Don’t bite off more than you can spit out

Someone once said that the difference between what you will and won’t eat is only about twenty-four hours. That may be true, but I still think there is a limit to what I will eat, no matter how hungry I get. I’ve had some strange foods, such as rattlesnake and alligator, and I guess I would eat possum or armadillo, or even raccoon if I got hungry enough, but there are some things that people eat that I just don’t believe were ever meant to be swallowed. While I was growing up my mother used to have trouble getting me to eat. She would tell me that there were starving children in China, but somehow that didn’t make me any hungrier. Never having been really hungry I have a hard time relating to starving people, and I can’t imagine how my being fatter would help the Chinese, anyway. Of course, there have been times when I’ve missed meals, most often on camping or hunting trips, but that only happened before I got married. Now, when we go camping, my wife packs enough food to supply an invading army, with all the major food groups represented, including the napkin group, the plastic utensil group, and the ‘fruit cut into funny shapes’ group. Sometimes even good planning can’t keep you from going hungry, though. When my son, Paden, and I went backpacking last year at Enchanted Rock State Park, a coon got into my pack, unzipped all the zippers, and ate everything we had. We spent a hungry morning walking out, and then set a land speed record on our way to the nearest DQ for breakfast. Some friends and I were camping at a tank one weekend when I was in junior high and my brother, Steve, ate a kildee. Joel Draper shot it and cleaned it, and his brother, Ben, cooked it. Steve walked by and asked what it was, and Ben told him it was a dove. Steve ate the whole thing and still claims it was good, but he’s never talked anyone else into trying one. Ben can’t really look down his nose at Steve, though, because he once ate a peach that had a year and a half on him. He and his friend, Mark Kruse, had found some ancient home-canned foods at a relative’s house, and Mark dared Ben to eat a peach that had been put into its jar, according to the date on the outside, before Ben was born. He ate it, but then there’s not much that Ben won’t eat. My best friend, Dale McCorkle, and I once forgot to eat for an entire weekend, even though we were in the city of San Angelo the whole time. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but we encountered a blood drive at Sunset Mall on Friday evening and gave blood. We were busy running around all weekend, and just never took time to eat from Friday until Sunday at noon. But even then, as hungry as I was, I don’t think I would have eaten, say, a raw oyster. Dale always liked to wonder who ate the first raw oyster, and why. He said the guy must have been starving to death, and I’m sure he was, but I would probably have just gone ahead and died. I don’t think I could live the rest of my life knowing I had put something in my mouth that, as Dave Barry says, officially belongs to the phlegm family. But lots of people willingly eat raw oysters, and worse. Alert reader Marvin Whit, who is a missionary in the Philippines, sent me an article written by Matthew Sutherland, a Brit who also happens to be living in the Phillippines, about some of the foods eaten by the local populace. I’m going to be nice and not even mention most of the dishes discussed in the article, because they’re all disgusting, but one stands out as a particularly vindictive assault on the gastronomic system. The offending treat is called balut, and it is basically a fertilized duck egg. It is served in its shell, along with whatever the fluid is that’s in there, and comes wrapped in newspaper from street vendors. It is considered an aphrodisiac, which I imagine is the only way they can get anyone to buy it. The more developed the feathers, beak and feet, the more the Pinoys like it. It’s considered more macho that way. I can’t imagine eating a partially formed duck. Watching Rocky guzzle down several raw eggs for breakfast was bad enough. But as gross as balut sounds, at least I doubt it would be as painful as the fare at the Bottle Inn, which is a pub near Bridport, in the southern English county of Dorset. The Bottle Inn is the site of this year’s annual ‘World Nettle Eating Challenge,’ on June 17, 2000. I am not making this contest up. An alert reader from Wall sent me a copy of a Reuters article explaining that stinging nettle is cut into two foot lengths, and the competitors try to eat as many of the leaves as they can. Terry ‘Bluey’ Hunt won last year with a total nettle consumption of 33 feet. England is world renowned for its bland cuisine, which may be what caused the folks at Bridport to try to liven things up by having a contest to see who could eat the most stinging nettle. Or maybe, on a slow ale day, the owner of the Bottle Inn was trying to come up with a way to sell more beer (‘Hey, Nigel, betcha can’t eat as much nettle as Tommy, wot’ There’s a good lad, how ’bout another pint’) Then, too, there’s the possibility that Ben & Jerry’s, who is sponsoring this year’s contest, is looking to beat its record ice cream sales figure. The Japanese also have some strange eating habits. One of their most famous delicacies is Fugu, or puffer fish, which is a type of sushi that has to be prepared according to stringent guidelines, because it contains a toxin that is more deadly than strychnine. Even with careful preparation people die every year from eating Fugu, which just goes to show you that eating yourself to death doesn’t have to take a long time. So people will eat just about anything, with very little encouragement, and often don’t even have to be hungry to do it. I guess the bottom line is that, after the research I’ve done for this column, I’ve come to the conclusion that starving in China might not be the worst way to go . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who, at the age of seven, ate both cups of a Reese candy bar in one bite. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Tx 76856 or hemphill@ctesc.net

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