away almost as much food as we eat. A study conducted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2013 revealed that as much as half of all the food produced in the world ends up as waste each year – an amount equivalent to 2 billion tonnes. The report cites a number of factors which leads to this “staggering” statistic, from “poor engineering and agricultural practices” to unnecessarily strict sell-by dates and the demand from Western consumers for cosmetically perfect food. While the supermarkets rejected the findings – and with it, any culpability they may share – campaigners maintained that poorly managed food consumption habits were exacerbated by retailers. Tom Tanner, from the Sustainable Restaurants Association, said: “It is the power of major retailers – convenience shopping and supermarkets on everyone’s doorstep, you can nip out and buy a ready made meal in two minutes rather than make use of what’s in your fridge.”

One extreme form of anti-consumerist ideology striving to break away from the conventional economic and commercial system which exacerbates waste is Freeganism, which encourages minimal consumption of resources. Freegans “embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed,” their activism characterised by the salvaging of discarded food from the skips and bins of supermarkets and restaurants. The perfectly edible food – thrown away because of the strict sell-by dates cited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as one of the major causes of wastage – is often shared with the homeless and hungry, combining environmental activism and sustainability with humanitarianism. The problems created by rampant consumerism and free market capitalism are best solved, or at the very least addressed, by radical “community anarchists”.

The existence of Freeganism and other associated movements geared towards sustainable living, wild foraging and community gardens call to attention the complex and often ill-considered nature of contemporary food production and consumption. At one extreme, the unequal distribution of food has created a continuing increase in the world’s poor, with an estimated 925 million people in 2010 going hungry, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Sitting on the opposite end of the spectrum, the rich and powerful may well start the day with a Zillion Dollar Frittata for $1000 before treating themselves to an Italian White Alba Truffle (price: $160,406). Foie gras – cooked duck or goose liver produced by force-feeding the animals until their livers enlarge to around 600% of their natural size – is just one dish eaten by the wealthy which has been condemned as cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. Endangered species are often sought after too – from Chinese giant salamanders and giant ditch frogs to dolphins and elephants; the rarer the delicacy the more highly sought after it is.

The eating habits of billionaires seem to reflect something of the decadent spirit of the age, voracious appetites to match their avaricious leanings, living in a world where the top 100 billionaires have the capacity to end global poverty.

From the waste pickers and scavengers who climb the mountains of refuse of Sao Paulo in Brazil to the increasing number gastro-tourism enthusiasts globe-trotting in search of the next exotic dish, it seems humans will eat just about anything. If the idea of eating bugs might sound like an unpleasant throwback to the primitive past, there are some who choose to diet on the menu of our distant ancestors.

The Paleolithic diet – also known as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet – first became popular in the 1970s by gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin, author of the self-published The Stone Age Diet: Based on in-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man, who proposed a nutritional program based on meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Controversial amongst dieticians and anthropologists, the diet was deemed to rank the lowest of 20 diets by US News and World Report. The panel of 22 experts took issue with the diet on every measure, including health, weight-loss and effects on the heart, determining that, while a “true Paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants. The modern approximations… are far from it.”

The idea that eating the food of ancestors so ancient they lived in a period of human history when more than one human species existed is considered a “fad diet” is not unreasonable – why deliberately deny yourself from sharing in the advantages of the Neolithic Revolution? Eleven thousand years of agriculture has played a pivotal role in the development of the human race; eschewing a grain-based diet in favour of that of the hunter-gatherer seems to represent a counter-intuitive regression from human achievement (although it is debatable whether or not the era of patriarchy-driven “civilization” has been truly beneficial to either the species or the planet – the verdict is still out), notwithstanding the inconvenient fact that the Paleolithic Era spanned some 3 million years – around 99% of human existence – of which there is much uncertainty and scholarly dispute. Anthropologists and archaeologists offer a number of competing hypothesis on the content and balance of the diet of the Paleolithic human, with some even arguing that cannibalism was common in human societies.

Of course, none of the contemporary advocates of a Paleolithic diet have suggested incorporating human flesh – at least, not in any of the literature in the public domain.

, , , , ,

50 Responses to You Are What You Eat

  1. Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    I predict Buzz Coasting will get on here and explain why Americans are still bigger douche bags.

    in the Land of the Free.

    • Matt Staggs March 18, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      C’mon. Play nice.

