Chapter One: Choice Cuts
Goat’s Testicles to Go: Ten
1. Cena Molida (contains roasted mashed cockroaches) [Belize]
2. Fried, roasted, or boiled guinea pig [Ecuador]
3. Rat meat sausages [Philippines]
4. Desiccated petrified deer’s penis [China]
5. Boodog (goat broiled inside a bag made from the carefully cut and tied goatskin: the goat is either barbecued over an open fire or cooked with a blowtorch) [Mongolia]
6. Monkey toes [Indonesia]
7. Larks’ tongues [England (sixteenth century)]
8. Salted horsemeat sandwiches [Netherlands]
9. Durian fruit (has a fragrance identical to that of a rotting corpse) [Southeast Asia]
10. Khachapuri, the traditional cheese pie of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. In 1995 authorities closed down a bakery whose specialty was khachapuri when it emerged that the pies were being baked in the Tbilisi morgue.
Food for Thought: Ten
1. EMPEROR ELAGABALUS Even in an age of culinary surprises, the emperor shocked his guests with the novelty of the dishes on offer at his 12–hour banquets by serving up camel brains, the combs from live chickens, peacock and nightingale tongues, mullets’ livers, flamingos’ and thrushes’ brains, parrots’, pheasants’, and peacocks’ heads, and sows’ udders. He also served his guests exact replicas of the food he was eating, made out of wood, ivory, pottery, or stone. The guests were required to indulge his practical joke and continue eating. He ate as Romans often did, reclining on couches scattered with lilies and violets, feasting between bouts of self-induced vomiting and demanding sex between courses. A couple of dinner guests once complimented him on the flower arrangement in the middle of the imperial table and carelessly conjectured how pleasant it might be to be smothered in the scent of roses. The Emperor obliged: The next time they sat down to eat with him he had them smothered to death under several tons of petals.
2. JOHN MONTAGU, FOURTH EARL OF SANDWICH In 1762, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, a notorious gambler, gave his name to the world’s best–known convenience food when he placed a slice of beef between two pieces of bread so that he could carry on eating at the gaming tables without the distraction of greasy fingers. It was not, however, for his peerless snack that Montagu became the talk of the taverns. When he wasn’t gambling or helping lose the Revolutionary War, Montagu was caricatured by the press as a notorious philanderer who was said to spend his evenings in a private “garden of lust” featuring hedges pruned to resemble a woman’s private parts.
3. KING GEORGE IV The poet Leigh Hunt was sent to prison for libel when he dared to suggest that the then–Prince of Wales was overweight, but Hunt was only stating the obvious. The new king, who was fond of hosting one–hundred–course feasts, got his reign off to a flying start at his coronation banquet when he served up to his guests 7,442 pounds of beef, 7,133 pounds of veal, 2,474 pounds of mutton, and an unweighed mountain of lamb and poultry. This orgy of conspicuous consumption so offended his subjects that coronation banquets were banned forthwith. By early middle age George had a fifty–inch waist and it took three hours to squeeze him into the royal corset, and a pulley system was required to enable him to mount a horse. Even on his deathbed, his appetite was undiminished. Shortly before expiring from cardiac and respiratory problems at the age of sixty–seven, he ordered two pigeons, three steaks, a bottle of wine, a glass of champagne, two glasses of port, and a glass of brandy.
4. KING LOUIS XVIII The French Bourbon kings were all thought to have suffered from a family overeating disorder. Before he lost his appetite and his head, the ample Louis XVI, known to his courtiers as “the fat pig,” was such a prolific gourmand that his gut was rumored to be infested with a giant tapeworm. Younger brother King Louis XVIII, the largest of all the Bourbons, thought that he could deflect attention from his enormous girth by dressing in diamond–studded clothes. In the last years of his reign he suffered from a variety of illnesses, including gout, and he became completely disabled. He was in such a state of physical decay that one evening in 1823, as his valets were removing the king’s shoes, a gouty toe accidentally came away with his sock.
5. WILLIAM BUCKLAND In 1824, the British vicar and geologist became the first person to identify a dinosaur fossil when he published Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield
. Buckland spent a lifetime indulging bizarre gastronomic experiences. He dined on rodents, insects, crocodile, hedgehog, mole, and roast joint of bear and puppy, and he once boasted that he was prepared to eat anything organic, although he confessed that he could not be tempted to try second helpings of stewed mole or bluebottle, a common housefly. Buckland made culinary history when he ate the embalmed heart of King Louis XIV. The organ, stolen from the king’s tomb during the French Revolution, changed hands several times until it found its way into a snuffbox owned by Buckland's friend, Lord Harcourt. Buckland noted later that the heart would probably have tasted better had it been served with gravy made from the blood of a marmoset.
