I recently happened to watch an old news report about Tomato Battle Festivals held in many parts of the USA inspired by La Tomatina, the original Spanish Festival of throwing ripe tomatoes at one another (Valentine, 2011). Hundreds of screaming excited and half-naked people just go wild having an opportunity to do something as stupid as crushing juicy fruit on someone elses body. It is a really noisy event and although it seems quite weird at first, the atmosphere there is surprisingly positive and festive.
I think there is something extraordinary liberating in this strange cultural event. It must feel great to get rid of stress and depression in such an unusual way. People wallowing in thick red pulp do not have to worry about their clothes, because no washing powder will be able to remove the stains. The feeling that they have nothing to lose adds even more freedom and boldness for even wilder behavior.
This event is distinctively Spanish in its general feel and flow. The Spanish with their love for big bright shows like Corrida wisely understand that people are generally aggressive. Such festivals as La Tomatina is a great way to naturally chill out. It is also a fantastic idea for a weekend with friends and even a therapy practice for those in pain and depression.
On the other hand, all the food wasted in such huge quantities could have fed several villages in starving regions of Africa. However, there is probably no way to do something that would do everybody good and such culture-specific events are a good illustration of this idea.
Turkey Testicle Challenge
Another unusual event that captured my attention is the Turkey Testicle Challenge, a festival that has already become quite common in Illinois, US. People gather annually to listen to music, show and sell crafts and most importantly taste breaded deep-fried turkey testicles (Sauder, 2015). I watched a video on YouTube showing guys going to Huntley, the village that hosts the festival, excited and in excellent mood in anticipation of the strange feast. It is difficult to say what makes people come from somewhere far away to some small god-forsaken village to try something knowingly disgusting. It is probably the result of the advertising and herd instinct. However, it was amusing to watch the guys reaction to the taste of the exotic dish. I am sure that they were eating it only because they wanted to impress one another and there was a camera filming the whole thing.
Despite the events seemingly void concept, it does have cultural value. The fact that the festival is still popular after 30 years (Sauder 2015) signifies that the event is really meaningful and important for the American culture. Firstly, its a great way to tease your sensitive girl-friends and taste buds. Secondly, you can always boast about doing it all your subsequent life. Thirdly, it most expressively shows that in order to get together and have fun people really do not need any big reason. It can be just a pre-text, a gopher coming out its hole in spring or fried poultry testicles anything that will make you change your daily routine and just spend quality time with your friends.
Russian Dumplings in New York
I generally like reading the food section in New York Times. There is something extraordinary calming in the immaculate exquisiteness of the dishes served with great care and taste. This time I was attracted by the article about Russian dumplings (Mishan, 2016). Just imagine that you can try authentic Siberian-style pelmeni served by a guy from that part of the world in the vey middle of busy New York. There is something extraordinary Russian-type savage about this guy, Anton, who sometimes serves his hot tasty dumplings wearing no shirt at all during freezing New York nights. He also offers his delicious stuff to anyone for free if they dare to eat them Putin-style shirtless. Frankly speaking, I was heavily astonished. How can one celebrate and propagate Putin when at this very moment he is shamelessly and cruelly invading Ukraine and Syria.
Nevertheless, Antons spot certainly adds variety to any New-Yorker diet. It must feel great to eat steamy, freshly-boiled dumplings stuffed with a blend of beef and pork ground with a touch of onions covered with sour cream and dill sauce. It must feel especially thrilling on a cold New York evening while going home from work. It is amazing how rich in national food cultures any US metropolitan city is! The patchwork of national cuisines make up the food face of New York and one cannot imagine eating out there without considering first which cuisine to choose for tonight.
Russian cuisine despite being very rich in carbohydrates (when thinking about all these bliny, vareniki and pelmeni) is much healthier than the McDonalds menu, for instance. It offers a variety of vegetable stuffing and natural sauces. When I go to NY for my holidays, I know I will spend my evenings meandering about its streets in order to discover such little exotic food spots because that is what makes traveling especially attractive for me.
This event takes place every September in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Museum of Natural Sciences. The one-day program offers both lectures from accomplished entomologists and bug dishes cooked by local chefs at Cafe Insecta.
The festival is free for adults and kids and is said to be absolutely adorable (Basiouni 2013).