    • Matt Staggs March 18, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      C’mon. Play nice.

      • Adam Goodwin March 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

        Hey Matt, I want to start contributing, but the contact form on the site isn’t working for me. How can I get set up?

      • Adam Goodwin March 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

        Hey Matt, I want to start contributing, but the contact form on the site isn’t working for me. How can I get set up?

        • Matt Staggs March 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

          email me the name you’d like to contribute under and also your email address to matt@disinfo.com.

        • Matt Staggs March 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

          email me the name you’d like to contribute under and also your email address to matt@disinfo.com.

    • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

      check out the way America raises its beef, chickens and pork
      and then see if this is more heinous than industrial animal farms
      there’s a real good description of the process in The Omnivores Dilemma

    • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

      check out the way America raises its beef, chickens and pork
      and then see if this is more heinous than industrial animal farms
      there’s a real good description of the process in The Omnivores Dilemma

  2. Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I am not sure why Chinese like to torture animals so much. You can also go to Chinese zoos and throw live animals into lions and tigers and watch for example 12 tigers play tug o’war with a live goat.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/china-zoos-animal-abuse_n_2545494.html

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h3nAKHe7RwyZZjOKNzvNreIQkcCg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6Mah2YgiMw

    • Adam Goodwin March 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      What are you talking about, Ted? Americans (and Canadians) also torture animals everyday. The only difference is that they are cowards about it–they don’t want anyone to see it being done and scapegoat the farming fiends as ‘bad apples’ when images leak out. You probably saw that disinfo article the other day–they’re even passing laws jailing people who take pictures. Let’s call a spade a spade, mate.

    • Adam Goodwin March 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      What are you talking about, Ted? Americans (and Canadians) also torture animals everyday. The only difference is that they are cowards about it–they don’t want anyone to see it being done and scapegoat the farming fiends as ‘bad apples’ when images leak out. You probably saw that disinfo article the other day–they’re even passing laws jailing people who take pictures. Let’s call a spade a spade, mate.

      • Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

        um, no. Factory Farms are fucked up. Its cold, heartless, etc. But that is not the same as reveling in watching animals suffer.

        Apples and oranges.

        • mannyfurious March 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

          Rotten apples and rotten oranges.

        • mannyfurious March 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

          Rotten apples and rotten oranges.

        • Adam Goodwin March 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

          I would say that they’re not reveling in watching animals suffer, but reveling in the skill and artistry of chefs (that’s gonna provoke a comment, I bet!). It isn’t a case of apples and oranges because we’re trying to boil the argument down to a case of morality. But what is our basis for morality? Empathy towards other individuals of our species? I think that’s a good place to ground morality (Frans de Waal makes a really good case for it).

          So, if we’re arguing morality here and we agree on that starting point, then which behaviour sounds more moral to you? Cutting up fish and reptiles for display in an ostentatious speed cooking competition, which is by definition open to an audience of one’s own species? Or systematically breeding, raising and confining mammals and birds (which largely have more developed nervous systems, than fish and reptiles) in torturous conditions throughout their lives, injecting them with hormones and antibiotics that remain in their flesh, all while keep these conditions as secret as is humanly possible on the scale that this system operates? The former is a social act that brings the observer into the fold of the experience and tries to make the otherwise brutal (and absolutely necessary) act of killing aesthetically pleasing to the onlooker. Whereas the latter is a private, exclusionary act deceitfully portrayed as in continuity with a long-held tradition of working with nature to eat more efficiently, but is really built on an edifice of deception and calculated efficiency for the sake of profit. One invites the participation of the consumer, while the other avoids it at all costs. One embraces the biological need to consume other biological organisms, and the other conceals all processes of food preparation out of shame and for the sake of keeping other members of the species dependent on the sick process so that profits can be made.

          So perhaps it is apples and oranges, but only in its results. The heart of the matter is the same: how we process our food is a reflection of how we think of each other.

        • Adam Goodwin March 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

          I would say that they’re not reveling in watching animals suffer, but reveling in the skill and artistry of chefs (that’s gonna provoke a comment, I bet!). It isn’t a case of apples and oranges because we’re trying to boil the argument down to a case of morality. But what is our basis for morality? Empathy towards other individuals of our species? I think that’s a good place to ground morality (Frans de Waal makes a really good case for it).

