Bizarre Foods

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Exercise ID: 1.20
Class size: Any
Level(s): I
Source: Submitted by HRAF member

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? No
Subject selection: Single subject specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Food
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from entire collection
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? No
Assignments for students to complete in groups? No
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Sonya Atalay, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University

(Week 3 incorporates eHRAF World Cultures)

Course Description

Pig brains, coffee from digested cat feces, and deep-fried scorpion are all on the menu for our examination of food preferences, delicacies, taboos and other cultural engagements with food. At first glance, the ingredients may seem quite bizarre. Yet no matter how unusual the foods or method of preparation, the simple acts surrounding eating are intricately linked to culture, identity, politics, economics, and so much more. Through in-class activities, group work, and illustrated lectures (including segments from hit TV shows ‘Bizarre Foods’ and ‘Without Reservation’) this course examines “bizarre foods” and the cultural links they involve.

We will examine foods in our own ‘backyard’ – you’ll learn the ingredients of a Twinkie, explore local meat production, and reflect on how bread and wine transform into ‘body and blood’. We will consider hunger, cannibalism, and dumpster-diving ‘freegans’; and explore ways that people from Indiana to India are working to preserve their food cultures.

In addition to introducing you to a range of bizarre foods from around the globe, this course provides training in core anthropology concepts and basic research skills. These core concepts are central to an understanding of anthropology, and by the semester’s end you’ll have a strong command of these cornerstones of anthropological thought and practice. The basic research skills will be of use in other classes, within and beyond anthropology.

You will research and organize a presentation for a campus-wide ‘Bizarre Food Fair’ to be hosted by our class at the end of the semester. You will be encouraged (but not required) to find, try, and share ‘bizarre foods’ in the Indiana area.

Course Grading and Requirements


In-class assignments 1/2 point each x 22 (11 points total)
Core Concept pages 3 points each x 5 (15 points total)
Research Skill Reports 3 points each x 5 (15 points total)
Exams 17 points each x 2 (34 points total)
Bizarre Food Fair 10 content, 7 presentation, 8 product (25 points total)


In-Class Written Work (11 points total) My goal in teaching is to ensure that each student has deep learning of the subject. Research shows the best way to bring about this sort of engagement with a topic is not through my lecturing at you, but through you engaging with the material in active/authentic ways. So, in weekly lectures you will DO activities – both individually and in groups. In each class (22 times over the course of the semester) you will be asked to complete a brief written assignment (usually it involves writing 1-2 paragraphs) – so bring paper and pen to class with you! You will submit the assignment at the end of each class. If you complete the assignment satisfactorily, you’ll receive ½ point. If you are not in class, you cannot do the assignment or make up the work and will receive a 0 for that day.  

Research Skills and Core Concepts Weekly Assignments (30 points total) In the course description you will notice that, in addition to introducing you to a range of bizarre Foods from around the globe, this course is designed to provide you with training in core anthropology concepts and basic research skills.  The anthropology concepts (there are 5 in total) are central to your understanding of the discipline. You will encounter these concepts repeatedly in any future anthropology courses you take; and by the end of this course you will have a strong command of these cornerstones of anthropological thought and practice. The Research Skills (5 of them) you learn in this course will be of use in many other classes; those in anthropology and beyond.  They will serve you well in nearly any future career, and once mastered they form the basis for life-long learning in any discipline

Each week we will focus on one of these research skills or core anthropology concepts.  During weekly lectures, you will gain experience with these skills/concepts through individual and group activities. The syllabus lists the dates and corresponding skills/concepts for each week. Specific assignments vary, but in all cases the assignment requires you to submit a 1-page MAXIMUM report (except Research Skill 5 in Week 15, which requires a 2-page report). The 1-page report is due by 5pm on Friday and should be uploaded to Oncourse. I will not accept late reports. If you have trouble uploading your document to Oncourse, email it to me. Excellent reports will receive 3 points, average reports 2 points, etc.

Exams (34 points total) There will be two exams. The mid-term is Thursday, Oct. 14. It will be given in-class and consist of short-answer questions. The final exam is Friday, Dec. 14, 5-7pm, and will be held in our usual classroom (Student Bldg. 150). The Final will be cumulative for the entire semester and be similar in format to the mid-term exam.  Both the midterm and final exams will have questions about specific bizarre foods and practices, but they will also include questions/problems related to the research skills and core concepts described above.

