Saturday, July 5, 2014

Famine Diets: A Stupid Fad That Should Go Away

I am powerless to stop the madness, but perhaps I can make a difference for one or two people.  You see, at different times during human history our predecessors have faced famine.  During times of scarcity the human will to survive will push us to eat things that usually we would not eat.  Survival is a deep biological imperative that is nearly impossible to ignore. 

More than once I’ve heard someone say, “I would never eat that, even if I was starving!”

Obviously they have never starved.

The human race, however, has become confused.   Foods that once were considered nearly unpalatable and only acceptable in order to stave off death by slow starvation are now heralded as delicious and as delicacies.  People you have to stop living in a dream world where you think it’s okay to eat famine foods as part of your normal diet.

What?  You don’t know to which foods I am referring?  Well, let me walk you through the worst of them.

Underwater Insects/Bugs! 

It’s true.  People who would never consider making beetles, stink bugs, roaches, or grasshoppers a part of their normal diet are quick to eat the sea's equivalent of bugs.  Which ones, you ask!

-       Shrimp
-       Oysters
-       Clams
-       Crabs and Lobsters (Just because an insect tastes good doesn’t mean you should eat it.)

(Crustacean is Latin for aquatic insect.)

I’m certain the list is longer, but these are the primary offenders.  Do you really think that the first time a non-starving person looked at an oyster or a clam that they thought, “Oh, man that there looks tasty.  I think I’ll be the first ever human to put that in my mouth and chew?”  I don’t think so either.  My guess is that someone was near death before they tried it.  In fact my guess is that the scenario went down something like this.

A small, peaceful village a few miles inland from the ocean was in the throes of a five-year drought and famine.  What had once been a place of health and life was losing members to starvation and malnutrition everyday.  This famine was worse than any raids from the neighboring tribe of warriors. 

One day the chief’s wife said, “What kind of leader are you?  Your people are starving.  You must go and find them food.  We no longer have cattle to provide us milk and meat.  We no longer have water sufficient to grow our tasty vegetables and fruits.  You must go out to find us food.”

The chief accepted his wife’s words and his responsibility.  Gathering up his knife, a light blanket, and a small gourd filled with precious water, he left the village in search of food.  Within a short time he came to the shore of the sea.  His people had avoided the sea in order to be safe from other tribes in the area. 

No food was to be found along the shore.  All wild game had gone from the area and no nutritious vegetation was to be found.

Despair overtook him and he decided to drown himself in the depths of the sea.  He walked into the water feeling the sand between his toes.  His stomach throbbed and ached.  Thoughts of his starving family seared his mind.  Reaching into the water, he scooped up a handful of the sand and brackish water.  He felt something hard and rough.  He picked it up and pried it open.  Something living was inside, something grey and gooey and unhealthy looking.  He stared at it and wondered.

Reaching a decision he quickly reached into the water and sand again.  Within a few seconds he had found another and another.  With five or six of them in his bag he returned to the shore.  Sitting on the sand he stared at his catch. 

“Is it safe to eat them,” he wondered aloud.  Looking at the flesh he was unsure.  He figured it would either kill him or sustain him if he ate it.  Since death was imminent for him and his village, he elected to eat it.  To give himself the best chance of survival he built a small fire and roasted his six shells.

Sure that they were fully cooked, he pulled the meat out with his knife and stared at it as it hung there.  His mind battled with his stomach.  His stomach demanded that he eat it.  His mind refused, attempting to choke the stomach off into submission.  Having not real choice, he gave into survival and put the meat into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.  The experience wasn’t pleasant.  When he was still alive after a few minutes, he ate another and then another.  It was more food than he had eaten in weeks.  Filled with sustenance, his body hungered now for sleep so he could digest the food.

The next morning he awoke.  Quickly he weaved a larger bag from branches and leaves so he could carry his catch back to the village.  For several hours he wondered up and down the coast, gather as many of the shells as he could.  With his bag full he headed back to the village.

Upon arrival he found the few remaining villagers gathered around the fire discussing how to give up and die.  They were shocked to see him, assuming he too had died.  Coming forward he spilled his bag on the ground, explaining what he had done.  His wife picked up a shell and pried it open.

Distraught at what she saw, she yelled at him, “What is this?  How can you expect us to eat this?  This will kill us as surely as no food at all.”

Another man, whose starvation must have been worse, rushed forward and grabbed the open shell from her.  He tore the top half off and scraped the meat into his mouth.  (And thus was born oyster on the half shell.)

All watched the man to see if he would die right away.  As the man reached for another it started a feeding frenzy and within minutes all of the flesh of the shells had been consumed.  None were impressed with the new food or its taste, but it did provide sustenance.  The next day they decided to move to the seaside to live off of the oysters until the famine ended and they could return to their normal food.

Skip ahead with me ten years.  The village chieftain has just returned from a trip to the site of their old village.  There he has found green grass and nutritious vegetation.  He asks the villagers to join him in a grand return where they can give up their reliance on the flesh of the shells.

Unfortunately, many of the villagers have forgotten the taste of good food and are now proud of their new diet.  In fact there is a faction that is preparing to take a shipment of shells inland to another tribe in hopes of trading for animal skins for clothing.  They pressure the chieftain into leading the trading party.

Upon arrival at the tribe’s village, they make an offer of the flesh of the shells in exchange for cow and deer hides.  The local chieftain steps forward to view the offering.  He pries open a shell to look inside.  With his discovery he assumes that the traders have come to poison his people in hopes of taking possession of their herds and gardens.  He orders the entire trading party killed.

While I don’t have proof that this is what happened, I’m sure it’s not far off from the truth.  Why else would someone eat something like seaweed, unless you were starving?

I am okay with eating such things when you are starving, but once you’re not starving, once the famine is over, please go back to normal foods.  Don’t try to convince others or me that such foods are normal.  They’re not.  Bugs and insects should be saved as a last resort.

(If I had time, I would discuss the consequences of losing the knowledge and ability to make fire.  Raw fish!  Really?  If you were dumb enough to lose the secret of fire, you should have been smart enough at least to pick it up again when someone else showed you.)