07 October 2011

Dining Out

Welcome back. The Washington Post had an article about a fellow, 49, who found mushrooms in his backyard after a rainstorm. They looked so good, he plucked, cooked and shared a handful with his wife. An experimental drug saved his liver and his life; his wife recovered without the drug.
Title of 25 Sep 2011 Washington Post.
article by Joe Stephens.

Reading the article, I was wondering how this guy ever made it to 49 years, when I saw, about a week later, a second person ate mushrooms he found near his home and was also saved by the same experimental drug. This fellow was an 82-year-old, retired farmer. A farmer? No way.

I love mushrooms. But about the same time my mother was telling me, “Yes, dear, you can play with the worm but don’t put it in your mouth,” I’ll bet she was also telling me not to eat mushrooms growing wild in the yard.  

Anyway, the article got me thinking about how lucky I’ve been. Of course I’ve eaten things that disrupted my internal plumbing; that’s allowed by the FDA. As yet, however, I’ve avoided dining on anything that would kill me. I thought a few highlights might be of interest.

Foreign Fare

  I emphasize that this is not a slam against any cited locale. Taking reasonable precautions is always advisable. The aftereffects of sampling our supermarket salad bars have been as bad as anything I experienced overseas. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to my iron stomach or, again, incredible luck.
One of Rachel’s animal 
portraits—unroasted pig.
Puerto Rico -- Working at the Arecibo Observatory, I accepted invitations to attend various celebrations. Lechon asado (roast pig) was often the main course. Given the other scrumptious dishes and, yes, perhaps a beverage or two, I’m hesitant to blame the poor pig or its preparation. Still, more than one morning after was unpleasant.
Philippines -- I don’t remember being “off,” so to speak, even once after dining at home, where the water was boiled, or around the country. Admittedly, I never tried balut (boiled, fertilized duck egg with an undeveloped embryo), which was offered regularly by Tomas, a program driver who had a side business selling such delicacies.
Bangladesh – My first UN consulting project was in Bangladesh, where I remained quite healthy, even en route, when a delayed flight set me down around midnight in Pakistan for an unscheduled overnight. 
Bangladeshi family at brick-factory housing, 1981
Preparing for that project, I made the mistake of asking an acquaintance who had worked in Bangladesh where I should stay. Then I made a bigger mistake, accepting his recommendation. Only later did it sink in that my acquaintance had been a Peace Corps volunteer. For cultural awareness, he would have opted to share space with a Bangladeshi family in a jute and bamboo structure. At least my hotel had electricity and running water.

Baking flat bread, Syria, 1982
Prickly pear vendor, 
Syria, 1982
Syria -- As in Bangladesh, my UN project activities in Syria were unhampered by food-borne problems. On my initial visit, I went with the UN’s recommended hotel, though dining alone, I kind of went overboard on flatbread and prickly pear I purchased on the street.  

On a subsequent trip to Syria, I spent more time in the field. Fortunately I remained healthy, as I and my weak knees were introduced to non-western style “squat” toilets, the use of which is akin to camping out, except they flush.
Squat toilet, 
China 1982

Banquet residuals, 
northwestern China, 1982
China -- Dining at banquet tables or off a yurt blanket, where I somehow missed the fermented horse milk, I had significant aftereffects only once during UN projects in China. Flying west from Beijing to Urumqi was the most uncomfortable plane ride I’d ever taken thanks to a broken seat. To top it off, whatever I was fed on the plane spent little time getting to know me.
Minding the meal, northwestern China, 1982

Food preparation in the field, 
northwestern China, 1982
Wrap Up

At times, the aftereffects of dining overseas were humorous. Visiting a communal, open stall, no-seat, outhouse very early one morning in northwestern China, I was…uh…monitored by a boy about 5 years old. He apparently had never seen a Caucasian before. As I crouched, so did he, smiling.  

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again in about a week.

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