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Aug 16, 2008 08:07 PM

Your experiences with obligatory eating? Eating 20 guinea pigs in Peru

Last week I was in northern Peru interviewing groups of organic fair trade coffee farmers. Our small team had four groups to work with on the first day. We arrived after a very early two hour drive at the first community. Before we could get started, the group had us have breakfast that they had prepared: rice, boiled potatoes, boiled and then fried yuca (cassava), and fried cuy (guinea pig). Delicious! Really great! We went on and arrived mid-morning at the second community, did the second participatory group interview, and were then promptly sat down to have an early lunch of--rice, potatoes, yuca, and cuy—plus rompope (or caspiroleta), a drink made of aguardiente (locally distilled cane liquor), whipped egg whites, beaten yolks, evaporated milk, honey, vanilla, and beaten egg yolks! Eat and drink all again. The third group also had us sit down to eat and drink: rice, potatoes, yuca, cuy, and rompope! Believe it or not, the fourth group was more of the same-- rice, potatoes, yuca, and cuy, and another fresh batch of rompope!! Happily eat and drink again!!! Four meals of high cholesterol cuy and sweet egg-based aguardiente in six or so hours. The next several days were very similar! But this is the way fieldwork is and has to be done. What have been your obligatory eating experiences?

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  1. Shortly after I proposed to my wife, we went to a Buddhist temple in the country to get a blessing for our marriage. Apparently American visitors were extremely rare, and possibly even rarer, one who entered the temple, kneeled, and bowed to Buddha in respect to their religion, and I was treated to what must have been a weeks worth of food for the monk and attendants in a single meal. The food was simply prepared and very moderately seasoned compared to the Korean meals I had been introduced to earlier in the city of Gunsan. Rice and fresh vegetables, simply steamed or stir fried, and some type of fish dish. Mild water kimchi instead of the fiery napa variety, and the rest of the banchan was of the fresh namul or wild types. Very simple and very, very good. The women who cleaned and maintained were very attentive and curious, as was the master.
    I learned one very important lesson there when it came time to leave. I bent over to put my shoes on and the master rapped me none to gently on the arse with his staff. With a huge grin he pantomimed and got the lesson across - Never show your arse to Buddha.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hannaone

      Buddha could care less about the ass. But sharing food is very Buddhist!

    2. I haven't had any obligatory eating experiences such as yours, Sam, but if you tire of them let me know. I might be persuaded to fill in...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Will Owen

        Will, wish you had been along. Two of my partners were from Vermont--a 70% and 98% (ate meat if culturally required, as in what this thread is discussing) vegetarian. The driver and I had to have even more!

      2. I've already mentioned this in and earlier thread, but when our son got married in Korea, we were invited to the family farm to meet the in-laws and celebrate the union. We were feted with a 21/2 day dog feast, from soup to ribs with stew in between. Still can't look our Lab straight in the eye. And before the wedding was my sons' challenge to eat the live baby octopus. So Ju help me through that male ego self-inflicted challenge.
        When I worked in Norway, a very shy, wonderful 4th grade boy invited his favorite teacher over for a whale of a dinner. What could I do? Hurt his feelings?
        And roundup time on my students' ranch in New Mexico when I was in my twenties. Not only was I challenged to eat the Rocky Mountain Oysters, but to pull the scrotum taut, cut the end off, pull out the testes, cut them off and toss them in an old Mayo jar for later consumption. Dehorning, injections and branding followed. That's when I started hunting again. If I were to eat meat, I wanted to do the killing and slaughter myself, not pay someone else to do it and buy meat plastic wrapped and sterile looking.
        Enjoy the cuy. I used to enjoy it in Bolivia. Found a place on Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, NYC that serves it, but is quite pricey. Go eat some chuno for me will ya and wash it down w/ chicha.
        Cervichely yours,
        Marco el Rojo

        7 Replies
        1. re: Passadumkeg

          Now see, eating dog is where I'd draw the line.

