What won’t you eat?

Despite the title of my blog, I’m not a carnivore. I’m an omnivore.

Photo by Ingrid Taylar

Or am I?

According to my Random House Webster’s Dictionary, an “omnivore” is “someone or something that is omnivorous.”

Duh. Next reference, please.

Omnivorous (om niv’ər əs), adj.

  1. feeding on both animals and plants – Check.
  2. eating all kinds of foods indiscriminately – Uh…no.

I’m not a fussy eater. It’s just that there are some things I don’t consider “food.”

I know, for example, that insects are eaten by humans all over the globe. People insist that they are tasty, nutritious, environmentally friendly, and even “the food of the future.” (Online, you can order “cricket and larva lollipops” containing arthropods with “the taste and crunch of popcorn.”) Call me prejudiced, but I can’t see myself going there, unless I was starving.

Pickiness is, I suspect, inversely correlated with hunger.

When we’re reasonably well fed, though, it’s not hard to abide by our rules: our aesthetic, ethical, religious, and cultural proscriptions.

  • Some of us, obviously, won’t eat flesh, or any food that comes from animals. Been there, done that.
  • Some of us won’t eat wild game. For others, a hunted-or-fished meal is the finest feast imaginable.
  • Some of us won’t eat flesh unless we know where it came from. Others would rather not know.
  • Some won’t eat pigs. Others have recurrent fantasies involving the mysterious aromatic powers of bacon.
  • In some parts of the world, folks consider cows sacred; harming them is taboo. In other places, folks will happily sit down to a plate of sirloin but are revolted by the idea of people eating horse, dog, or cat.

By and large, I have no quarrel with such notions of what is or is not edible. But I do think they’re worth questioning, and—now and then—stretching.

Twenty years ago, early in college, I had the chance to spend a semester in Japan. My first afternoon there, I sat down to a plate of okonomiyaki: a kind of thick pancake, with vegetables and seafood stirred into the batter. A few bites in, I found myself looking down at a chunk of purple tentacle.

It wasn’t bad. A tad rubbery, but not bad.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Quote “Pickiness is, I suspect, inversely correlated with hunger.” I have seen this in action. It takes less time than one might expect for someone who claims they would never eat something to devour it when no other food is around. Funny how the good life changes people’s attitudes about food. What used to be a necessity is now entertainment. Your pal the Envirocapitalist.

  2. Christine says:

    Not indiscriminately, I recently ate pig brains, sauteed with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. I was attending a workshop on pig butchery and the concept of eating everything “from snout to tail”, so I did. And although some in attendance would not touch it, I found it delicious and had seconds. For me, if I’m going to eat meat, I’m going to eat it as close to the source as possible, and eat all of it, in one way or another. Rendering pig fat tomorrow…

  3. I have to agree with Christine … I want to honor the animal by using as much of it as I can. That is one reason I have been learning to brain tan hides. Around here, many people hunt, but toss the hides, hooves, etc. I will try almost anything once. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to eat it, assuming starvation is not a factor.

  4. Nathan says:

    There’s two profs at a University College here in my town that give a presentation for schoolkids on eating bugs called “My Ant is Coming to Dinner.” It’s really cool — the one prof is a psychologist who studies disgust reactions, the other is an entymologist. At the end is snacktime, with cooked mealworms and cajun crickets. The crickets are really good! I have the recipe, but I haven’t cooked any up yet myself because I’m not sure how to locate the ovipositor (which has to be removed). I betcha I could get you to eat a bug, Tovar, even if you weren’t starving! Or if not me, then these two could. 🙂

  5. Josh says:

    What won’t I eat… well, I’m not keen on tongue, just because I can easily imagine biting my own tongue. Silly, yes.

    You can add social constraints in context as another reason for people eating certain things. I’ve eaten toasted ants from Columbia – they taste like nuts – because folks were just eating them, it was just what they were doing. I won’t go out of my way for ants, but there they were.

    The social context in which people find themselves often has a way of shifting many habits. I agree with Nathan.

  6. Tovar says:

    Envirocapitalist: I don’t doubt it for a moment!

    Christine: You’re braver and more open-minded (open-palated?) than most, I suspect. Eating “as close to the source as possible” and using as much of the animal as possible are great guidelines for all of us. (At the other extreme, it occurs to me that bears sometimes snag a salmon and take only a single bite. That’s just the way they do it. Other critters will feast on the remains and nothing really goes to waste. But it’s not behavior many of us would condone in humans.)

    DEM: I agree with you about honoring the animal. I’ve tried tanning (not too successfully) and would like to try it again, so I’m not left with the dilemma of either having it done professionally (which makes my hunting far less cost-effective) or returning deer hides to the woods.

    Nathan: I should have known I could count on you! That’s a great gig those two profs have going.

    Josh: Very true. In the hinterlands of Alberta (with Nathan) or Colombia (with you), there’s really no telling what I’d eat. 🙂

  7. gary says:

    Taste often comes from perception of those we grew up around, I believe. Last night we sat down to supper, the meat was bear. One daughter in law didn’t want it and got after our son for putting some on their son’s plate. When the little fella figures it out as to what’s going on it’ll be interesting to see which way he goes. I just hope he’s open minded. Even though I feel I’m pretty open minded and can enjoy most meats for what they are, I too at this point have my limits. The limits are usually from smells in cutting the meat up, or perception of the animal’s place in society, what it feeds on, etc. Also the function of the organ can taint our taste buds. I do love tongue, heart and liver if done right.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Gary. All you’ve said here—about perceptions, animals’ places in society, and organ functions—is true, I think.

