My Own Personal “Fear Factor”

When I was younger, my family would all sit down together and watch “Survivor” and then “The Fear Factor”. ¬†On “The Fear Factor” reality show, contestants have to face their fears by outlasting the others in uncomfortable or disgusting situations. It was always a good time to scream or laugh at the awful conditions people put themselves through for the cash reward. The second phase of the competition was always eating something mentally repulsive. Contestants would try to gag down taboo meats like ox testicles. My family would always debate about whether we could eat the strange meals. I have eaten duck or pork intestine three times while in China, and each time I flash back to watching “The Fear Factor” with my family. If I were on that reality show, my training in China would definitely help me eat a few gag-inducing foods.

Obviously I know that the repulsion I feel towards certain foods is completely culturally constructed. But when I’m trying to swallow down a piece of chicken foot or duck blood, that understanding hardly helps me. I definitely don’t have a nuanced palate either. I have tried my hand at ostrich, but in general I tend to pass on any meat besides chicken. Before I came to Shanghai, though, I decided that I could not let my squeamish stomach limit me. If anyone was going to be eating strange foods, it would be me.

China is a great place for a cultural experience with food, too. Vegetables don’t necessarily taste like vegetables because they’re loaded with MSG. Chains of restaurants can make your stomach sicker than street food. Meats are plentiful, full of bones, and sometimes look still living. One of my best friends went on the Davidson in Peru program, and she brought me back a book called “Extreme Foods.” About one-fourth of the book’s examples were Chinese foods. A nervous American in China might spend days eating at McDonald’s while an adventurous eater can eat everything from dragon fruit to dog meat.

Although I was very nervous at first, intestine really isn’t too bad. I almost gagged during my first encounter, but by the third, I was eating some just for fun. It looks and tastes like I imagined intestine would (very, very chewy). Eating has been one of countless great benefits of coming to China. After eating so many culturally different foods, I doubt I’ll ever fear a food again.