Top 10 Most Controversial Foods

Check out the most controversial foods of our time, and the issues surrounding them

5. Balut
If we had to choose, we’re not sure if we’d rather eat our own placentas or balut, a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell. (Sounds like a Fear Factor challenge.) The egg is a staple in Filipino street food, is considered a high-protein snack in China, and is commonly served with beer in some Southeast Asia countries, including Cambodia and Vietnam.

The egg is developed for about 17 to 21 days — to the point where it definitely looks like a baby bird but it doesn’t have any beak, bones or feathers yet. In the Philippines, they’re seasoned with salt and/or chile, garlic and vinegar; in Cambodia, they’re eaten plain while still warm in the shell; and in Vietnam, they’re eaten with salt, lemon juice, pepper, and Vietnamese mint leaves. How do they eat this, you ask? They sip the broth surrounding the embryo before peeling the shell, and then eat the yolk and the young chick inside. Yum!


6. Dog Meat
It’s true: Max and Rover serve more purposes in some countries than just being man’s best friend; they’re also eaten. Humans consuming dog meat dates back to ancient China, ancient Mexico, and ancient Rome and still continues today in Switzerland, China, Vietnam, and Korea. The Chinese believe the meat promotes bodily warmth in the winter, but the country is in the midst of a campaign to end the sale of it. Legislation was drafted just two years ago to ban consumption of cats and dogs due to animal cruelty issues, but it’s still currently legal.

The South Korean dog meat industry involves about 1 million dogs, 6,000 restaurants and 10 percent of the population, according to Slate. And the country is not pleased with other nations, like the United States, that try to tell them this is wrong.

But is it? Wrong, we mean? Look — we’re huge fans of dogs, and we can’t imagine our furry best friends being killed for food. But is the fact that we consider the animals pets enough of a reason for them to not be consumed — anywhere? Dogs actually weren’t even raised as pets in Korea until recently, so the animals didn’t play the same role in their society that they do in ours.

Korean food writer Hwang Go-lk argued that other societies’ attempts to tell them what’s morally right and morally wrong to eat is rooted in ethnocentricity or almost a type of racism. "I believe that the dog meat controversy is a part of the new strategy — to highlight their superiority by looking down upon what others eat... They seek to categorize moral humans and immoral ones on the basis of whether one eats or does not eat dog meat. This is how they reconfirm to themselves that they are on a morally superior position."

This is one of those tough ethical dilemmas that makes it difficult to eschew our own personal feelings toward the issue and instead focus on what’s fair. Let’s not forget: We kill and eat animals, too. Who has the right to decide — and how do they decide — which animals can be eaten and which can’t?


7. Horse Meat
This one’s been in the news recently since the 2012 spending bill passed on Nov. 18 lifted a 5-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections — which means technically U.S. slaughterhouses could produce horse meat. If you haven’t heard about this yet, check out our coverage of it here. Surprisingly, PETA actually supports the decision to lift the ban because they would prefer horses be killed humanely in the United States than be shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

While eating Black Beauty is taboo in English-speaking countries — including the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, English Canada, and Australia, as well as in Brazil and among the Romani people — it’s enjoyed in Central Asia and Europe. In 2005, the five biggest horse meat-consuming countries were China, Mexico, Russia, Italy, and Kazakhstan, according to the "Alberta Horse Welfare Report."

Horse meat, like dog meat, tends to get people riled up because of their place in our society as pets. Again, it’s a tough call when trying to determine what’s right and what’s wrong here.


8. Whale
If you ever visit Japan and don’t recognize a dark red meat on your sashimi plate, ask. It just might be Baby Beluga — or Free Willy, take your pick. Whale is eaten in Japan, Norway, Iceland, and the Arctic in a variety of ways: cured or marinated, eaten raw as sashimi, or dried and made into jerky.

The controversy here mainly involves sustainability issues with commercial whaling. The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling worldwide in 1986, but a plethora of loopholes allows the practice to continue. For example, according to The Atlantic writer David Nakamura, Japan has continued whaling for "scientific research" purposes, though "anti-whaling groups have called the program a thinly guised method of restocking grocery and restaurant supplies of edible whale sashimi and cured whale ham." — a "global perspective" news source from the BBC, PRI, and WGBH — quoted marine scientist Stephen Palumbi, who explained that yes, the moratorium on commercial whaling has done a lot to increase whale populations around the world. However, "it’s difficult to know... whether that increase is going to continue with global climate change cutting into the food supply of a lot of whales."


9. Dolphin
Americans love dolphins. We watch movies about them, pay money to see them do flips, pay even more money to splash around in the water with them and, if you’re a teenage girl, get tattoos of them — which is why it was so upsetting when the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove revealed in 2009 that the beautiful creatures were being hunted and slaughtered in Japan.

In the Japanese town of Taiji, where the filming took place, shoppers can buy cans of dolphin meat on store shelves. According to the documentary, 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are slaughtered in Japan each year through commercial whaling.

An Associated Press article quoted Taiji’s mayor saying: "We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it. We have a strong sense of pride about this. So we are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners." The only problem with this argument, Time magazine pointed out, is that hunting whales for their meat on a mass scale didn’t really start until after World War II.

Dolphins aren’t endangered, so it seems like the main argument fueling the controversy is that, like dogs and horses, dolphins are cute and awesome and we love them. Is this enough of a reason? It’s doubtful that many people would ever promote the way the animals were slaughtered in The Cove, but if it was done in a humane way, would it be wrong?

Even if it’s not unethical, there’s another reason dolphin meat shouldn’t be consumed: High mercury levels often make it toxic to humans, and according to The Cove’s website, the levels of toxicity even exceed Japan’s own health recommendations. "Much of the dolphin meat sold around Japan is actually mislabeled or sold as counterfeit whale meat, which sells for far more money than dolphin meat," the website stated. "Hundreds of samples of dolphin meat tested from around Japan has all been shown to be toxic."


10. Shark Fin
Another creature of the sea is the target of much consternation among animal activists: the shark. In China, shark fin soup is a delicacy and is served for special occasions like weddings. It has almost zero flavor but is valued for its chewy texture. Traditional Chinese medicine believes shark fin boosts libido, improves skin, increases energy levels, prevents heart disease, and lowers cholesterol.

Animal activists want the specialty food banned because of a practice known as "live finning" or "shark finning" in which fishermen chop off a shark’s fin and throw the shark back in the water, bloody and injured. The prevalence of this cruel practice is highly debated. In the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Giam Choo Hoo, a member of a United Nations body on endangered species, cited research stating that 80 percent of the 73 million sharks killed each year are actually caught accidentally — and mostly in developing countries, where "mostly poor" fishermen will eat all of the shark.

Other researchers disagree with these findings. Fisheries expert Shelley Clarke conducted a 2006 study that found that around 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. And the International Union for the Conservation of Nature stated in the Washington Post that nearly one-third of open-ocean sharks face extinction.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium placed shark on that "Avoid" list that we mentioned earlier when discussing sustainable seafood. "Although shark finning is banned in some countries, including the United States, it still occurs in many fisheries worldwide and is a major factor in the decline of shark populations," the website stated.

— Melissa Valliant, HellaWella


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