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What's inedible?

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I opened this discussion among friends lately. What is inedible? I've heard people eating everything from insects, to chicken hearts, to brains, to snake gallbladder, to diry (geophagism), to dog/cat/cow, to flowers, to tripe, to a million other things. And then all varieties of cow parts (everything from bones to eyes) have at some point wound up in ground beef. There are a million things that one person could call odd, and another delicious.

Clearly, some of us wretch at these things. But others have grown up with them and think of them as ordinary and normal.

So, is it a matter of what is natural and normal to us and our cultures? IS there anything truly inedible (outside of what's clearly not a food, like plastic cups or your television)?

It's like the notion that sin is geographical.

What do the chowhounds think?

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  1. j
    Jackie Avery

    I've heard that hair, (or fur,) is universally considered inedible. Can anyone disprove that one?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Jackie Avery

      My mother-in-law's pot roast is pretty darned near inedible.

      For that matter so is just about anything that she cooks.

      She also has a bizarre fetish for covering things in really cheap waxy chocolate. Brings boxes of them to family functions, and no one ever eats more then the first bite.

      Marshmallows, pretzels, I think she did Ritz crackers too. I fear that one day she will serve up the cat covered in nasty chocolate.

      Actually it is my wife's sister's husband's mother. So technically I don't know what she is to me. But for god's sake, don't eat anything she cooks. Your future existence on this earth would be in jeopardy!!!

      1. re: StriperGuy

        ROFLOL... sounds worse than my mom!

        1. re: the rogue

          Actually... my "mother-in-law" can digest cellulose as well.

      2. re: Jackie Avery

        I was thinking about this question, and came up with several categories of things that are inedible. One would certainly be things that are not digestible by the human digestive system (even though they are organic).

        Hair/fur would fall into that category. Sure you can put it in your mouth and swallow it, but that's not the same thing as being edible. Even dirt has more nutrition, since your body can absorb minerals from it. But hair either passes through (if you're lucky) or causes all kinds of problems (that's why cats get hairballs).

        The other categories I came up with, BTW, were things that are toxic/poisonous and things that are tabu/unclean/disgusting.

        Indigestibility and toxicity are going to be universal (although I suppose there are some cultures that consume indigestible -- maybe even toxic -- materials for symbolic reasons), while tabu/unclean/disgusting is highly subjective and culturally specific.

        My impression is that mainstream US food culture categorizes an unusually high level of foodstuffs as tabu/unclean/disgusting -- higher than almost any non-vegetarian culture.

      3. d
        david in NOLa

        RE: Plastic cups being inedible. I've heard that McDonald's uses (or did in the past) plastic filler in milkshakes and other foods. So plastic cups may be less inedible than we think! ;)

        3 Replies
        1. re: david in NOLa

          "Plastic filler" ...
          You are correct; I think the PC term was "Methyl Cellulose".

          Scott

          1. re: bunnyr
            d
            Dancin' Cook

            Methyl cellulose is a kind of plant-based glue used in bookbinding and in a printmaking technique called chine collée, where a thin piece of paper is glued so thoroughly to a heavier sheet that they sort of meld into one. I guess it's a more extreme form of using guar gum and xanthan gum to thicken reduced-fat foods like light cream cheese and salad dressing, but still putting glue in food is a pretty scary thought.

            1. re: Dancin' Cook

              "...putting glue in food is a pretty scary thought."

              Which is why I avoid low-fat foods with all those gluey gums and such - they may be low in fat, but some other filler has to make up for the lipid loss, and some of these may be worse for you than the fat. Trans-fatty acids in marg, Crisco and solid vegetable oils comes to mind. Better to eat fats (and all other things) in moderation.

        2. Lots of plants are inedible due to being poisonous to humans. If you think about it grass is inedible to us because we can't digest chlorophyl. I find Lima beans inedible under most circumstances.

          1 Reply
          1. re: WLA

            Actually we can digest chlorophyl just fine. It's the cellulose we can't digest. Did you know that rats are the only carnivore / omnivore that can digest cellulose?

          2. Everything served in my company's cafeteria.

            1. Peas. Lima beans.

              Oh, and alfalfa sprouts. They aren't food--they're packing material.