          So, if we’re arguing morality here and we agree on that starting point, then which behaviour sounds more moral to you? Cutting up fish and reptiles for display in an ostentatious speed cooking competition, which is by definition open to an audience of one’s own species? Or systematically breeding, raising and confining mammals and birds (which largely have more developed nervous systems, than fish and reptiles) in torturous conditions throughout their lives, injecting them with hormones and antibiotics that remain in their flesh, all while keep these conditions as secret as is humanly possible on the scale that this system operates? The former is a social act that brings the observer into the fold of the experience and tries to make the otherwise brutal (and absolutely necessary) act of killing aesthetically pleasing to the onlooker. Whereas the latter is a private, exclusionary act deceitfully portrayed as in continuity with a long-held tradition of working with nature to eat more efficiently, but is really built on an edifice of deception and calculated efficiency for the sake of profit. One invites the participation of the consumer, while the other avoids it at all costs. One embraces the biological need to consume other biological organisms, and the other conceals all processes of food preparation out of shame and for the sake of keeping other members of the species dependent on the sick process so that profits can be made.

          So perhaps it is apples and oranges, but only in its results. The heart of the matter is the same: how we process our food is a reflection of how we think of each other.

          • Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

            Specious argument. Can you display skill without cutting up live animals? Its obviously a spectacle based on torturing animals the same as the case of the links I provided and in those cases no skill is on display just barbarity.

            I think you are simply uncomfortable criticizing another culture. Which is understandable, But I am not implying any cultural superiority in return. Just calling it like I see it. There seems to be a thing for torturing animals in China still. There used to be in the UK and Europe. It is a cultural thing. Its been observed, extensively. Some cultures enjoy watching people or animals suffer.

            I don’t see any reason to pretend that is not the case for the sake or Political correctness of Cosmopolitanism. I am plenty Cosmopolitan, just not a complete moral relativist. Maybe a partial moral relativist.

          • Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

            Specious argument. Can you display skill without cutting up live animals? Its obviously a spectacle based on torturing animals the same as the case of the links I provided and in those cases no skill is on display just barbarity.

            I think you are simply uncomfortable criticizing another culture. Which is understandable, But I am not implying any cultural superiority in return. Just calling it like I see it. There seems to be a thing for torturing animals in China still. There used to be in the UK and Europe. It is a cultural thing. Its been observed, extensively. Some cultures enjoy watching people or animals suffer.

            I don’t see any reason to pretend that is not the case for the sake or Political correctness of Cosmopolitanism. I am plenty Cosmopolitan, just not a complete moral relativist. Maybe a partial moral relativist.

          • Kevin Leonard March 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

            In a half-hearted defense of them (I do not condone what they do), the concept has prevailed from Chinese medicine that we are consuming the animal’s qi/ chi and make it our own. Live animals have considerably more vitality than dead animals.

          • Kevin Leonard March 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

            In a half-hearted defense of them (I do not condone what they do), the concept has prevailed from Chinese medicine that we are consuming the animal’s qi/ chi and make it our own. Live animals have considerably more vitality than dead animals.

          • Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

            So what is the concept behind throwing live goats into Lion cages to cheer as they rip it apart and hear it bleat?

          • Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

            So what is the concept behind throwing live goats into Lion cages to cheer as they rip it apart and hear it bleat?

          • Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

            I mean, there might be something to what you say. I know fresh cut lettuce tastes way better. But I still think the element of cruelty is part of the attraction. I am actually trying to understands the culture, not trying to talk myself out of reaching a conclusion that might be unpleasant.

            I really think that is what it is and a love of cruelty used to play a more prominent part in Western culture too. Nietzsche examined it very well in “Geneology of Morals”

            Probably China just has more cultural continuity. Maybe its healthy to want to eat live animals, maybe its healthy to be a predator, who knows. Having factory farms while on the other hand spoliing your kitty and small dog and treating them human is weird too.

          • Kevin Leonard March 18, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

            Having known quite a few Chinese folks, I do not really know that cruelty comes into the equation, much. I could be wrong. But I do not see them reveling in it the way a teenage boy would. I honestly think that, for most of them (there are always exceptions), the thought that they are harming a living creature doesn’t even register.

            As for the video with the tigers, that is more close to the way a tiger would naturally eat. It is probably healthier for a tiger on a psychological level. Obviously, that goat is not going to nourish the entire pride. And the witnesses exclamations seemed more shocked than joyous to me.

