What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten? I asked myself that question recently while listening to an old episode of How to Do Everything on NPR. In a somewhat twisted tribute to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed and failed ban on large sugary drinks, show hosts Mike and Ian attempted to make the world’s sugariest drink. Among other ingredients, they used: Coke, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, Yoo-Hoo, Fluff, Nutella, Country Time Lemonade drink mix, and the inside of a Cadbury chocolate egg. They didn’t come up with a name for their concoction but did insist it be served in a sugar-rimmed glass garnished with a Marshmallow Peep. They brought in Wait! Wait… Don’t Tell Me! host Peter Segal as their official taster. He declared the drink “even worse than I imagined,” and added that all his taste buds were trying desperately to flee the premises. So I ask again. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten… or drank?
I think I have a pretty strong stomach. It was built of necessity. Growing up, my mom did most of the cooking and a week of dinners would have looked something like this:
Wednesday–something called boiled dinner (don’t ask)
Thursday–bubble and squeak (aka run and hide)
Friday –Can I eat at a friend’s house?
What can I say? Mom was no Julia Child. Her meals were pedestrian at best, which was a blessing in a way. When she was feeling adventurous she typically came up with things like tomato Jello, which she tried to pass off as a “delicacy” called aspic. We weren’t fooled. It was tomato Jello, and looked and tasted exactly as you would expect. So here’s a bit of irony for you. I just discovered that there is a recipe for aspic in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I guess I should give my mom more credit. Nah! I’m pretty sure the majority of her other recipes were in violation of the Geneva Convention. Open our kitchen cupboard and this is what you were likely to find: brown bread in a can, SPAM, Golden Grain Macaroni and Cheddar, because Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was apparently too expensive, more SPAM, and peanut butter flavored wood putty that came in a plastic bucket with a beach shovel attached to the handle. I suppose that was so you could bury the peanut butter before anyone mistakenly ate it thinking it was actually food. My family certainly wasn’t rolling in dough, unless you’re referring to brown bread dough. But we weren’t poor either; we just ate like we were. Survival instincts being what they are, I began cooking for myself at the age of seven.
Full disclosure here–although we weren’t doing a lot of fine dining, the food was all perfectly or at least mostly palatable. We weren’t forced to eat liver or road kill or anything like that. We were forced to eat my dad’s chili, and then we ate road kill voluntarily to get the bad taste out of our mouths.
My first experience with truly disgusting, utterly inedible, crimes against humanity type bad food came with both my parents nearby. They could have intervened but they chose not to. Perhaps I was being punished for some previous indiscretion. I’ll never know. I was maybe ten-years-old at the time and we were out to dinner. It was a large party and someone ordered antipasto. It came with anchovies. The men at the table scarfed them down like morsels of gourmet chocolate. I was disappointed. I’d never tried anchovies before. I wanted to be one of the guys. I politely asked the waitress if she would bring another. I must have done something to piss her off too because she happily complied. In fact, she brought me five or six of the things: large, juicy and smelling like low tide at the landfill. I took one bite and somehow managed to keep it down. Must have been my years of training eating aspic and burble and fart. I haven’t tried an anchovy since.