6. JAMES “DIAMOND JIM” BRADY The millionaire railway tycoon tried to eat his way through an estimated $12 million fortune in the early twentieth century, mostly at fashionable New York City hotels. Starting the day with a breakfast of hominy grits, eggs, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, lamb chops, fried potatoes, beefsteak, and a gallon of orange juice, a mid–morning snack of two or three dozen oysters was followed by a lunch of clams, oysters, boiled lobsters, deviled crabs, a joint of beef, and various pies. Afternoon tea comprised a large plate of seafood washed down with several quarts of lemonade. Diamond Jim’s appetite reached a peak at dinner when he consumed two or three dozen oysters, six crabs, several bowls of green turtle soup, six or seven lobsters, two ducks, a double serving of turtle meat, a sirloin steak, vegetables, and orange juice, followed by several plates of cakes and pies and a two–pound box of candy. The owner of his favorite restaurant, Charles Rector’s, an exclusive establishment on Broadway, described Diamond Jim as his “best 25 customers.”
7. GIOACCHINO ROSSINI The life and works of the great Italian composer were greatly influenced by food. “Di Tanti Palpiti,” the most popular opera aria of its time, was familiarly known as the “rice aria” because Rossini dashed it off while waiting for his risotto to cook one day in Venice. Similarly, Rossini is said to have composed the aria “Nacqui all’Affanno e al Pianto” in Cinderella
in less than twenty minutes in a tavern in Rome while drinking with friends. By his mid-thirties he had written thirty–nine operas and was the most acclaimed musician of his day, but then he suddenly went into early “retirement,” and spent the rest of his life throwing dinner parties at his home in Paris. Rossini claimed to have shed tears only three times in his life: the first time over his first opera, the second when he heard Paganini play the violin, and the third when his picnic lunch fell overboard on a boating trip. Rossini is now as well known for the steak named after him, created at the Café Anglais in Paris.
8. CHARLES DARWIN The great scientist displayed an early taste for natural history as a student at Cambridge University when he presided over the Glutton Club, which met weekly in order to seek out and eat “strange flesh.” They dined on hawk and bittern, but after eating a particularly stringy old brown owl, they gave up and elected to get drunk on port instead. When Darwin set sail on the Beagle
he was happy to tuck into armadillos, which “taste and look like duck,” and an unnamed, twenty–pound, chocolate–colored rodent that, he said, was “the best meat I ever tasted." One Christmas, when he realized that the fowl he was eating was an extremely rare “petise,” he jumped up in the middle of the meal and tried to scrape together the remaining wing, head, and neck for experiments.
9. SYLVESTER GRAHAM Inventor of the graham cracker, believed that all health problems could be traced to sex or diet and spent a lifetime crusading against masturbation and poor eating habits. Graham was mainly concerned with the carnal passions provoked by meat–eating, theorizing that the stomach, as the major organ of the body, was also the seat of all illness, and that hunger and sexual desire were a drain on the immune system. Graham’s cure–all regime was very simple: exercise to help prevent “nocturnal emissions,” a proper diet to facilitate regular bowel movements, and “sexual moderation” (once a month for married couples was enough). His Lecture to Young Men
, written in 1834, was the first of a whole genre of medical tracts on the perils of masturbation, which were said to lead to a variety of health problems, including “a body full of disease” and “a mind in ruins.” His theories influenced a generation of diet experts, including John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the cornflake.
10. PRESIDENT WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT A morbidly obese 320 pounds when he came to office, Taft’s sole dietary concession was to give up bacon because it gave him heartburn. He owned a special bathtub big enough for four average–sized men but got stuck in it on his Inauguration Day and had to be pried out.
A.D.54: Roman emperor Claudius chokes on a feather he has been using to tickle his gullet to induce vomiting at a banquet.
1135: King Henry I dies after eating “a surfeit of lampreys”—an eel–like fish.
1190: Genghis Khan kills his brother in an argument over a fish.
1580: Czar Ivan the Terrible enjoys tipping boiling-hot soup over the head of his court jester. When the jester screams in pain, Ivan runs a sword through him.
1593: Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the second–most gifted Elizabethan playwright after Shakespeare, is stabbed to death through the eye in a tavern during an argument over the bill.
