Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Love Those Arthropods at Popeyes

December 22nd, 2009 · 13 Comments


A comment on an otherwise forgettable post just got us thinking: isn’t there something completely random about the Western culinary take on arthropods? We have apparently decided to feast on only one of the phylum’s four remaining subphyllum—Crustacea. But we gag at the thought of eating the terrestrial cousins of shrimp, lobsters, and crayfish. Why is that? Why not a nice, crispy scorpion every now and again, in lieu of beef or chicken?

Don’t say it’s because of toxicity—a scorpion’s poison is quickly neutralized by frying. And as far as we can tell by looking through the genetic data, crayfish and scorpions share a remarkable amount of DNA.

Our hunch is that each culture develops its dietary taboos out of early experience, and that those taboos persist even after technology has rendered them no longer useful. Back in the day, it probably make perfect sense to avoid messing with scorpions; but now that the critters can be safely farmed, we still have yet to adjust our perceptions. Cultural memory lingers.

A nice video of a man sampling scorpion here. We wonder how the dish compares, tastewise, with Popeyes Crawfish Tackle Box.

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13 Comments so far ↓

  • tsg

    It is precisely for this reason that I don’t eat crustaceans, what I call “bugs of the sea.” I find them utterly vile even though I know they taste delicious.

  • Jordan

    After fruitless searching I can’t seem to find it, but there was a really fascinating piece on This American Life about what it’s like to eat a live prawn. You basically take off most of the shell and then eat it in one go. Apparently it takes amazingly good.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    I do love prawn brains, but only after the critters have spent several minutes over the fire.

    Whenever I hear about eating live ANYTHING, I can only think of this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-ewUzXpgM4

  • captured shadow

    I think there is something similar with fermented foods. Japanese nato seems disgusting to me, but sourdough pancakes are fine. Thai style fermented pork sounds terrible but is actually quite tasty. Squid fermented in it’s own ink is as disgusting as you would imagine.

    Trout seem fine, but eels and lampreys seem yucky. I think the Chinese are generally more open to treating anything edible as food but westerners like me are pretty biased in fairly irrational ways.

  • Jordan

    @captured shadow

    Behold the smutto:

    http://www.schlockmercenary.com/d/20080808.html

  • Brian Moore

    Tsg, my wife says the same thing: “they look too much like bugs.”

  • tsg

    @Jordan: Thank you for reminding me about huitlacoche, a food I’ve been meaning to try for ages but keep forgetting about. “Corn truffles,” mmmmm. Rotten corn sounds a lot more palatable that sea insects any day.

    @Brendan: Nice octo-snack clip. Wow.

    @Brian: Your wife is right, but it isn’t that they just look like bugs–they really are bugs. Arthropods are bugs, I’m sorry to inform you.

  • Brian Moore

    Haha, we know — in the context of zoology — but in American cuisine they certainly aren’t labeled that way.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Well, the “Popeyes Marine Insect Tackle Box” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

    I actually love how we’re such masters of culinary euphemisms. Rocky Mountain oysters, anyone?

  • Twinkies for Peace

    [...] Love Those Arthropods at Popeyes The Redemption of Snively [...]

  • martin

    there’s also the advantage of being able to buy pre-shelled shrimp (although not really crawfish/prawns), which removes most of the “big bug” factor. doesn’t explain why we started eating them in the first place, though.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @martin: I have a theory that ancient bar bets played a huge role. I’m imagining two Sumerian jokers drunk out of their mind on beer in 2525 B.C., and one daring the other to eat a bug he picked out of the Euphrates. Before you know it, hey, shrimp cocktail.

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