Clostridium botulinum—or more specifically, the botulism toxin it produces—will kill you. Botulism triggers paralysis; first arresting your extremities, before seizing your respiratory system and effectively asphyxiating you. I took Food Science 101 in college under the false assumption that it would be easy. Each lesson was like watching Investigation Discovery, only the killers weren’t Wives with Knives or Evil Twins, they were listeria, E. coli, and salmonella. For most people, food safety concern begins and ends with a cursory glance at a use-by date. Water treatment has washed cholera from our minds.
Far from being afraid, modern society is obsessed with food. Instagram hosts hundreds of thousands of in memoriam photos of dinners gone too soon. I’m pretty sure Yelp exists solely as weapon of emotional blackmail over restaurateurs. Food is shared among our social media plates, but it’s also consumed on TV. Between Food Network, Cooking Channel, daily Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares marathons on BBC America, The Taste, and every other MSG-fueled grab for our attention, we should be full. Somehow there’s room for more. Travel Channel, despite seemingly devoting itself to the subject of travel, has devolved into a veritable smörgåsbord of food programming.
I understand that food can be wonderful and terrible, sometimes simultaneously, as in the case of deep fried lemonade. Food is colorful and varied, and in some ways serves as a metaphor for the people who eat it. We are what we eat. Eating is often a shared experience, a way to bring people together and forge connections. Cuisine is intrinsically linked to culture, yet it is only a fragment of a nation’s identity. Entomophagy, the human consumption of insects as food, fascinates those of us who would much sooner run from a bug than put it in our mouths. Though insects are eaten on every continent, we cling to the narrative that the practice is unique to places like Thailand. We satisfy ourselves with this glimpse into their culture, the Bizarre Foods they eat. I wish Travel Channel would live up to its name, but food is easy, right?