          I've done my share of obligatory eating, but I think there's a point where it's okay to ask your host to respect your cultural taboos. I wouldn't expect a Hindu to eat beef or a Muslim or observant Jew to eat pork, just because I spent hours preparing a traditional Southern BBQ of ribs and brisket for them. Furthermore, I think it's patronizing and culturally imperialistic to imply that while I am sophisticated enough to understand and accept the taboos of other cultures they aren't sophisticated enough to understand and accept mine. When it comes to something I just find weird or unappetizing, though, then I do my womanful best.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            If your a mother and a father and this is you son's new family in a foreign country & culture literally half a world away and you are in an isolated farm w/out knowledge of other food options with a severe language barrier (my son was not there.), you shut up, eat dog, smile and pretend you enjoy it.
            Do you feel the same way about pork, a much greater taboo food?

            1. re: Passadumkeg

              Pork isn't taboo to *me* so I don't personally feel that way. But as I specifically mentioned above, I would respect people who do.

              I've never been faced with dog, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't knowingly eat it without throwing up -- I have a rather sensitive and suggestible gag reflex to begin with. After a rather embarassing obligatory eating experience where I gagged repeatedly on a piece of tripe (I can usually handle tripe, but this was a small piece I had spooned up unknowingly and then had trouble chewing and swallowing), I think it's better to make some kind of excuse than offend your hosts even worse by vomiting up the food they offered.

              Furthermore, I'm not sure it's good to get off on a dishonest foot with your in-laws or anyone else you're likely to eat with again in the future. If they ever realize how you felt, they'd probably be horrified -- wouldn't you if the situation was reversed? -- and as I know from another obligatory eating trauma, if you pretend you like something you're likely to be served it again!

              But you did what you thought was best at the time, I'm sure. I hope your son appreciated it.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                In Korean culture, saving face is paramount. I'm pretty sure P's son's future in-laws would have had a heart attack if they said anything about the dog incident. P did the correct thing by just gulping down the dog.

                That said, I agree with you about having the hosts be culturally sensitive to the people they are hosting. For example, I never make beef if I'm having a Hindu friend come over or make pork if the person is Muslim.

                But sometimes people can get too sensitive -- to the point it becomes ridiculous. I was having dinner at my ex's family's for the very first time. As an Italian-American family, they were having things like brasciole, meatballs, antipasto, etc. His mother thought I wouldn't be able to eat anything (in spite of my ex telling his mom that I was born in NY and that I ate all foods) and insisted on picking up some "Asian" pears for me.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  " they were having things like brasciole, meatballs, antipasto, etc. His mother thought I wouldn't be able to eat anything (in spite of my ex telling his mom that I was born in NY and that I ate all foods) and insisted on picking up some "Asian" pears for me."

                  wow, miss n, what a trade-off (as much as i love asian pears!)

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Ha ha. I also love Asian pears but would rather have all those yummy items his mom was having. Well, I did end up proving to her that I did love Italian-American food (as well as proving to her that all Koreans aren't short, as her perception of Korean people was based on the two women she knew at her corner Korean deli).

                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I agree to disagree with you. No regrets.

          2. How about a lunch in a palace in Saudi Arabia of bustard brought back from a hunting trip by the Prince. Followed the next day with many trips to the porcelain throne.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mexivilla

              I had to wiki "bustard". The funniest bit: "They were renowned by the ancient Arabs for being unnaturally stupid." So how was it prepared and what were you doing in the prince's palace?

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                When I checked on bustard I found out it was a scavenger and that it had probably been hanging on the side of his Range Rover while they continued hunting. I assume it had been roasted.
                If you want to sell something there it's essential to have an influential representative who often is a Prince. There are lots of them with different levels of ability and interests. Unfortunately we were successful but that's another story.

