The love of food is shared by everyone all around the world. The choice of food though, depends on location. You can find people that eat horse, dolphin, spiders, pigs, cows, goats etc. You might even find a dog lover or two. People have their preferences, I know I have mine. Before I came to Senegal my food repertoire was fairly basic (in both the animal and body parts) I ate pig, cow, chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, fish and on one occasion a rabbit. I’m accustomed to eating legs, thighs, wings, ribs, and breasts. I’m very close minded about the food I choose to eat. The rabbit was a stretch and I ate it unknowingly. But now my food repertoire has grown, slightly, but a growth nonetheless. I can now add sheep and goat to my list of animals. The animal additions aren’t really important but the body part additions are drastic. I can now say I’ve eaten stomach, heart, liver, intestine (both big and small) and…BRAIN!
Eating food is one thing. It’s easy to just chew, swallow and call it a day. But once I find out exactly what it is I’m eating it’s a completely different story. I’m a huge fan of burgers and fried chicken but once you put a face to the food on my plate my appetite is lost. Since coming to Senegal a lot has changed. I’ve gutted and cleaned the scales off of fishes and cooked them for lunch (face included). That wasn’t an easy task considering I couldn’t stand going into a fish market back home because the little fishes stared at me. Let alone hold a fish in my hands. I’ve held down a chicken while its throat was slit and it died so it wouldn’t get up and run away in the process. (I’ve seen it happen! A chicken with its throat slit and bleeding out got up flapped its wings and started running.) Then I ate the chicken for dinner. (He was pretty yummy). I’ve also witnessed the killing of multiple goats and sheep and still ate what was served for lunch or dinner without a second thought. I watch animals get killed and cooked pretty often but one of the few times I didn’t witness the killing or preparation of a meal I was served a big surprise.
This particular event happened in September and although it was such a long time ago I can’t get the image out of my head and I’ve yet to eat anything as strange (for me) as that. My host mom in Dakar was preparing dinner but this day she didn’t put me to eat with anyone else in the house. Normally we sit around a big bowl or platter and eat together but she told me I was eating alone because everyone else already ate. She told me to sit at the table and she went to the kitchen and brought out a huge platter big enough to serve about 8 people and set it down on the table in front of me. I just stared at the green liquid (obviously soup) and the huge round thing in the center of the platter. I stared and stared not entirely sure what was in front of me (I thought it was a bone with a bunch of random holes) and after about five minutes I figured it out. Then I completely freaked out when I realized my food was staring at me with its empty eye sockets. On my plate was the biggest goats head I’ve ever seen; with horns protruding out of each side of its head, and a crack on its skull with brains seeping out. My host mom just stared at me and smiled so I did the only think I could think of; I dipped my spoon into the green liquid and ate/drank the first bite of my hot soup with a face. Aside from being hot because it was freshly made it was the spiciest food I’ve ever eaten. I ate as much as my burning mouth would allow fighting through the burn that no amount of water could quench and tried to not focus on the fact that I was eating a face. It’s an honor to be given the head of an animal so I decided that I should share it with my host mom and she happily joined me pulling off the meat and occasionally passing me a piece. She was pretty happy that I was eating the food and laughed each time I pointed out that it was a face and kind of scary. I’d say we both handled that situation pretty well. She understood that I was freaked out and I took the biggest food risk I’ve ever taken in my life and ate a goats head.
Since that day in Dakar I’ve tried other body parts like heart, liver, stomach and intestine but nothing can top eating the face of a goat inside and out. Being open minded is easier said than done but I’ve noticed joining this program has caused me to do so more often than not and now rather than saying I guess I’ll try this, my answer now is automatically yes. Recently I was offered a fish head and what did I do?… I took a bite!