Chinese people eat walruses

The magazine - No. 33

On the ship that rolled south of the pack ice on the icy swell of the Bering Sea, a refined meal was served one evening in the summer of 1778. On the one hand, the seafarers were served sauerkraut, they still knew it, they had been feeding it for months, of which 60 barrels were bobbing down in the hold of the "HMS Resolution". In addition, however, an outrageous absurdity was served, a monstrous something from lightless depths: a walrus. Only the captain considered nutritious fat to be nutritious fat and noted in his logbook that the meat was "as good as bone marrow" when fried. His team, on the other hand, is said to have been on the verge of mutiny.

If there is anyone with whom one could have a wonderful chat about culinary colonization, it would be the explorer James Cook, who died exactly 230 years ago. Or, better still, his cook and Smutje. Rotting water and maggot-contaminated rusks were part of the daily bread here, and the term "Smutje" is not derived from "dirt" by chance. It was thanks to the sauerkraut, feared by the English, that it did not lose a man to the "mouth rot". That is why the captain had left behind goats and pigs that he had carried with him on some of the 'wilds' on previous voyages with the "savages" in order to be able to slaughter them later. The prospect of having a supply of fresh meat familiar from local kitchens at the other end of the world was too tempting - instead of having to resort to such infernal creatures as the walrus.

After all, it is no wonder that physical aversion is greatest precisely where we add foreign substances of organic origin to our body: when we eat. Disgust and pleasure are very, very strange brothers. Both have their origin literally in our head, in the temporal lobe, as doctors say. This core area of ​​our brain processes external impulses and initiates vegetative reactions, i.e. those that we can hardly defend ourselves against. It plays an essential role in every form of perception, be it pleasurable or disgusting. We do not react to this perception instinctively, that would be genetic, but affectively. In other words, exactly as we were brought up in our culture, as it is in accordance with this culture. So it is only a question of the imprint, whether I dread the eggs of chickens - or those of crocodiles.

Things get complicated when the cultures overlap, when they form colonies and exist side by side. The American nutritional psychologist Paul Rozin once described how the evolutionarily meaningful disgust could turn into a form of food-envious xenophobia in the age of globalization: »A mechanism for avoiding damage to the body has become a mechanism for avoiding damage for the soul. The disgust triggers may have multiplied so much to the point that the only thing they have in common is that decent people want nothing to do with them. At this level, disgust becomes a moral emotion and a powerful form of negative socialization. "

In times of need, it is said, the devil eats flies. And the devil, that's always the other, the strange. Crude eating habits always leave us strangely cold when they come from our own culture. In the Faroe Islands, cooked sheep's heads are considered a pleasure, in Sweden they love fermented fish, in France gourmets eat the thighs of frogs and in Sardinia sheep's cheese with live maggots. In Thuringia, a cheese is considered a specialty that is fermented by the saliva of mites, i.e. arachnids. And from the northern part of Hesse, recipes for cockchafer soup have survived from the 1920s. These are all culinary curiosities, local European spinners, which at most elicit a shake of the head - while it literally upsets us and occasionally even leads to diplomatic entanglements that in Japan sometimes such adorable creatures as dolphins and in China sometimes even dogs on the Stand menu. There is no fixed point of view: Eating reptiles, as is common in some Asian countries, violates a categorical food taboo in the western world - but it is just as irrational as the taboo in Hindu cultures to slaughter cows. And doesn't the Asian point of view make sense that cheese is "moldy milk"?

The enjoyment of fried grasshoppers, boiled caterpillars or candied cockroaches, for example, is often celebrated as a "test of courage" in TV programs in this country. In truth, it is less a question of courage or overcoming disgust - but an entertaining way of symbolically distancing oneself from a strange and "wrong" food culture in order to demonstrate the "rightness" of one's own. Even a common world market will not change that in the foreseeable future. That is why the European Union has issued a “regulation for novel foods” (EC regulation No. 258/97) in order to counter the import of non-cultural foods with a kind of bureaucratic immune system. It is no longer unthinkable to eat worms or walruses. Authorization only required. The principle is therefore: "Disgust yourself with the things that are considered disgusting in the society in which you live." Otherwise, especially in times of globalization, when societies fan out kaleidoscopically and intertwine, this principle should be around you unagitated addition: eat and let eat.

Our author Arno Frank (38) gets upset every time someone gossips about Chinese people who eat dogs or monkeys. To be honest, however, it has to be said that he has never eaten seals or locusts.