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Asian Carp Have Only One Predator: Restaurants

Asian Carp Have Only One Predator: RestaurantsInvasive species take over new habitats so quickly because they usually have no natural predators in their new home, allowing them to reproduce quickly and overwhelm native populations competing for the same food.  The latest foreign invader to make headlines in the U.S. is Asian Carp, a fast-moving, quick-breeding intruder that has taken over the Mississippi and Ohio watersheds with amazing speed.

The carp was originally brought to the U.S. by catfish farmers in southern states to control plant growth in stock ponds.  Unfortunately, they escaped during seasonal flooding and ended up in the lower Mississippi.  Within a few years Asian Carp were being discovered all over the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  Now many conservationists fear the carp will end up in the Great Lakes, placing that entire ecosystem at risk.

The problem with Asian Carp is they don’t have any natural predators in American waters.  Some restaurateurs on the Upper Mississippi near Minnesota’s Twin Cities are looking to change that.

They’ve proposed placing Asian Carp on menus along the entire Mississippi and Ohio watershed in order to encourage a fishing industry that could lead to the decimation of the invader’s population.  Apparently, Asian Carp has a mild white meat with relatively few bones, which appeals perfectly to American palates.

The main obstacle in the way of successfully marketing Asian Carp on menus across the midsection of the U.S. is the name Asian Carp itself.  Nobody wants to eat a carp.  Some have suggested renaming the fish “Silverfin” to make it sound more appealing to hungry restaurant patrons.

Renaming worked for Chilean Seabass and Orange Roughy, both restaurant staples with previously unappealing names (“Patagonian toothfish” and “slimehead,” respectively).  Marketing silverfin has yet to find any serious traction, but it seems like it would take a relatively small amount of seed money to make it popular on menus from Minnesota to New Orleans.

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Tonight’s Special: Pork a la Petri

Late last month it was announced that scientists in Holland have successfully grown pork meat in a petri dish.  The meat was developed from special cells called myoblasts that are specifically programmed to repair muscles in a live animal.  If they are left in a super rich broth of nutrients, as the experiment in Holland shows, they will grow indefinitely, creating a possibly endless supply of synthetically grown, but otherwise identical meat for human consumption.

Proponents of the Dutch project say meat produced in this manner can save millions of tons of greenhouse gases each year by making the production of meat much more efficient.  There are also real concerns that as global populations grow, arable land will not be able to produce enough protein to keep up with demand.  Synthetically produced meats represent a solution to this problem.

Tonights Special: Pork a la PetriThe meat produced in this experiment was soggy and soft because it never exercised enough to give it firmness.  Scientists involved with the project said they are developing ways to stretch and work the meat so that it takes on the same consistency as natural meat.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how the meat actually tastes.  Laboratory rules forbid employees from tasting the experiment.

So will your restaurant be serving boneless pork chops grown in a lab sometime in the future?  Dutch scientists definitely think so, but they realize that if this meat doesn’t look, taste, and smell exactly like natural pork, there’s no way it can ever be marketed.

So would you ever eat pork, beef, lamb, or even fish grown in a lab if you couldn’t tell the difference between the synthetic and natural version?  Leave a comment below….

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Want Your Fast Food Fancy?

A website called Fancy Fast Food has taken all the mass produced food that makes Americans fat, but that we love to eat, and turned it into top quality fine cuisine, complete with garnish.  The results are actually very stunning, even after viewing the before picture.  Some examples include:

Want Your Fast Food Fancy?

Nathan’s Not-So-Famous Faux Foie Gras – 6 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, a lemonade, a mustard packet, and a rosemary garnish.  The result looks like anything you might find at a 5 star restaurant, and without the ethically questionable duck livers to boot.

Want Your Fast Food Fancy?

Boston Kreme Brulee – Made from the filling of 8 Dunkin’ Donuts Boston Kreme Donuts,  this “kreme brulee” looks just as tasty as anything you might find in a restaurant, and probably cheaper too.

Want Your Fast Food Fancy?

The Colonel’s Chicken Corn Chowder – Put together a complete meal from KFC and get some top quality corn chowder.  The picture sure makes it look good…

Submit your own fancy fast food recipes, complete with before and after pictures.  The only rule is that you can’t add anything to your recipe besides what you buy in a fast food joint (with the exception of a garnish).  These guys have plenty more amazing recipes, and every one makes their motto ring a little more true: Yeah It’s Still Bad For You – But See How Good It Can Look!

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Weird Food: Goat Meat Isn’t Really All That Weird

Weird Food:  Goat Meat Isnt Really All That WeirdTo most Americans, goat meat sounds like a foreign and unsavory dish consumed in far-off places by people who don’t have many other options.  In reality, goat is the most commonly consumed type of meat the world over, and not just in the Third World.  America is one of the few holdouts where goat hasn’t really taken hold.

