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Food Lines We Won’t Cross

It’s been at least a few weeks since I’ve written a post that even mentions the phrase Albert Heijn (my favorite local Dutch grocery store to the uninitiated), so I should have known.

Something was sure to materialize that I’d end up sharing with you here. Little did I realize exactly how special that something would be…

The other day I was poking around the aisles, searching for pancetta. Daughter needed 100 grams of the lovely Italian bacon for a school cooking project.

[A couple answers before you ask: No, she is not enrolled in a ‘home economics’ or ertswhile cooking class. At her school they occasionally incorporate topics such as menu planning, basic cooking terms and skills, and dietary requirements into one of her other courses; something like her Health or phys ed class, I can never remember which. And no, I do not automatically do her school project-related shopping for her. She was busy that afternoon performing public service (i.e., babysitting for a lovely family so that the couple could get away for a nice dinner sans children), and the AH was closing before she would return home.]

So there I am, searching in the meat section. Then the specialty meat section, followed by the sliced cold meats section. And finally in the speciality sliced cold meats section. (I know, that last one was a surprise to me, too.)

On a low shelf near the bottom of the glass refrigerator, I suddenly spied the word pancetta.

Feeling victorious, I reached for a package, intent on figuring out exactly how much constituted 100 grams. You’d think I would know after three years here, but it’s hard to overwrite years of ounces and pounds, cups and half cups floating around in my brain matter.

No sooner had my fingertips touched the Holy Grail, when my eyes happened upon the label of the item a few inches (no, not centimeters) away. I could practically feel the turning of the gears as I translated the two words from Dutch to English.

Paardenvlees.

photo of a horse on www.adventuresinexpatland.com

Horse meat.

I’ll be honest. I had to stifle a gag reflex when the name sunk in.

I’d read that horse meat had been on the Dutch menu in certain pockets of Nederland, but was under the impression that was long ago.

Yet here it was in MY Albert Heijn, all red and sliced up and packaged for sale.

Right now I know the vegetarians in the crowd are screaming at the hypocrisy of it all: I’m fine with eating beef or chicken or pork or pancetta, but cringe at horse meat.

Meanwhile the vegetarians are being drowned out by the yells of the internationalists who are screaming about cultural relativity.

And you know what? They’re both right.

We tend to eat what we grew up eating. Sometimes we get more adventurous and branch out. Sometimes the line is too deeply etched in our minds to consider crossing.

Which explains why I have tried venison, caribou, reindeer and goat. One time each. I thought they were fine but not psychically worth eating again. Had the opportunity to try rabbit and declined. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. There’s that line again.

It’s also why I could try escargot (again, once for the experience) but will not be checking out frogs legs, snake, cat, dog, sea urchins, certain body parts of various animals, caterpillars, grasshoppers or other creepy crawlies. Can’t help it, I’m simply too squeamish to do so.

This is not a post about moral certitude or pronouncements that this food is ‘okay’ but eating that food isn’t. Not at all. If some Dutchies (or others) want to eat paardenvlees, I have to say that I’m not thrilled about it. But it’s their choice. I suppose I’ll just go to my happy place and sing la-la-la until the thought is no longer stuck in my mind.

Probably just as vegetarians/vegans feel about carnivores and my own love of bacon.

We eat what we do primarily due to cultural mores, unwitting cues telling us ‘this is what we as a group eat’. As we venture forth from our communities, countries and cultures, we find all sorts of new and unusual foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, meats – that we may or may not decide to try.

It’s a personal thing, a cultural thing. More and more, it becomes a global thing. So where exactly is that line for you? I tend to fall further on the ‘let’s try it’ side than some, but certainly not as far as others.

Just a little food for thought…

If you’re up for photos of more unusual foods consumed around the world, here is Oddee’s list of 15 strange foods; they claim they’re the strangest, but really, who’s to say?

Share your unusual food tale:

what food(s) did you or won’t you eat?

Image credit: Simon Howden, portfolio 404 freedigitalphotos.net

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