Bizarre Food Fair (25 points) You will work in groups to create a presentation for IU’s first ever ‘Bizarre Food Fair’, which our class will host for the entire IU campus and Bloomington community. Groups will be assigned in Week 6 (October 7) and you will work together for the remainder of the semester during in-class activities and outside of class as you complete your research and product for the Fair.

Together your group will choose a bizarre food on which to focus your presentation.  The format for your group’s presentation is open, but must include a tangible product of some sort (poster, brochure, Wikipedia page, powerpoint slide presentation, YouTube video). You CANNOT simply present a food and talk about it. Presenting research results is an important skill and one that takes effort to master. The best presentations of one’s research are engaging and invite the audience to become interested in the subject. I encourage you to be creative, imaginative, and entertaining, while you are factual and informative. Your group will choose 1 food item to present during the Bizarre Food Fair and post a written summary (no more than 1 page) of your presentation plan and product on Oncourse by Friday, October 22, 5pm. I will review these, provide feedback and final approval for the topic and product.

You may have the food available at the fair, but are NOT required to. I will invite faculty and students from the Anthropology Department, and the interdisciplinary Food Studies program. You are also welcome to invite friends, family, and other guests.

After the Bizarre Food Fair is over, your group must submit your presentation in hard copy (posters, brochures, etc.) and/or digital format (video, powerpoint, Wikipedia page, etc) by Friday, Dec. 3, 5pm (either upload to your team folder on Oncourse or delivery a hard copy to my office mailbox. In addition, each person in the group is required to submit a response paper (~2 pages) related to your Bizarre Food Fair presentation. Reflecting on your research and providing self-critique is a core aspect of good research practice. Therefore this assignment counts as one of your research skill reports – it is the 5th and final research skill report. This report should reflect on the experience of presenting your research – what were the most interesting reactions? What worked, what was unclear or unanswered? How would you improve the product and/or presentation?  The response paper must also indicate (in ~1-2 sentences) what your role was in the creation of the product and its presentation. This research report must be posted on Oncourse by Friday, Dec. 10, 5pm.

Books (* indicates REQUIRED text, r indicates recommended text)
*Extreme Cuisine 2004 by Jerry Hopkins
*Twinkie, Deconstructed. 2007 by Steve Ettlinger (hardcover, paperback, or kindle version are all OK)
(r) Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects 1998 by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio

E-reserves All other readings will be available through Electronic Reserves (follow links from IU home page).

Oncourse All students will have access to an Oncourse webpage that includes a gradebook, and is where you are required to post your weekly research reports/concepts page. Also feel free to post relevant announcements to the page.

Academic Honesty I encourage all students to discuss ideas with fellow classmates.  However, I expect all your written assignments and exams to be completed alone. You are expected to abide by all of the rules of academic honesty presented in the Indiana University Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct (  If you have any concerns or questions about these guidelines, talk to me during office hours.

Classroom Professionalism I expect students to act in a professional manner while in class.  This means you should not check email, surf the net, read the newspaper, habitually arrive late, talk loudly with classmates, or otherwise disrupt class.  Turn your cell phone off while in class. If excessive violations occur, it will result in a reduction of your overall course grade.

Disabled Student Services If you will require assistance or academic accommodations for a disability, please contact me after class, during office hours, or by individual appointment. You must have established your eligibility for disability support services through the Office of Disabled Student Services in Franklin Hall 096, (5-7578).

Weekly Topics and Assignment Schedule

***Important Note: Readings for each day should be done prior to class. The readings compliment and supplement what is discussed in lecture and will be covered in exam questions. ***

Week 1

Tuesday, August 31: Introduction to topic and the course. Review syllabus, grading, and important dates.

Part I: Ingredients

Thursday, September 2     Land Animals
Reading: 1) Extreme Cuisine: Forward, Photographer’s Preface, and Introduction, and part of Ch. 1 (p.7-95)
2) Horace Miner 1956 Body Ritual among the Nacirema, American Anthropologist 58:503-507
(online at:

Core Concept topic 1: Cultural bias, ethnocentrism, and self-reflexivity

Core concept assignment 1: Choose one ingredient from this week’s lecture or readings and discuss the ways your cultural biases affect the way you view that food. Include at least one paragraph on the role that self-reflexivity plays in addressing your bias. 1 page, double-spaced, 12 point font.  Post on OnCourse by Friday, Sept. 3, 5pm.

