Wednesday, November 23, 2016

OK, the second-worst dish known to man

It's time to tone down the hateful rhetoric, we're told. This being Thanksgiving and all, I hear you. So I come with concessionary tidings.

I'm going to stun many and concede that sweet potatoes aren't the worst-tasting food on our planet.

This will come as a surprise, yes, to readers who, if they've been with me for a decade or three, have received a seasonal message each year about sweet potatoes that all should hear:

You can't eat them. I tried that once. Once.

What my tongue told me, oh, back when I was 8, was all the proof needed. Any impression to the contrary is certifiably false.

I've endeavored to inform as many people as possible of this over the years, though some will always be deluded into serving and consuming heaping helpings of steaming orangeness in the Thanksgiving feast.

My brave and dogged crusade has not been without slings and arrows, and death threats.

OK, not exactly death threats. However, I've encountered deadly attempts to get me to eat sweet potatoes in falsified forms. Take the "pumpkin pie" I once found in my mail box at the office.

        Never a chance I'd fall for that.

And there was the letter from the president of the national sweet potato growers' association. He intimated a lawsuit under Texas' food disparagement ("veggie libel") law. I said I'd take the stand any day, any venue, as truth is my defense.

I stand by my critique of the horrid tuber, but now must admit that the claim that sweet potatoes are the worst food in the world could have been better researched.

This is because my researcher son found something worse.

It's called hakarl -- described as a national dish of Iceland, and, wow:

As puts it, hakarl affirms for all time that "one man's trash is another's treasure."

Hakarl is a meal at the end of a long and smelly line. It starts with the harvesting of shark meat, which is then buried for the purpose of fermentation, also known as decomposition.

After it's been in the ground for weeks, long enough to acquire "a smell of rotten cheese mixed with ammonia," the shark flesh is hung for weeks to cure in a moss-covered shed.

My son just acquired a microbiology degree. In the process, he took some fermentation classes focused on making beer. In one of these classes, the professor introduced the class to the fruit of fermentation that is hakarl.

Few of the students actually tasted it. The smell drove most from the room.

This, my son said, should cause us all to think of bad food in a new light.

I've been told by many that sweet potatoes are delicious and nutritious. So is peat moss, says any moose.

The evidence of sweet potatoes' scant edibility is the waves and waves of marshmallows committed for the cause.

A local restaurant shamefully serves "sweet potato s'mores" – with drizzled chocolate and molten marshmallows. Oh, waiter: Smelling salts, please.

Did I say somewhere back there that it was time something about toning down the rhetoric? Ah, yes. So I shall. In deference to Iceland's vice, I take back my assertion that sweet potatoes are the worst food on the planet.

I pronounce them world runner-up.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


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