          • Calypso_1 March 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

            I’ve always taught my cats how to finish & consume their kills. Was this cruel? I used feed mice that were destined for a snake cage anyway. To me its the proper relationship to have with a species that has integrated itself with us and is unable to deny its natural instincts which would otherwise contribute to juvenile expression of predation & needless suffering of smaller creatures. Such behavior only exists because of poor human- feline parenting skills.

          • mannyfurious March 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

            It’s a fine line. Butchery has been an admirable trade and profession and even “art” in China for several thousands of years. But the shit they’re doing to the fish in that video is pretty cruel….

          • Chaorder Gradient March 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

            well you want healthy tigers right? its not animal cruelty to them

          • Calypso_1 March 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

            I’ll bet they have a low rate of morons who try to pet the kitty,

          • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

            Dude, every piece of meat you eat starts out alive.

          • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

            Dude, every piece of meat you eat starts out alive.

        • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

          the Factory Farm is even worse
          because those doing the torturing are doing it in secret
          and then they run stories about China
          so you’ll forget about your own responsibility & guilt

    • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

      torturing animals is not relegated to the Chinese
      every American hamburger comes from a tortured cow
      fed with unnatural food, flooded with antibiotics and
      living crowded together with other cows, in it’s own shit, till it’s slaughtered
      the same situation exists for chickens & pigs raised on industrial farms

    • BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

      torturing animals is not relegated to the Chinese
      every American hamburger comes from a tortured cow
      fed with unnatural food, flooded with antibiotics and
      living crowded together with other cows, in it’s own shit, till it’s slaughtered
      the same situation exists for chickens & pigs raised on industrial farms

  3. emperorreagan March 18, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    The expansion of poverty and food insecurity is partly due to the explicit choice on the part of the industrialized world to undercut traditional agriculture and economic games of debt/aid/subsidy/etc.

  4. emperorreagan March 18, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    The expansion of poverty and food insecurity is partly due to the explicit choice on the part of the industrialized world to undercut traditional agriculture and economic games of debt/aid/subsidy/etc.

  5. Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    as far as foraging, I ate weed salads all summer and felt great. These weren’t wild but invasive species, that show up on cultivated ground. Dandilion, pigweed, chickweed, purslane, sorrel, plantain, garlic mustard, and some wild strawberries or black caps for garnish. Yum!

  6. Ted Heistman March 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    as far as foraging, I ate weed salads all summer and felt great. These weren’t wild but invasive species, that show up on cultivated ground. Dandilion, pigweed, chickweed, purslane, sorrel, plantain, garlic mustard, and some wild strawberries or black caps for garnish. Yum!

  7. Kevin Leonard March 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    For the record, those fish aren’t breathing. They are suffocating.

  8. Kevin Leonard March 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    For the record, those fish aren’t breathing. They are suffocating.

  9. Chaorder Gradient March 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I didn’t realize Ikizukuri was a real thing, i just thought they were trying to make Old Boy an even stranger movie.

  10. Jeremy March 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.. Including the video Ted posted of the live goat being fed to the tigers.. Circle of life and all that jazz. The dominate species devours the other. WTF is wrong with people.

  11. Jeremy March 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.. Including the video Ted posted of the live goat being fed to the tigers.. Circle of life and all that jazz. The dominate species devours the other. WTF is wrong with people.

  12. Captain Ob(li)vious March 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    I love this website so much. Even though the readers and publishers differ in opinion, this website is just a fantastic place for discussion. Probably a weird article to post such a positive thought on, but the thought is the same regardless.

  13. Gnw March 19, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    Are the Chinese just missing any sense of compassion? From the dead eyes of Chinese police and soldiers, to televised death marches of convicted criminals (some only for “corruption”), a lot of them seem to be subhuman.

    • Gnw March 19, 2013 at 12:27 am #

      Give an animal to be eaten a decent life, a quick and as painless death as possible, and treat its meat and skin with respect.

      It’s not difficult. Don’t be evil fucks.

  14. Ryan March 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    The reason eating whole foods is regarded as a fad diet, is because corporations can’t make money off meats and produce the way they can with cheap [subsidized] corn and wheat.

  15. ⚔Christophuh⚔ March 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Horrific.

Leave a Reply