(This started out as a Facebook comment then I realised I could write about it for days…)
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie… it’s not so long ago that starlings, pigeons and so forth were delicacies – think quails’ eggs, larks’ tongues in aspic, and that rare Ortolan bird that French Gourmands still eat illegally
Why did we stop eating fiddly things like these little birds? Firstly, cos we killed lots of them – small things go first in the delightful brutalism of man’s kingdom, especially small tasty things with lots of meat on their bones. The ones we’ve not hunted to extinction are the ones we didn’t domesticate so either we couldn’t or they weren’t worth it. The tasty, wholesome wild animals mostly got eaten to extinction (like the Roman’s favourite spice, Silphium
they just couldn’t be cultivated) and the nasty stuff is what we’re left with.
Second, the ones that are left are ‘vermin’ – something we call them because we’ve turned the world into our plaything, there aren’t that many niches left that we haven’t bulldozed or filled, and anything that both manages to successfully buck our absent-minded attempts at extinction and make itself unappetizing or a carrier of disease needs a jolly good perjorative name!
Most importantly, we don’t eat them because we’re can’t be arsed – consumer culture means that we’ve bred loads of stupid things that won’t run away and taste much better, so it’s aristocrats, gourmands, the poor or the starving who’ll chase after something that’s become so damn difficult to catch. Even the toffs prefer to hunt things that are good and easy to kill – where’s the challenge in shooting the stupidest bird in these islands, the Pheasant, with a shotgun? Or a big deer? Hunting a bear with a sword, now that’s a good challenge.
I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to eat wild birds, except that there’ll be something tastier and cheaper you can get at your butchers. So what are the delicacies worth eating these days? I reckon the outré, the funny, or the challenging. So, for challenging, how about Live Octopus, like in the movie Oldboy?
For challenging, why not get an everyday food that could kill you, like Casava or Ackee, the former which is a good source of cyanide if prepared badly, the later hypoglycin (also poisonous)? If you want something more exotic, a good bet is the puffer fish sushi, Fugu
, laden with lovely neurotoxins that paralyse and kill in a moment. And if you’re looking for something illegal, dangerous and probably horrible how about Bear Paw