Thursday, July 06, 2006

Don't Pester Me, I'm Eating

Wanna share a worm pretzel with me?

Nope, that's not one of my infamous typos, but one of the many delicacies to which you'll be treated if you join the Explorers Club in New York.
Founded in 1904, the exclusive international club has some 3,000 members around the world including Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, astronaut John Glenn and paleontologist Richard Leakey.

On the menu at a reception for some lesser mortals in June were worms, crickets, scorpions, ants and pigeon pate.

"We're so fast to make fun or make comments about the way someone talks or the way someone walks, and food is like the last bastion," said Gene Rurka, the Explorers Club's exotic foods expert. "But someone today is living off this."

"I guarantee you people in Africa who haven't had rain for seven years would love to see an insect," he said.

Rurka, a biologist who has studied coral reefs in the Virgin Islands, devotes much thought to devising dishes for the Explorers Club's annual dinner in March where guests feast on tarantulas, maggots and exotic parts of various livestock such as eyeballs, testicles and penises.

Isn't it interesting that people like Hillary and Glenn would be members, and doesn't it make perfect sense? With the adventures they've experienced in their lives, I imagine that much of what the rest of us would consider "on the edge" would seem very ho-hum indeed.

Some of the recipes, if not the main ingredients, sound tasty enough, even fancy:
Large ants from Texas are served with blackcurrants in a sweet mini-tart, while he likes to serve the maggots stuffed in mushrooms. "They're delicious," Rurka said. "I was going to say like a tasty rice grain, but soft. It's not chewy like that."

(Well, at least he didn't trot out the tired cliche, "It tastes just like chicken!")

Some seem to require an awful lot of time and effort, given the final presentation:
He has experimented with worms and decided the best option is to disguise them as a pretzel, tying them in a knot like the salty dough snack, and to serve them with mustard. First they have to be fed on oatmeal for 10 days to cleanse the system, and he does not recommend taking worms from just anywhere.

"You don't want them raised in a dump site, you don't want them raised in manure," he said.

(Um, no indeed!)

And some items are surprisingly expensive:
Rurka prepared two large black tarantulas for the cocktail party but he said at the annual dinner he serves hundreds of them, each costing $175. They have to be stored individually and kept alive until just before cooking to stay fresh.

"They kill each other if they're kept together," he said, adding that occasionally the hairs on the legs can cause an allergic reaction, just as some people are allergic to bees.

(I assume that at that price, allergy kits are kept close by and dispensed as needed at no extra charge?)

You know, all kidding aside, a large part of me wishes I were this adventurous. It's not that I'm strictly a meat-and-potatoes girl, nor that I'm a picky OR snobby eater; not at all. I could eat sushi and sashimi every day of my life, given the opportunity. I like all sorts of ethnic foods and cuisines. And as much as I've teased Bill at So Quoted about "liver milkshakes," I'd be more than happy to sample the foie gras concoction about which he's raved.

The simple truth is that I simply can't get my mind wrapped around some of the items mentioned in this article, and what my mind can't envision, my mouth won't, well, stomach.

It bugs me, though.