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Saturday, July 21, 2012

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Raw beef liver not alone in Japan's big menu of extreme foods


The ban on serving raw beef liver at restaurants in Japan is a small victory for the bovine community. The question now is, will this cause a black market to fill the gap? Could mere cow tipping turn into liver-stealing? Will we have little yatai restaurants inside pastures with cows on display the way some sashimi restaurants have tanks of live fish? Go ahead, choose your cow liver.

News photo
Raw liver was a popular item at yakiniku restaurants until it was taken off the menu recently. KYODO

Ironically, amid the ban on serving raw beef liver, we have also received news that Japan has fallen to 25th place globally in the area of "innovation." If raw beef liver isn't innovative, what is? Obviously "innovation" doesn't include Japan's voluminous menu of adventure foods.

But while raw beef liver has been targeted for the ban, other life-threatening adventure foods continue to be served daily in Japanese restaurants. The most obvious example is fugu (puffer fish) which, if not prepared properly, can kill you. As a result, you can choose to go to a restaurant with a certified fugu chef. So why not just have special raw liver chefs?

Raw liver has been banned on the grounds of health safety after a strain of E. coli was found to be present in raw liver. But as Kiichi Kobayashi of the All Japan Meat Industry Cooperative Associations points out, "As long as one eats raw food, there is no such thing as 'zero risk' food." So technically, other adventure foods such as raw chicken and sashimi should be banned at restaurants too.

I'm not sure what the attraction to raw liver is myself. The incredibly glossy appearance? That sexy wiggle? To me, diced-up raw liver served with onions sounds like something illegal.

But that's just me. I don't like to eat anything that once had a pulse. At least I can be comfortable knowing I won't come down with mad vegetable disease. Just E. coli from unclean tomato vine stems.

Certainly others should be free to eat as many turkey hearts, chicken feet, oxtails and raw beef livers as they like.

Some foreigners never realized that there are Japanese people who eat raw liver. So rather than consider themselves enlightened with this new knowledge, they instead deem it super gross. Perhaps these people also don't realize that some Chinese people eat human placenta, the French eat escargot, the Americans eat bull gonads, the English eat sheep brains, the Dutch eat sheep liver and the Mexicans eat tripe (cow's stomach lining). Admit it, none of it is any worse than the other. They're all pretty darn offal.

I also don't see why cooking something would make it more susceptible to being accepted: "If this placenta was just marinated in soy sauce and grilled, I'd be all for it." Fried grasshoppers anyone?

Even ancient tribes of cannibals ate brain and other parts of their beloved relatives to "inherit" their knowledge and wisdom. No one ever says if these parts were cooked or not.

So next time you have gall stones removed, maybe you should keep them. Like chick peas, if you boiled them up and softened them, they could be a good addition to a salad. Super gross? Ask a cow what he feels about you chopping up his liver and eating it — raw. OK, maybe it's not cannibalism, but it is cownibblism.

People eat so many parts of the cow, it makes you wonder what other bovine body parts people have tried over the course of civilization. Diced-up bladder with ginseng root? Eardrums marinated in soy sauce?

"Waiter! I'd like the fetlock appetizer please! And could I have a side order of lightly battered lymph nodes with my steak? For dessert, I'll try the bovine nostrils with caramel sauce."

We eat a lot of strange parts of fish too. The Japanese say the area under the eye of the fish is the most delicious. The place where, if it were older and human, there'd be bags. Perhaps older fish with bigger bags under their eyes are more desirable. We have aged cheese, so why not aged fish? And retired fish? De rigueur!

On the island where I live, people eat the eyeballs of the fish too. I wonder if they've ever eaten a whale's eye? Most people probably wouldn't have a frying pan big enough to cook a whale eye, which can range in size from that of a baseball to the size of a soccer ball. But think of all the ways you could serve such a large eye: Sunny side up, over easy, looking left, looking right — the possibilities are endless.

And has anyone tried shark gums? How about turtle cuticles? Fish lips? Made sexier with lipstick? C'mon, I bet you have.

And speaking of dangerous food, I wonder how they discovered some foods were too poisonous to eat? Maybe they fed food to dogs first to see their reactions. "Sorry about your favorite poodle Miss Tara. We had no idea that chicken meniscus would kill her." Or, "Sorry about your basset hound Mr. Briskett. Obviously, he loved it so much, it was to die for."

All I can hope for with the ban on raw beef liver is that it will save a few more cows from having to donate their organs to consumption.

Although there seems no end to what people will eat, there are at least two things I can think of that people will never eat, no matter what: snails' feet and octopus feathers.



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