Week 2

Tuesday, September 7       Sky and Water Animals
Reading: Extreme Cuisine: Chapter 3 (p.162-186)

Core Concept topic 2: Cross-cultural comparisons

CC assignment 2: Choose one ingredient from this week’s lecture, readings, or video segments and make a cross-cultural comparison of ways it is treated as a food source. You are not limited to the information found in lecture and readings. In fact, you will likely need to read more to come up with a strong comparison. This is basically a compare/contrast assignment. You should also address why cross-cultural comparison is useful – what did it allow you to learn about this food and how did it enhance your understanding of bizarre foods and/or the culture(s) you included in the study? What drawbacks do you (or others) see to this approach for studying food? 1 page, double spaced, 12 point font.  Post on Oncourse by Friday, Sept. 10, 5pm.

Thursday, September 9     Rodents & Reptiles

Readings: Extreme Cuisine: Chapter 2 (p.114-161)

Week 3

Tuesday, September 14    Bugs
Readings: 1) Extreme Cuisine: Chapter 4 (p.187-225)  2) Recommend reading: Man Eating Bugs

Research skill topic 1: eHRAF World Cultures – Human Relations Area Files (HRAF)

Research skills report 1: The Practical Guide to Using eHRAF helps in getting familiar with HRAF’s unique subject indexing and culture classification system. Choose one food-related subject (ingredient, process, or otherwise) and use eHRAF World Cultures ( to find resources related to it. What new information were you able to find using HRAF? What other literature did it lead you to? Prepare a 1-page report of your eHRAF findings that summarizes the references you located and how they relate to the class. Post on Oncourse by Friday, Sept. 17, 5pm.


Thursday, September 16   Plants
Readings: Extreme Cuisine: Chapter 5 (p.226-266)

Week 4

Tuesday, September 21    Mineral     (Remember: bring an article related to Bizarre Foods to class on Thursday)
Readings: 1) Extreme Cuisine: part of Chapter 6 ‘Gold & Silver’ and ‘Dirt’ (p.289-296)
2) Twinkie, Deconstructed (choose 3 chapters)
3) E-Reserves: ‘Eating Dirt’ by Gerald Callahan in Emerging Infectious Diseases • Vol. 9, No. 8, August 2003
4) E-Reserves: Salt in Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser 1986 Chapter 2 (p.56-83)

Research skill topic 2: Locating relevant sources of data and information

Research skill report 2: Using online library search tools, locate 5 sources related to a specific question or area of interest related to a bizarre food of your choice. List the 5 sources at the top of your report, and for each include the library search tool you used to locate it. At least two of your sources should be journal articles with an online abstract. Read the abstracts and discuss in your report why these are relevant (or not) to your question or area of interest. The idea is not just to look for some tidbit of information about a food item, but to have a question in mind about that food and to locate resources that may address your interest. You do not need to read the articles, but will skim the sources you find to see if the question you have in mind is addressed in the article. Post on Oncourse by Friday, Sept. 24, 5pm.

Thursday, September 23   Leftovers (Freegans, Excrement, and Road Kill)
Readings: 1) Extreme Cuisine: Chapter 6 (p.267-316)
2) E-Reserves: Feral Foragers: Scavenging and Recycling Food Resources. Chapter 9 (p. 287-322) in The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Katz 2006
3) Remember: bring an article related to Bizarre Foods to class today!

Week 5

Tuesday, September 28    Human: Cannibalism
Readings: 1) Extreme Cuisine: part of Chapter 1 ‘Human Flesh’ (p.105-113)
2) E-Reserves: Hunting the Ancestors: Death and Alliance in Wari’ Cannibalism. Beth Conklin (1995) in Latin American Anthropology Review 5(2): 65-70
3) E-Reserves: First Catch Your Man (Chapter 20) in Consuming Culture by Jeremy MacClancy (p.167-178)

Core concept topic 3: Emic and Etic perspectives

CC Assignment 3: Consider how research into one of the foods we’ve studied thus far might change using an emic/etic perspective. What aspects of the research process would change? What is the value of each perspective in terms of its scholarly contribution? Post on OnCourse by Friday, Oct. 1, 5pm.

