April 2, 2013

Fried Grasshoppers, Anyone?

An anthropology class in bizarre foods dispels cultural biases
Fried grasshoppers are crunchy and salty and high in protein.

“I don’t know that I’d eat placenta, but I’ll try most anything,” said Anthropology and Commonwealth Honors College Assistant Professor Sonya Atalay, as she downed a spoonful of expired yogurt at the Bizarre Foods Fair her class held to wrap up their food culture course last fall.

Around her in the Bartlett Hall lobby, some students swallowed spicy fried grasshoppers while others sampled Australian Vegemite and umeboshi, pickled Japanese plums.

“These students are learning to think twice about everything,” said Atalay. “They know not to take things at face value.”

Because eating is intricately linked to culture, identity, politics, and economics, and more, Atalay uses bizarre foods as a jumping-off point for core anthropology concepts. In her class, students think about world hunger, food fashions, the religious significance of food, and globalization, among many other topics.

“Students come away with a strong command of the cornerstones of anthropological thought and practice,” said Atalay. “And they improve their all-important research skills.”

For the food fair, groups of students researched bizarre foods and, in some cases, brought samples. Junior Charlotte Poppe’s topic was road kill. She presented a poster featuring photos, statistics, and road kill cookbooks, and discovered that, “In New England, no one is doing that much with road kill. I’ve thought about the idea, and I could see how it could feed a lot of people…maybe if you picked up something fresh…no I wouldn’t try it.”

Her classmate Siena Martin ’15, however, was willing to eat a fried grasshopper. “They’re crunchy and salty,” she said. “There’s a lot of lime in them—and pure protein!”

Atalay will offer the popular “Bizarre Foods” course again in the fall of 2013.