Until recently, that is.  There has long been localized markets for goat meat, especially in immigrant centers like New York City and southwestern states where there is a heavy Hispanic influence.  But increasingly, middle class white people in America are discovering goat, or maybe they’re simply catching up with the rest of the world.

What does goat taste like?  It’s somewhere between lamb and chicken, with a distinct flavor that isn’t too gamey.  The key with goat is to cook it properly.  It’s very easy to end up with tough, stringy meat that chews like boot leather and goes down like shoe laces.

Goat that is slow cooked with lots of marinade and spice can be very tasty.  Many ethnic restaurants have added it to the menu as America finally starts to catch on, and the results can be excellent, like pulled goat tacos, Jamaican-style jerk stew, and in rich curries.  The best part about goat meat is that it’s leaner than chicken and has more protein than beef, making it a smart choice for the health conscious.

And for those who are concerned with the industrial-scale production of beef, pork, and chickens, with the accompanying environmental and animal cruelty issues, goat presents a unique alternative.  That’s because goats are usually raised on marginal pastures that are not suitable for other types of agriculture, and they thrive in those environments.  When they are raised on pastures also used by beef cattle and other animals, they do not compete for the same plants, which improves land use and gives ranchers a natural way to control weeds.  No matter what, they don’t end up in a feed lot.

Goat meat may not be a white, middle-class American tradition, but for the rest of the world, it’s a staple, kind of like soccer.  So the next time you encounter goat meat, give it a try and see what you’ve been missing.

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Insects: Cuisine of the Future?

Entomophagy is the human consumption of insects of any kind.  Before you recoil in horror, consider a few interesting facts about eating insects:

1,700 different insect species are eaten in 113 countries across the globe.  Scientists note that insects are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats as well as other key vitamins and minerals.

In fact, there is significant evidence that early humans relied on insects as a major part of their diet, since hunting larger mammals was very difficult and could not be relied on as a consistent food source.  It appears early humans ate ants, bee and silkworm larvae, and even lice.

Some have even suggested that entomophagy be reintroduced to Western culture.  Insects are much more efficient to produce in large numbers than traditional protein sources like cattle, pigs, and poultry, and in many cases the nutritional value of insects is far better.

From a sustainability standpoint, it can be argued that as climate change starts affecting human agricultural capabilities, particularly in world breadbaskets like the midwestern United States and continental Europe, raising insects for food might become an unavoidable reality.

The biggest challenge is figuring out ways to prepare insects that don’t force the people eating them to deal with buggy eyes, spindly legs, and hairy antennae.

Some pretty tasty recipes (well, depending on your perspective) can be found on the Clemson entomology department’s website, including mealworm spaghetti, bee grubs in coconut cream, and grasshopper fritters.

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Crazy Eats: Cuy Will Make You Smarter

Crazy Eats: Cuy Will Make You Smarter

Two cuy dishes from Peru

Yes, your favorite childhood pet is also a favored delicacy in the Andes.

Called “cuy,” (coo-wee) by locals in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, roasted guinea pig has a gamey taste similar to rabbit and is said to improve intelligence and focus if eaten regularly.

In Cuzco, Peru, cuy is roasted like a suckling pig and served with hot peppers.  Other regions fry several cuy whole and serve them with a hot pepper or achiote sauce over rice or potatoes.

Crazy Eats: Cuy Will Make You Smarter

A view of Machu Piccu, the former stronghold of Incan Kings

Cuy is a traditional source of protein in the Andes going back centuries before the arrival of Columbus, when the Incan nobility dined on cuy exclusively and used their entrails to foretell the future.

Now guinea pigs are raised commercially and can be found in markets all over the Andes.

So if you’re ever in South America, and you don’t want to eat your childhood pet’s cousin, stay away from the cuy!

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Aztec “Beer” Makes a Comeback

Aztec Beer Makes a Comeback

The traditional Aztec drink pulque

Pulque is a thick, milky alcoholic drink first enjoyed by Aztec kings in the centuries before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors.  It is fermented from the juice of the maguey plant, which is an aloe-like relative of the agave, the source of tequila and mezcal.  After the fall of the Aztec empire, the masses of poor mestizos in colonial Mexico adopted the drink and pulque consumption soared.

Fermented maguey is mixed with any of a number of flavors including pineapple, pistachio, strawberry, and even celery to mask its bitter taste.  Places that serve pulque, called pulquerias, have been going out of business one by one over the past century as its popularity dwindled among the working classes of Mexico.

Then, suddenly, young people in the heart of Mexico City rediscovered pulque and now the few surviving pulquerias are thriving hangout spots for Mexican youth.

Technology has also lent a helping hand  as modern pasteurization has led to the bottling and canning of pulque, which traditionally had a shelf life of only a few days.

A few companies have even begun to import the drink to the United States, in hopes of capturing the attention of homesick Mexicans and tuned-in hipsters.  After a hundred years of decline, pulque has made a comeback.  Montezuma would be proud.

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