Some time ago I was reading an article claiming that insects are the food of the future. They are supposed to be pure protein and very cheap to produce. I think such events as the Bugfest despite their seemingly entertaining concept are in fact preparing people for not so distant feature where meat and fish will no longer be sufficient for everyone and the Earth population will have to look for new sources of protein. While reading the article I also remembered a friend of mine who as a child would earn some pocket money by letting his older schoolmates watch him eating flies and cockroaches. He would take a dollar for watching him eat a single fly and two for a cockroach. He did not even suspect back then that he was actually consuming the food of the future. Back to the festival, I am just thrilled to find out that there are so many enthusiastic people who create so many meaningful and fun events. I also read somewhere that the French are big insect-lovers, so it looks like that the prophetic article from the past is gradually coming true.
This is the first food event in the list that I felt disgusted about. It is an autumn festival in West Virginia and its concept is to treat guests with wild game taken from the sides of the roads and cooked just at the spot where the festival is held (Bassart, 2014). Personally I do not understand why anyone would want to eat animals living their lives in the wild if there are cattle and poultry that are bred and grown with purpose to be eaten. If one has to accept the cruelty of killing living creatures for food there must be a good reason for that. I do not think there is any necessity to kill and eat deer, tiny squirrels and especially bears. I cannot even imagine how it is even possible to want to make chops out of a bear. They could as well barbecue an elephant. However, taken into consideration the fact that the animals are killed by mistake there is no reason to blame the organizers for cruelty. Their only fault is lack of respect.
I do not know what the organizers of the event want to propagate. It is probably just a different mentality, the one that farmers and other people living close to the nature have. They probably think that everything that can be caught and eaten on the Earth must be caught and eaten. I think this cannot be a fair philosophy. Wild and especially rare animals like bears must be treated with respect. There must be more road signs for drivers warning them about the danger of running over a bear or a deer. However, such events can even end up doing a good thing. When National channels cover events like this, the attention of more people is attracted and consequently there will be more negative response and hopefully, measures will be taken to reduce animal accidents on the roads.
Bacon Week Festival
One more bizarre festival that certainly deserves attention is the Bacon Week Festival held at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. It certainly gives pork lovers the chance to pig out on everything from bacon ice cream sundaes to chocolate-drizzled bacon potato chips. Bacon fans can also stock up on some bizarre bacon-flavored products like toothpaste and dental floss (Parry, 2014).
It is just crazy seeing all these people drinking bacon vodka and eating bacon ice-cream. I never knew one could love pork so much that it became a fetish. Well, it is America; you are really free to love whatever is not forbidden by law and allowed to make a cultural event out of it.
However, I do not think those people are genuinely sincere. I think the main driving force for them is not some crazy love for pork but rather a huge desire to show off their participation in such a fashionably freakish event in front of their Facebook friends. I generally have a feeling that all the great ideas for all the interesting stuff on the Earth have been used by someone and it is very difficult to think of something truly unusual but meaningful.
Nevertheless, the event seems quite popular and even celebrities attend it. I was drawn to read about it because it reminded me some old Jorge Louis Borges short story about a cafe where separate tastes were served one could order bitter, sweet, salty or sour tastes or their combination.
Finally, positive culture news about an initiative that is really making a difference. The food delivery service Offbeat hires 3 refugee chefs from Nepal, Iraq and Eritrea to cook their national cuisine dishes for everyone to taste their culture.
Rachana Rimal, 53, who came from Nepal to seek asylum from terrorist group that killed her brother and threatened her family. Here at Eat Offbeat she cooks Manchurian, her national vegetarian dish consisting of cauliflower, multi-color peppers and chili sauce. At the moment they offer meals to parties of at least 10 people. The average cost per person is 20 dollars and it includes entree, salad, and one or two side dishes from different cuisines (Settembre, 2016). It is fascinating how the life of those women changed here in the USA. They were hunted and oppressed back in their home countries. Here they smile, wear immaculate white gowns and have a respected well-paid job. It also benefits American food culture a lot. Helping the refugee women and their families, the New-Yorkers not just do the right thing but also enrich their eating horizons with hearty and flavorful dishes from the East. Moreover, most dishes they cook are vegetarian and those who are vegetarians themselves know how difficult it is to have a variety of tasty, rich-tasting vegetable dishes. The price is very reasonable too.
What makes the story even more interesting is the fact that none of these three women has prior professional experience as cooks but all of them found themselves in spreading their food culture in the very heart of cosmopolitan New York.
Basiouni, A. (2013, July 10). Raleigh festival makes national list of 'wacky' events :: WRAL.com. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from http://www.wral.com/raleigh-festival-makes-national-list-of-wacky-events/12648424/Bassart, K. (2014, March). West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off & Autumn Harvest Festival. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://www.theconstantrambler.com/west-virginia-roadkill-cook-off-autumn-harvest-festival-marlinton/
Evilguana production. (2010). Turkey Testicle Challenge. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from https://www.you...
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