Worms taste like dirt. A rubbery sort of dirt, sure—ringed and smooth. But dirt nonetheless.
I am, in fact, speaking from experience. My fascination with odd and sometimes downright outrageous foods brings endless chagrin to my family and friends, not because they worry for my health, but rather because they are the ones who typically watch me eat. I’ve eaten snake and fish eyes in China, alligator in Florida, roasted pork feet in Germany, self-made Native American-style acorn bread, and stir-fried weed at home. When faced with choices at a soda fountain, I simply mix them all together. I am at my most courageous at the dinner table; no foreign-sounding name, squelching-squishing sound, or unnatural hue can daunt me.
Some of these foods, I could have done without. The raw (and judging from its movements in my mouth, still living) snail consumed in France is one such example. These foods I eat strictly to gain perspective. I’m a firm believer that the most direct medium of communication from one culture to another is food; thus, to most properly place yourself in another’s shoes, you must first place yourself in his mouth. When I was in fourth grade, I ate a bit of doggie kibble to see if it really did taste “100% like 100% pure bacon.” Since then my dog has known the true taste of bacon, which does not in fact taste like stale, vaguely salty cardboard.
Other foods, I would gladly try again and again. Raspberry bombes, turkey-avocado on hazelnut bread, thick slices of Swiss cheese melted with strawberry jam and spread on crackers…these are the foods that come to mind when I think of indulgence. We are at our best when we eat: the sated pleasantness we derive from a thick slice of buttered apple turnover lasts through at least a good hour’s worth of conversation, no matter how dull. Food is of infinite meanings, some which you can’t even define.
Just the other morning, I was sitting at the breakfast table, sipping a cup of green bing tea and forking into a slice of oven-fresh pumpkin pie. As the warmth of pumpkin-cinnamon melted into the aromatic tea on my tongue, I felt a sudden delight not unlike Proust’s in Swann’s Way. Like liquid warmth was trickling down my throat and slowly filling in the little spaces between my chest cavity and heart, pocket-voids of stress and dissatisfaction I hadn’t realized existed dissolved away. I spent a good seven minutes trying to identify the cause of my complete and sudden happiness; the reason revealed itself in a memory of my mother, when she’d worked long hours as a nurse and I cried often when she wasn’t around for Thanksgiving. She bought me a slice of pumpkin pie at a local Safeway to console me. Food had given me back a treasured memory.
The American culture is disjointed; we are, each of us, of different hearts and minds. We do not melt together, but our food does. The eating experience is shared by all, regardless of class, economy, demographic, and race. It is when we are eating that we accept the most readily, when we encounter most directly. In a world full of strangers, even if we have just met, if I have eaten at least one thing you’ve eaten—be it hummus, Cracker Jacks, samosas or phở—for that one little moment, we have shared the same life—felt the same sensation, the same flickers of pleasure or disgust.
So I will eat. Worms, you say? Hornet grubs? Bring it on. And if a little protein’s all that’s required to understand you? So be it. As long as it doesn’t kill me, it can only make me stronger.
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