Steve Dresselhaus

“I will eat anything  and everything that is normally considered food by someone.  If I don’t like it, I’ll take seconds just to prove that I can do it.”  A more idiotic and foolish vow has never been spoken by anyone, other than, perhaps, a politician endeavoring to promise  his way into office.  But these words I did utter, way back in seventh grade,  at that life stage described by most social scientist as the crazy, unstable time of a male’s life that spans the years between  conception and age 57.

The underlying attitude  behind the vow is actually quite noble as it indicates  nearly unlimited potential, not just for culinary adventure but also because it fosters the opportunity to expand sensory  delights into new areas far beyond the mere temporal titillation of the taste buds.  It is this attitude,  the attitude of “Yes , I’ll try that,” that motivates humanity to  scale tall mountains,  explore distant jungles, test new architectural concepts and discover new activities like bungee jumping.  Trying new foods reveals a passion for adventure and excitement, and it reveals a way of life and an attitude that propels humanity upward and onward.  Seeking to experience  new things is a bold repudiation of the sucking black hole of death called the status quo.  Trying new foods is a tangible expression of the life-giving and life-enhancing concept of “What if….”

My life has taken a twist which often puts me in the position of  testing   the limits and probing the sincerity of my willingness to abide by  the vow I took in seventh grade.  I am a mission executive.  I travel the world.  As a mission executive who lives in the nonprofit world of tax-deductible contributions, five star hotels and their accompanying restaurants are not my normal lodging nor where I eat my meals.  The hotels in which I stay, if they utilize astronomic signage,  would  not be rated by the number of stars under their names.   They are more likely to be judged with  asteroids,  or perhaps a moon or two.   The restaurants in which I eat when traveling the world keep my guardian angels, whom I believe to be the heavenly equivalent of Seal Team Six, at their highest levels of readiness.

Last week in Lima, Peru, I was given the privilege/opportunity/curse of being offered a new food, something I had never eaten before.  It was a highly recommended Peruvian delicacy called “ceviche de concha negra.”  Ceviche is raw seafood.  Concha is any oyster-like bivalve, and negra, of course, means black.  So, were this menu item to appear in English it would read  something like “raw black clams.”  The locals claim the clams have  been “cooked” by marinating them in lemon and onion, which may be accurate  according to their loose definition of “cook,” but which in no way  eliminates the rawness factor any more than declaring that a day-old Texas road kill armadillo has been cooked by the sun.  Raw clams are raw clams; and all the lemon juice does is guarantee that any surviving bugs, bacteria, germs and viruses are the  strongest, most adaptive and most virulent kind, eagerly  waiting to swap intestinal tract hosts.

The word “black” forms part of the name for this kind of ceviche.   Black, when used in the context of food, is not necessarily a bad thing.  Black beans are good.  Mesquite-blackened fish at Red Lobster is good. Black Forest chocolate cake is a delight.  But black clams, let’s be honest, do not sound good; nor does the picture they present in the mind please in any way whatsoever.  When the words “black” and “clam” appear in the name of a dish, there really is nothing that can be done to soften the image.  Making this experience even more memorable was that the clams’ room temperature “water” was also dumped into my bowl.  Black clam water is dark.  Black clam water looks  like seepage from a shattered Sharpie.  Clam water  is raw  and unfiltered and contains whatever went into the clam and whatever should have gone out but did not.  Black chunks of raw clam soaking in black liquid – I’m not sure I’ll be able to erase this image now hard-wired into my memory.  Picture in your mind  eating chunks of a child-safe playground surface made from diced car tires marinated in puddled water from the service bay of a gas station in a slum area of a third  world nation.

The most difficult  part of the meal was neither the taste nor texture, neither of  which was  really all that repulsive.  Truth be told, it tasted pretty good.   The most challenging part of the meal was thinking of the living conditions of the clams immediately prior to their being plucked from the ooze at the bottom of the ocean and dropped into my bowl.  Had my lunch been filtering water next to a rotting seal corpse  only hours earlier?  Had a Liberian-registered oil tanker flushed its sewage holding tanks near my until recently  mouth-breathing lunch? Had my  raw lunch recently suffered from a mollusk’s version of a head cold? If so, how could I know if I was eating  a bowlful of raw clam or a bowlful of  clam snot, or even if it is possible to differentiate  between the two?   Honestly,  I would have preferred a nice juicy,  hot, bacon-wrapped, mushroom-smothered  filet mignon; but raw,  mud-dwelling, filter-feeding, pathogen-concentrating lumps of organic rubber-like substance soaking in a dark liquid not unlike the collected sweat from Jabba the Hut’s armpit wasn’t really all that bad.  I’m serious, it was an OK meal, likely one I’ll never choose to repeat, but it was not a gagomatic.

I will continue to travel, and I will continue to eat what is placed before me.  I will continue to search out new experiences  and will intentionally seek to expand my horizons and conscientiously  fight with all my might against the evil  destructive forces of the “status quo.”  But never will I leave my house and head overseas with anything other than industrial quantities of Pepto-Bismol.

For the story of a culinary adventure in Venezuela  that did not end so well, click on my story “BOTTLED DEATH”

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