1616: Francis Bacon, English scientist and statesman, dies inventing frozen food. While traveling in a coach one winter’s day, he suddenly realizes that food might be preserved by freezing; while stuffing a dead chicken with snow he catches a fatal chill.
1818: Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy, dies after drinking milk supplied by the family dairy cow, which had recently dined on poisonous mushrooms.
1941: Sherwood Anderson, writer, dies after accidentally swallowing a toothpick while enjoying nibbles at a cocktail party on an ocean liner bound for Brazil.
1978: Frenchman Noël Carriou admits to killing both of his wives because they were poor cooks. The fifty–four–year–old Carriou is sentenced to eight years in jail after killing the second for cooking him an overdone roast. Seventeen years earlier he had broken his first wife’s neck after she served him an undercooked meal. In passing sentence, the judge sympathizes with Carriou: good cooking, he agrees, is an important part of married life.
1994: Peter Weiller, a German filmgoer, is beaten to death by ushers in a Bonn cinema because he brought his own popcorn.Twelve
1. Benito Mussolini lived mostly on milk, drinking up to three quarts a day to subdue his dreadful stomachache. When he met Hitler, however, he was careful to eat alone so as not to reveal his strange diet because he thought it was a bit “unfascist.”
2. Henry Ford took to eating weed sandwiches every day when he heard that the American scientist and dietitian George Washington Carver did the same.
3. In 1644, the Danish author Theodore Reinking wrote a book lamenting the diminished fortunes of the Danes after their defeat by their neighbor Sweden in the Thirty Years’ War. It offended the Swedes so much that he was imprisoned for life. After several years in jail, however, he was given a straight choice: eat your book or lose your head: He chose to eat his words.
4. In exile, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was known as “Dr. Jaffa,” an affectionate title deriving from his excessive consumption of Jaffa oranges. A former cannibal, Amin had become a fruitarian in his twilight years. He had been a reluctant cannibal, though; he said he found human flesh “too salty.”
5. Hitler became a vegetarian in 1931 when his doctors put him on a meatless diet to cure him of flatulence and a chronic stomach disorder, but he often lapsed. According to his cook, he was partial to sausages and stuffed pigeon.
6. The ancient sailors of Spain and Portugal regularly ate rat meat on long voyages. The crew on board Magellan’s ship during his ill–fated attempt to circumnavigate the world sold rats to each other for one ducat each.
7. An eleventh–century order of monks, the Cathars, frowned on all forms of procreation, but they practiced frequent and savage flagellation and sodomy, neither of which they considered sinful because neither involved risk of pregnancy. The Cathars were also vegetarians on the grounds that animals were produced by sexual intercourse and that their flesh was therefore sinful. They did, however, eat plenty of fish in the mistaken belief that fish do not copulate.
8. A craze for swallowing live goldfish began at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1939 when a student, Lothrop Withington, enjoyed a fishy snack to win a $10 bet. His friends told the college newspaper about it, and the Boston newspapers picked up the story. Throughout the spring of 1939, the U.S. goldfish population nosedived as students all over the country vied to outdo each other in the consumption of finny comestibles. An unofficial record for goldfish-swallowing was established—forty–three in one sitting—although the teenager who accomplished this was kicked out of his school for “conduct unbecoming to a student.”
9. Ernest Hemingway wrote most of his works on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches.
10. In 1994, fisherman Renato Arganza was rescued after spending several days at sea clinging to a buoy after his boat capsized off the Philippines. He survived by eating his underpants.
11. Sir Atholl Oakeley (1900-1987) was Britain’s first professional wrestling baronet. Sir Atholl,
short for a wrestler at 5’ 9”, was however very stout, having built up his body by religiously drinking eleven pints of milk a day for three years. This dedicated diet was adopted on the advice of his idol, a giant wrestler called Hackenschmidt, who later confessed to Sir Atholl that the quantity of milk had in fact been a misprint: The correct amount was only one pint per day.
12. Scornful of reports that his people didn’t have enough to eat, the dictator Nicolae Ceauusescu complained that Romanians ate too much and introduced the revolutionary Ceauusescu Diet, a “scientific” regimen mysteriously free of the protein–rich staples Romanians missed most, especially meat and dairy products. To show that production targets were actually being met, he also staged visits to the countryside, where he was filmed inspecting displays of meat and fruit. The film crews alone knew that the food was mostly made from wood and polystyrene.
Excerpted from 5 People Who Died During Sex by Karl Shaw. Copyright © 2007 by Karl Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.