Swedes make an art of dis­gust­ing food

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Classified - BY CHRISTINA AN­DER­SON

The idea that any­thing la­beled “food” can be de­scribed as “dis­gust­ing” is a mine­field, run­ning up against cul­tural tastes and per­sonal pref­er­ences, not to men­tion the shrink­ing abil­ity of some coun­tries to feed all their peo­ple.

But clearly, if every hu­man had a cor­nu­copia of the world’s ed­i­bles laid out on a ta­ble stretch­ing from one end of Earth to the next, not ev­ery­one would dig en­thu­si­as­ti­cally into, say, a lam­prey pie, a sliver of mag­got-in­fested pecorino or a chunk of rot­ten shark meat.

A ba­sic hu­man re­ac­tion would sur­face at some point: dis­gust. And that emo­tion is the ba­sis for an un­usual and con­tro­ver­sial ex­hi­bi­tion in Malmo, in the south of Swe­den.

“I want peo­ple to ques­tion what they find dis­gust­ing,” said Sa­muel West, the lead cu­ra­tor of the Dis­gust­ing Food Mu­seum, a tour­ing pop-up ex­hi­bi­tion that opens on Wed­nes­day.

Vis­i­tors will be in­vited to ex­plore their no­tions of food through the lens of dis­gust, said West, an or­ga­ni­za­tional psy­chol­o­gist, who hopes the mu­seum will stim­u­late dis­cus­sion and self-re­flec­tion.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing is that dis­gust is hard-wired bi­o­log­i­cally,” West said last week over a restau­rant lunch of cab­bage pud­ding. “But you still have to learn from your sur­round­ings what you should find dis­gust­ing.”

The idea for the ex­hi­bi­tion was prompted, in part, by his con­cerns about the eco­log­i­cal im­pact of eat­ing meat and his own en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print. He said he hoped the ex­hi­bi­tion would stim­u­late dis­cus­sion about sus­tain­able pro­tein sources.

“We can’t con­tinue the way we are now,” he said. “I was ask­ing my­self why don’t we eat in­sects when they are so cheap and sus­tain­able to pro­duce? The ob­sta­cle is dis­gust.”

When word of the ex­hi­bi­tion broke, peo­ple in some coun­tries were aghast that their fa­vorite foods or treats were in­cluded.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to see how ev­ery­one comes to the de­fense of their own food,” said An­dreas Ahrens, the mu­seum di­rec­tor. “Peo­ple can’t be­lieve that we take their fa­vorite foods and put them in the mu­seum.”

More than 80 items from 35 coun­tries will be on dis­play: Hag­gis, the Scot­tish del­i­cacy made of of­fal and oat­meal, tra­di­tion­ally boiled in a bag made from a sheep’s stom­ach; Vegemite, the thick, black yeasty spread from Aus­tralia; and Spam, the pink-hued canned cooked pork prod­uct that U.S. troops in­tro­duced to the cui­sine of the Pa­cific Is­lan­ders in the years fol­low­ing World War II, will be rep­re­sented. So will dishes such as fruit bat soup from Guam, a mag­got-in­fested cheese from Sar­dinia and a glass vat of Chi­nese mouse wine.

Vis­i­tors can sam­ple items like root beer, sauer­kraut juice and salty li­corice. But if you’re not up for tast­ing tofu with a smell redo­lent of “stinky feet” and “baby poo,” or durian fruit (banned on planes and in some ho­tels) or hákarl, an Ice­landic shark dish once de­scribed by chef An­thony Bour­dain as “the sin­gle worst, most dis­gust­ing and ter­ri­ble tast­ing thing,” you can get a sense of their taste by tak­ing a whiff from a “smell jar.”

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