I ate a tarantula last night. It was in a tempura batter. Nevertheless, it was a tarantula, with all those hairy legs. I didn't eat the whole thing; just the head end; the rest I left on my plate. I also ate a cockroach (a rather large one), a scorpion, a bit of alligator, some bear meat, and some kangaroo. Somehow I missed the rattlesnake, yak, rat and turtle. And I passed on the worms. Worms I could not do. No. I have a bottom line. Even in a canape, a worm is a worm.
What the hell was I doing, you might ask? Well, I was dressed in my finest white evening dress, wearing my bear claw necklace with 21 claws that I traded years ago while living on the Navajo Reservation. And like several hundred others dressed in black tie, I was attending the annual gala of the Explorer's Club at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
And I wasn't the only one eating tarantulas. There we all stood, among the crystal chandeliers, thick red carpets, and flowing champagne, eating exotic appetizers--the first of many striking events in an evening of speeches about global warming, arctic travel and personal goals. But as I sit here in my sweat pants working through a quiet sunday afternoon, I keep thinking about that tarantula.
I asked many of the chiefs about the dishes as they served me. But my most vivid conversation was the cheery looking girl serving up the rat. I remarked to her, naively, that she must really enjoy cooking all these exotic foods. "Well," she replied, "I had to cook the tarantulas. And they came in a box--alive." Thinking on this, I don't actually know which would be worse, cooking them or eating them. ...I wonder what kind of day she is having today.
But this once-in-a-lifetime experience got me thinking about food. About how our food customs are the last to vanish when we emigrate to a new country. And how deeply our feelings about food must be wired in the brain. For good reason. The mouth is the body's gate keeper. If we eat the wrong thing, we die. So we are build to remember. Perhaps I will forget the moment that the white arctic wolf entered the grand ballroom last night, or the fine poetic speech by Barry Lopez in which he said that we must not wait for our heroes; we must act ourselves to save the planet. But, alas, I don't think I will ever forget that tarantula, legs an all, dangling at the end of a long tooth pick before entering my mouth. I did only one thing right: I didn't wear my glasses.