Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Last week, I discovered an infestation of morels near my house. Well, OK, I've only found four of them, but if I were really motivated, I bet I could hunt around for enough to justify claims of a colony. I'm pretty sure they're the real deal: they're hollow, their caps are joined to their stems at the base (not the top), and they have a nice pitted and ridged crown. Here's a picture of one of them.

It's a lovely organism, but the idea of putting the damn thing in my mouth drives me batshit. It's not that it's exotic-looking--not much worse than a cauliflower really--it's that the idea of eating weird-looking shit I find outside is wrong. I can look at pictures and field manuals all day, but until I see someone else pluck it, prep it, and pop it in his or her mouth, my stomach clenches at the very idea. Damn shame too, because I've always wanted to taste morels. [Twiffer says they're worth risking death for.]

I want to blame evolution, but it's not the lowness of the lifeform that sparks the revulsion. (After all, I can't imagine a life without yeast.) I'll eat a lily bulb before a garden variety bug or snail, but I'll scarf a dandelion or a pansy from my yard before I start shaking out pine cones for nutty treasures (which I quite enjoy of course). And I eye those baby spring ferns with deep apprehension. I want to saute the curly little bastards, but...

I'm an open-minded eater, but there are certain foods for which I hold an unreasonable horror. Partly it's because they're slimy and gross, partly because they just seem like they shouldn't be eaten, partly because they remind us of the animal nature of our dinners: tripes, brains, eyes. I can't imagine eating an animal's kidneys and I find the thought of sweetbread to be offensive, but I like calf's liver and heart. And I just love sausage. (Not like that, you pervert.) One time I had jellyfish, and even though it tasted like fishy noodles, it was hard to divorce my mind from the puddles of stinging beach goo. Seaweed tastes similar, but I've no problem with it. Lobsters taste good enough to get past the sea-bug vibe. Snails haul their big slimy foot awfully close to teh line, but I'll guzzle raw clams at the picnic. What's the difference? (The thing with the salt, for one.)

One of the better parts of Michael Pollan's recent book, was a (qualitative) discussion of food aversions, the odd combination of learned and instinctive behavior. The role of learning in person, he says, is irreplacable--edibility is something that really needs to be shown. Maybe that's why, against all reason, the American mind doesn't revolt against a twinkie in the same way it does against, say, chicken feet. As usual, it's the marketing.

Edible shrooms hold a certain freakish terror of their own. No matter how much I love some of the storebought varieties, I share the common human suspicion that yard fungus is deadly poisonous until proven otherwise (and even then, even then...). If I beat the odds and found (and recognized) a truffle, bet that I would chuck it horrified back into the trees. I'd make a second-rate survivalist. If I were suave, come the apocalypse, I could use those book-smarts to at least convince some tasters. Some people are made to be leaders, others to whisper in their ears. To my future band of ragged starving misfits: remember that I'm too valuable to kill. I can recognize a morel for you to try.