2012-04-19 / News

From the Braver Institute

With every roadtrip I take, I try to make it a point to eat at as many fine dining establishments as possible. Last week found Ma Braver and me visiting my sister, Badger Annie, in Southeast Michigan, and stopping at great restaurants naturally figured into our plans.

Frequently when visiting the Badger, we will all go to a Japanese steak house (where the food is prepared and cooked right in front of you, and then it is served to you by the chef as each element of the meal is completed). But this time I wanted to stop at a highly rated sushi restaurant I had not been to for nearly a decade.

Years ago while working with my good friend, Wayne Genghis, he introduced me to sushi while travelling through Ann Arbor. He had asked if I would be interested in trying it. I told him that I was willing to give it a chance, figuring since an awful lot of people eat the stuff, it must not be as bad as others (and myself) perceived it.

I had always assumed that eating sushi would be much like sitting down and gnawing on a bowl full of fish chunks. The idea of chewing away on trout fresh off of the hook is one of the least appetizing ways that I could ever imagine to eat fish. It is that image that had firmly associated sushi with the words “gross” and “disgusting” for me. I have good reason to believe that my misconception is one that is shared with a great many people.

These days, having a much better idea of what sushi is (and what it is not), I fearlessly order away when the opportunity presents itself. I also strongly question a lot of the food that I have eaten for many years, thinking it was somehow “normal” and not in the least bit gross.

Take, for example, that stalwart bastion of the American culinary landscape—the hot dog. For more than a century we have consumed these bizarre (when you really think about it) meat concoctions, with little or no question as to what it was, exactly, that we were eating.

Once upon a time hot dogs were made primarily of meat from one type of animal. These days when you look at the ingredients on the packages of most hot dogs, you will find that they are made from a veritable menagerie of mechanically separated creatures. That thought right there should start the word “gross” to form on your lips, but wait, it gets better.

Now think about the price you pay for hot dogs; unless you are buying premium hot dogs, like Hebrew National, or something similar, you are most likely paying a dollar or two for a pound of pseudo-meat. Now consider that cheap hamburger these days sells for nearly three dollars per pound. That fact alone causes me to think “What cut of meat are you getting for a buck per pound?”

I have heard it said, jokingly, that hot dogs are made from lips, and another part at the other end of the animal which I will not name here. In more recent years, with the addition of chickens and turkeys to the hot dog ingredient menagerie, beaks and claws have been added to the joke. Let me tell you that if these were the only things that went into a hot dog, I would still eat the things.

Wayne, who at one time worked for a major meat packing company, says that a common saying at this company was “the only part of the pig that they didn’t use was the squeal”. Now while it is not true that these companies make hot dogs from all of the meat scraps that fall on the floor, it is true that they are not grinding up the prime cuts that would sell for five bucks per pound and turning them into two dollar per pound hot dogs.

The truth is that hot dogs are a closer relative to the much maligned (as of late) “pink slime”.

Now there are some serious (apparently) reasons why “pink slime” has suddenly taken the place as the poster child for taboo food ingredients, but I would bet that the biggest reason it is on the hit list is because it sounds gross. Of course it would not be nearly as gross sounding if it were called by its trade name of “lean finely textured beef” — that would make it tougher to kick around — but if you attach the moniker of “pink slime” to it, you have instant gross, and you don’t even need to know what is in it to make that determination.

The process of making a hot dog is very close to that of making “pink slime”.

Gross.

Now when it comes to sushi, you at least know what you are getting, and if you are not sure, your waitress or the sushi chef will gladly let you know. Furthermore, not all of it is raw, nor is all of it fish.

Now compared to hot dogs, what could possibly be gross about sushi?

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