Unusual meats have intrigued me since I tried to eat all the animals on the Chinese zodiac for a writing project in Taiwan. This past week The New York Times posted a photo slideshow of a dinner at the Allegra LaViola Gallery that served a variety of rat dishes. I never checked off “Year of the Rat,” so it caught my attention.
A diet is as much about what it excludes as what it encompasses. Religious contexts may be the most apparent – mandated vegetarianism, Islamic prohibitions on alcohol, Jewish bans on arthropods – but every group of people has taboos on food. Sometimes violations of these taboos become a way to stigmatize a cultural minority, as Jennifer 8 Lee recounts in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Newspapers in the late 1800s held up the diet of Chinese immigrants as examples of their cultural inferiority (and physical deficiencies) compared to Americans and Europeans. Included in the list of culinary offenses are “bean cheese” (tofu) and rats.
The artist behind the dinner, Laura Ginn, apparently draws from post-apocalyptic themes. So – what would we eat if there was no more society?
(Photo credit: Peter Boylan. Husky rat. September 2006. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Husky_rat.jpg#filelinks)