            2. Nothing exotic, but just visiting my parents. I would tell them not to make anything for me as I would visit them after coming back from something food-related, but they never listened to me and prepared a whole bunch of stuff. I didn't want them to feel like unappreciated, so I would painfully force myself to eat their food. I eventually learned to come home on an empty stomach.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Miss Needle

                you need to pass on your technique. i still can't leave my parents' home without waddling, every time. it's actually pretty terrible. on a recent visit, i explained to my mom how stuffed i was and her reply was, quite literally, "no, but you HAVE to eat this!!!" luckily it was a short visit and the overindulgence put me in a food coma for the flight home...

                1. re: cimui

                  When I was in high school, my girlfriend's (first generation Italian) mother took it as a personal offense that I was 5'10" and 110#, even though I ate everything in sight and was probably cranking down 4,000 calories per day.

                  I'd go over after school, hoping to spend a little quality time studying or, um, whatever, but would be dragged unceremoniously to the table and informed that I was far, far too thin to be healthy. Whereupon delicious food would start to appear, accompanied by a repeated mantra of "Eat, eat, and grow fat--then I will be happy."

                  Obligatory eating, yes, but it still brings back fond memories. And if only Mrs. Pepito could see me now. Three decades and 100 pounds later, she'd be downright ecstatic!

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    in addition to growing you into a real man, i suspect mrs. pepito may have stuffed you too full for you to engage in non-gustatory after school activities!

                    the really scary thing is that i think i might have inherited this gene. i hate that my mother force feeds me like she's going to make me into foie gras because i'm "too skinny" ... but i have to admit to having a similar desire to foist my cooking upon people i consider under or poorly nourished. an old buddy of mine has been surviving on twinkies and meat for as long as i've known him. i really, really perversely enjoy sneaking veggies into his food when he comes over for dinner.

                2. re: Miss Needle

                  went to visit grandmother. "i didn't know if you would want ham or roast beef... so I made both" talk about obligatory eating ("are you sure you don't want more dessert? I made it just for you")

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Cimui, I wish I knew how I did it. I was a lot younger back then, and had the ability to stuff more food down my stomach. Just about a month ago, DH and I were out in California eating really richly at French Laundry, Cyrus, etc. and dropped by DH's grandmother's house before we went to the airport. We went to a Chinese restaurant and she ended up ordering an 8 course banquet for us all! That was tough. Real tough. Even though we flew back business class and they gave us meals, we just couldn't touch it.

                    KM -- yes, some family members really know how to work that guilt angle.

                    1. re: Miss Needle

                      oh no... i'm just shaking my head in recognition and empathy. honestly, sometimes you just have to head off those crazy dinners. arrange to meet at a tea shop with minimal food on offer, perhaps?

                      the only solution i've ever figured out for my mom is to have her visit me, move once a year so she needs some time to figure out where the grocery store is in my new nabe, and take her out for dinner a lot, and keep her entertained during the day so she's not venturing down to chinatown to pick up ingredients to make a second dinner when we get home from our first. :)

                    2. re: Miss Needle

                      Interesting comment. Recently my son was home for a brief visit from college. It was Sunday morning, so I made pancakes for him. Because that's what we did Sunday mornings when he was growing up...just like I always had pancakes on Sunday morning. But this normally always hungry young man didn't finish his pancakes...and they were pretty good, too! Finally I asked him if he was feeling ok. "No, Mom....the truth is, I just don't like pancakes that much." Me, somewhat in shock: "But you always wanted them on Sunday mornings growing up!" Son: "well, Mom, that was because it was what you always wanted to cook for me...."

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        Hahaha...I had the opposite reaction. I use to take my mom's cooking for granted. Before I left for college I'd eat a burger outside with my friends and ignore her cooking...she'd often yell at me to eat dinner while I had my face planted in the sofa sleeping...and I wouldn't move.

                        When I came back during the winter I was sleeping on the sofa and she walked in and said dinner was ready and was ready to yell. Apparently I just got up and went to the table and ate everything.

                        My mom asked me if something was the matter. I told yes, the food at college was really, really, really, really bad...repulsively bad. She just smiled.