Monday, January 30, 2012

That's disgusting! But, does it have to be?

I've always said that if I were to go on the show Fear Factor, the eating challenges would be where I would shine.  I'm a pretty picky eater, but I have great faith in my ability to eat at least a little bit of anything... also I'm pretty competitive :)

This article is great on a lot of different levels.  Number 1, it talks about kimchee, number 2, it provides a scintillating description of the world's most "disgusting" foods, and number 3, it is a fascinating commentary on the learned behavior of culture, particularly food culture.

This paragraph in particular rings true...
"In every culture, 'foreigners' eat strange meals that have strange aromas, and their bodies reek of their strange food. These unfamiliar aromas are traditionally associated with the unwanted invasion of the foreigners and thus are considered unwelcome and repugnant. Conversely, a person can become more accepted by eating the right foods—not only because their body odor will no longer smell unfamiliar and "unpleasant," but because acceptance of food implies acceptance of the larger system of cultural values at hand.  

In Korea, everyone will tell you that the only way to learn how to truly speak Korean like a Korean is to eat a lot of kimchee.  Obviously, there are some flaws to this logic, but I did have a Korean companion who explained the truth behind the fable.  She said, that people who speak the best Korean are people who truly love Korea and anyone who has visited Korea knows that there is no way to fully and completely love Korea without loving kimchee.  Therefore, the best Korean speakers will also eat a lot of kimchee... "the acceptance of food implies acceptance of the larger system of cultural values."  

Posho and Bean Sauce
I applied the same principle to make friends in Uganda.  I told everyone I met how much I adored posho (an African staple made up of nothing but, ground maize and water) and they loved it.

What really captivates me about this article however, is the idea that disgust is a learned behavior.
"Most children get their first lessons in disgust around the time that they are potty trained. After that, the triggers of disgust are quickly acquired from the responses and rules of parents, peers and, most importantly, the wider culture."

This means that most likely, it can be unlearned, or even never learned at all!  If this is true of food, think how it could be applied to culture in general.  Disgust is learned, therefore there is no need for us to be disgusted by those things about other cultures that we don't understand or find strange.  There is no need for us to be disgusted by the people who's behaviors might not make sense to us.  

I'm not saying that disgust is an emotion that we could completely do without.  Disgust protects us from eating rotten foods that could make us sick.  It prevents us from developing relationships with people that could be very bad for us.  Maybe though, there are some things that disgust, that might just need a second taste or a second look, food, places, and people that have a lot to teach us.  

Maggot cheese here I come... at least if I ever make it on fear factor.      

1 comment:

  1. Love this - and glad to know there are other who believe the "eat kimchee and speak good Korean" myths - it's true, I swear!