10 Of The World's Most Controversial Food Items

These are 10 of the world's most controversial food items that draw controversy either due to how they are prepared or because of the animals from which they're derived.

Delicacies in some countries are sometimes forbidden or considered unpalatable in others - consider items like balut, a fertilized egg embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell, which is a common street food in the Phillipines and other Asian countries but met with trepidation in America and Europe.

But there are also foods that draw controversy either due to how they are prepared or because of the animals from which they're derived. These are 10 of the world's most controversial food items.

10. Veal (North America, Europe)

Young cows (calves) are killed to get veal on your table. Image credit: Enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

It's no secret many people shy away from eating baby animals, including lamb and veal. But when it comes to veal, the issues stem beyond age to how the cows were treated up until just three years ago. Separated from their mothers, the calves would be tied to dark crates, unable to move, while they were fattened up for slaughter. Since 2017 the tethered pens have been banned in the United States and they are raised in larger pens or open pastures and fed healthy diets of milk and whey. Some argue calves are better for the environment than fully-developed cows, because being slaughtered earlier means they require less feed over time and produce less methane gas.

9. Ortolan (France)

Consumption of the ortolan with a napkin over the face. Image credit: Marianne Casamance/Wikimedia.org

A tiny songbird found throughout Europe, the ortolan has been considered a delicacy in France, where it is consumed with a napkin over the face because it is eaten whole, in one mouthful with the beak or head (unless removed prior to serving) sticking out from the mouth and being removed with a swift bite. After being captured, the ortolan is blinded and kept in a darkened cage to disprupt regular eating habits. It is then force-fed oat and millet, which make it grow quickly and abnormally, and then drowned in brandy and roasted. The birds are killed by the thousands each year (approximately 50,000) at the hand of poachers, and it is estimated the population has seen an overall decrease of 30% in the last decade. For this reason, eating the ortolan is now illegal.

8. Shark Fin (China)

Shark fin soup. Image credit: Harmon from Austin, Texas/Wikimedia.org

Nearly one-quarter of shark species are at risk of extinction, and a significant reason for that is demand for fins in order to serve shark fin soup, a luxurious delicacy of China. The fin itself has a chewy texture and boasts very little flavour, but Chinese people believe it boosts libido, prevents heart diseasem, lowers choleserol, and increases energy. It was traditionally served at weddings and other formal gatherings but in 2012 China banned shark fin from being served at government-sanctioned banquets, much to the delight of animal rights activists. To-date, Taiwan is the only Asian country to have banned the practice of finning, in which the shark's fin is removed and the carcass is discarded in the sea.

7. Green Sea Turtle (Cayman Islands)

Green turtle Farm at Grand Cayman Islands for turtle consumption. Image credit: Sgerbic/Wikimedia.org

In the Cayman Islands, green sea turtle meat is regarded as the national dish. Because of this, it is legal to consume and breed the turtles for meat. However, diminishing numbers of the species and the widely-condemned breeding conditions of the animal are reasons travellers are cautioned against eating the green sea turtle dishes found so readily in local restaurants while vacationing in the Islands.

6. Pangolin (China)

Pangolin prepared for cooking. Image credit: Eric Freyssinge/Wikimedia.org

Although unappealing to look at, the pangolin is another Chinese delicacy - its meat is eaten and scales used for traditional medicinal practices. Reminiscent of an anteater, the nocturnal pangolin is one of the most commonly trafficked animals for the purpose of consumption between China and Africa, since it is now illegal to hunt the pangolin in China. However, the pangolin population may see some reprieve - its appeal has recently dwindled in China since analysis by scientists at the South China University revealed pangolins are most likely intermediate hosts of the coronavirus. The virus is believed to have originatedv with bats at wild animal markets in Wuhan, China before entering the human population, possibly through an intermediary carrier like the pangolin.

5. Western Long-Beaked Echidna (New Guinea)

The Western Long-Beaked Echidna. Image credit: Jaganath/Wikimedia.org

Found in New Guinea, the Western long-beaked echidna is facing extinction largely due to hunting for human consumption. Like the platypus, the long-beaked echidna is an egg-laying mammal and scientists consider the breed key to understanding the evolution of warm-blooded creatures. The government of Papua New Guinea has banned commerical hunting for the species, though hunting with dogs is still permitted. Its declining numbers have made the long-beaked echidna rare in New Guinea, and zoologists in other countries worldwide are working to breed the animals in order to protect its future.

4. Mountain Chicken / Giant Ditch Frog (Dominica, Montserrat)

Giant Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus fallax). Image credit: TimVickers/Public domain

Don't let its street name fool you - the mountain chicken is better described as a giant ditch frog because it is a super-sized amphibian. As a Caribbean delicacy, the giant ditch frog's numbers have decreased by 80% over the last 10 years and still appears on restaurant menus in Dominica and Montserrat. It is estimated only about 8,000 of the frog remain.

3. Gorilla (Republic of the Congo)

Gorillas (and other so-called bushmeat like monkeys, great apes, chimpanzees, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, porcupinesl, fruit bats and lemurs) are popular in the Congo of Africa where the meat is grilled and sold openly in markets even though it is illegal to do so. An estimated 400 gorillas are killed for their meat each year, with a devastating effect on the population. Because gorillas are slow to reproduce, the young cannot make up for its elders being slaughtered for food. Beyond the ethical questions of eating gorilla, the preparation of its meat is dangerous. When raw or undercooked, handling gorilla meat could pass on smallpox, measles, rabies, HIV, bubonic plague, ebola, and other serious diseases.

2. Chinese Giant Salamander (China)

The Chinese giant salamander is the largest species of amphibian. They live in lakes and rivers in southern China and over the past three decades their meat has sold for $1,000 per animal. Hunting the salamander has resulted in an 80% reduction in population, and it has been declared critically endangered. Not only are their numbers dwindling, the giant salamander has adapted to grow smaller in response to hunters' preference for the largest of its kind - few of the highly sought-after aquatic species reach six feet in length.

1. Dolphin (Japan)

Plate of dolphin sashimi in Japan. Slices of raw dolphin meat. Image credit: B.D. Padgett/Wikimedia.org

In Japan, it is both common and legal to sell and consume dolphin - though often it is mislabelled as whale meat in order to fetch a better price. None of the species hunted in Japan are endangered, but their treatment is considered delporable by animal rights activists and citizens of countries where the animals have "nonhuman persons" status. About 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are slaughtered for consumption each year, and cans of meat are even available in stores.

About the Author

Krista Conrad is an award-winning Canadian journalist and creative writer with a BA in English and diploma of Journalism Arts. She loves storytelling and delving into research, particularly in areas of social, historical, environmental and human interest. A busy mom of five, she lives for family and creativity, and enjoys bringing stories and facts to life with firm belief in the power of the written word.


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