      And, yes, it will be interesting to see which way your grandson goes. If he decides not to eat wild game (or any meat at all), you can always keep your fingers crossed; like me, he might reconsider and make an about-face somewhere down the line!

  8. Phillip says:

    Fun things to think about.

    Remember that lobster were once the food of slaves and paupers in this country up into the 19th century… no self-respecting, propertied, white man would eat the cockroach of the sea.

    Like a lot of folks have already said, “weird” is all about context. It’s not unusual to eat flying ants or termites in parts of Africa. In the American south, eating a hog from “the rooter to the tooter” was pretty much a given, and I still love a mess of chit’lins, cracklins, or pickled pigs’ feet. (I loved brain until all this CWD and Mad Cow insanity made me a little more skittish about it.)

    But here’s a thought for those who believe in “honoring” the animal they’ve killed. Remember that, even if you don’t eat it, nature will utilize everything you leave behind. Maybe, to some folks, it’s all about scale… but as far as I’m concerned, leaving a liver or kidney in the woods is no different than leaving a bone, an antler, or even a hide. Something will eat it, will be nourished by it, and the “circle” remains unbroken. If you don’t enjoy eating those parts, don’t feel too bad about leaving them behind.

    And no, I wouldn’t use this rationale to justify wanton waste…

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Phillip. Yeah, the history of lobster is a great example! After all, they are arthropods, too, just like insects.

      I agree that the “honoring” of animals—by eating everything possible, by using the hide, and so on—is largely symbolic, especially in the modern world where we usually don’t need every last morsel of hog to survive and don’t need deerskin for clothing. The “honoring,” whatever form it takes, is something that matters to us. Other predators don’t eat everything, let alone tan hides. Some other creature, from vulture to microbe, makes use of what the initial predator does not, just as the predator itself (human or otherwise) is eventually recycled.

      It seems to me that wanton waste is like that, too: a question of values that matter to us. I remember fishing with my uncle once and having a striped bass take the hook deep. We had a lot of trouble getting that hook out. And the fish was too small to keep legally. It was hard to leave that fish there, being almost certain it would die. Sure, I knew it “wouldn’t go to waste.” Other fish and birds and so on would make use of it. But I really didn’t like being the instrument of its death.

  9. Swamp Thing says:

    “Indiscriminate” is not a necessary part of omnivoria. Omnivoria, at its essence, means the ability to survive off of either plants, animals, or both.

    Many omnivores have preferences, especially on a seasonal basis, that will supply them with the most effective calories and nutrients for the activities at hand that season. Sure, they can deviate, and they do. But deviating from their preference almost always means expending more energy for lower nutritive value.

    And I’d love to say I eat everything off of my harvests. But I don’t. I don’t eat fish eyes, or fish guts, or organ meats from birds and mammals.

    And on the striped bass – that’s a big debate here in the Mid-Atlantic. Also true for flounder and croaker. You’re not going to lip hook a flounder, and with the minimum size being 19.5″ this year, a lot of flounder are going to die at the hands of anglers, without being brought home.

    • Tovar says:

      Hey, Swamp Thing, thanks for your comment!

      You’re quite right about omnivores having preferences, of course. I was just playing around with the dictionary definition of “omnivorous,” which is also applied to other kinds of consumption, like indiscriminate reading.

      Like other anglers, I understand the rationale for the various size limits on stripers (and other species). But I’ll never feel good about releasing a fish that I’ve seriously injured. And, yes, the minimum size limit for fluke (summer flounder) has been edging upward in Massachusetts, too, where I fish with my uncle occasionally. Like you said, that has to increase the number of wounded fish that are left to die.

  10. Christine says:

    I’m curious, Tovar; when you are fishing for food, read a legal catch, can you not use barbless hooks, which cause less damage to undersized fish? I used to fish with my dad many, many years ago, before the word barbless was even known to be uttered by die-hard anglers, so am not totally in the know about what can effectively be used when actually fishing for food.

    BTW: I like the fact that your post still receives thought-provoking comments. Everyone of them is written with care and respect. Fantastic.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your follow-up comment, Christine.

      I would have replied sooner, but was away for a couple days—for my once-a-year weekend of fishing with my uncle, on that same bay where that small striped bass was so badly injured. This weekend, I’m happy to report, all undersized fish were released easily. I’m also glad to report that stripers still taste as good as ever. My uncle caught, kept, and filleted one fish over the 28″ minimum, his first of the year.

      Your question is a good one, though I’m probably not the best person to answer it, as I don’t spend a ton of time fishing. I wonder whether the effectiveness of landing fish with barbless hooks varies from one species to another, in terms of how they fight, mouth shape, etc.

      For a variety of reasons, fishing—especially catch-and-release fly fishing with barbless hooks—tends to be viewed more charitably than hunting. But I think there’s a case to be made for the opposite view. An angler can hook a lot of fish in a day. But if a hunter decides he or she doesn’t want to kill an animal, that animal passes unharmed, perhaps even unaware of the hunter’s presence.

Comments are closed.