LOS ANGELES – Care for some fish sperm sacs, maggot cheese, fried tarantula or a bat? Or how about fried locusts, grasshoppers or virgin boy eggs?
These delicacies are among some 80 items featured at the Disgusting Food Museum that opened in Los Angeles on Sunday, aiming to expose visitors to different cultures and foods and what we may all be eating in the future.
Samuel West, the museum’s founder, said he came up with the idea for the two-month exhibit — which first opened in his native Sweden in October — in light of the ongoing debate about environmentally sustainable sources of protein and food security.
“If we can change people’s notions of disgust, maybe we can also open them up to new sustainable proteins,” said West, pointing to platefuls of Iru locust beans eaten in Nigeria, mopane worms eaten in South Africa or Nsenene, grasshoppers considered a delicacy in Uganda.
The entrance ticket to the museum in downtown Los Angeles is a vomit bag that visitors can use should any of the items from some 40 different countries be too much to stomach.
Some of the foods on display might be considered revolting because they simply stink. That includes French Epoisses cheese, shark meat from Iceland or surstromming, a Swedish delicacy that is considered one of the most pungent dishes in the world and is usually eaten outdoors.
It consists of fermented Baltic Sea herring and is so smelly that it reportedly got one tenant in Germany kicked out by his landlord in 1981 after he opened a can of surstromming in the apartment building’s stairwell.
Other foods in the exhibit could be considered disgusting because of the way they end up on our plate and include Chinese mouse wine, which involves drowning and brewing baby mice in rice wine.
And let’s not forget the virgin boy eggs, a traditional dish in China made from boiling eggs in the urine of young boys.
Of course Japan, home of a number of stomach-turning dishes, is also featured at the museum, with one exhibit being shirako (fish sperm sacs).
Andreas Ahrens, co-curator of the exhibition, said the foods chosen haven’t gone down well with several countries that have taken offense.
“The Vegemite from Australia is causing a bit of an international incident,” he said, referring to the thick, black food spread. “They have been quite pissed off that we’ve included it in the exhibit.
“The Americans are upset about the Root Beer and Twinkie … and we’ve had Peruvians upset that we have included Cuy, or roasted guinea pig, a famous Peruvian dish.”
He said focusing on the word “disgusting” misses the point of the exhibit.
“This is aimed at getting people to realize that we shouldn’t judge the foods of other cultures as disgusting so quickly,” Ahrens said. “But if we would have named this the Museum of Sustainability or the Exhibit of Cultural Differences, no one would come.
“It wouldn’t be interesting.”
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