Thursday, September 30   Human: Breastmilk and Placenta
Readings: 1) Kramer et al. 2008 Breastfeeding and Child Cognitive Development
2) Wade 2010 from NY Times: Breast Milk Sugars Give Infants Protective Coat
3) The Politics of Breastfeeding: An Advocacy Perspective. In Food and Culture (Chapter 26, p. 370-383)
4) Online: (Fighting Cancer with Daughter’s Breast Milk)
5) YouTube:  (Extraordinary Breastfeeding)
6) Notes on Placentophagia. Bulletin of NY Academy of Medicine. William Ober 1979

Week 6

Tuesday, October 5  Beverages, Soups and Oils
Readings: Extreme Cuisine: part of Chapter 1 ‘Urine’ (p. 101-105), ‘Blood’(p. 268-273),
E-Reserves article: In Bad Taste. p. 13-48 (Scat coffee), 73-95 (Goat Dung oil), 97-128 (Saliva soup)

Thursday, October 7   Expectations for Bizarre Food Fair and Food Fair group assignments
                                 (And midterm review/ Q & A regarding bizarre food items)

Week 7

Tuesday, October 12    Hunger
                                   (also Midterm review for Core Concepts and research skills)
1) Everyone Eats. ‘Feeding the World’ – Chapter 13 (p.209-233)
2) Clean Your Plate.  There are People Starving in Africa!”  The Application of Archaeology and Ethnography to America’s Food Loss Issues (2006) by Timothy W. Jones
3) Beyond the Myths of Hunger: What we can do? Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins, 2007, In Food and Culture: A Reader. Ch. 28
4) No Food, Ch. 6 in Consuming Culture by Jeremy MacClancy (p. 44-48)

World Food Day Quiz:

Core Concept 4: Making research relevant to world problems.

CC Assignment 4: World Food Quiz-complete the online quiz, noting your responses for each question in a        word document. These won’t be graded, but will be used to document that you took the quiz. Post the document with your responses  to on Oncourse by 5pm, Friday, Oct. 15

Post response on OnCourse by Friday, Oct. 15, 5pm

Thursday, October 14        In-class Midterm

Part II: Meaning behind the Ingredients

Week 8

Tuesday, October 19  Food Quantity and Quality
1) Beyond Bread and Circuses: Professional Competitive Eating (2007) by Lawrence C. Rubin in Food for Thought edited by Lawrence Reuben (p.248-264)
2)  Explore International Federation of Competitive Eating webpage
3) Aspects of Health, Hype, and Identity in Bottled Water (2009) by Nina Etkin. In Foods of Association.

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 1 & 2

Thursday, October 21        Nutrition, Medicine, and Health
1) Edible Medicines: an ethnopharmacology of food (2006) by Nina Etkin (Ch 3-4)
2) From staple to fashion food: shifting cycles and shifting opportunities in the aca´ı fruit(Euterpe oleracea) economy of the Amazon estuary (2004) by Eduardo Brondizio, In Working Forests of the Tropics: Conservation through Sustainable Management?
Bizarre Food Progress update groups 3 & 4

Post on OnCourse: your group’s food item choice for the Bizarre Food Fair, and an outline of the product/presentation you are developing. Friday, Oct. 22, 5pm

Week 9

Tuesday, October 26    Food Production and Cooking
1) Passing Time: The Ironies of Food in Prison Culture, ( 2007) by Jim Thomas in Food for Thought
2) Molecular Gastronomy: A New Emerging Scientific Discipline, (2010) by Peter Barham et al., Chemical Review 110: p. 2313–2365

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 5 & 6

Research skill topic 3: Evaluating and citing information sources

Research skill report 3: Prepare preliminary annotated bibliography for Bizarre Food Fair project with at   least 10 references and brief descriptions of each reference and why it’s relevant to your project. Post on   OnCourse by Friday, Oct. 29, 5pm.

Thursday, October 28    Food Production and Cooking
1) Happier meals: rethinking the global meat industry (2005) by Danielle Nierenberg

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 7 & 8

Week 10

Tuesday, November 2     Religion, Ritual and Spirituality

1) Everyone Eats ‘Food and Religion’ – Chapter 10 (p.154-161)
2) Taboo or Not Taboo, ch. 5 (p. 32-43) in Consuming Culture by Jeremy MacClancy.

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 9 & 10

Thursday, November 4      Religion, Ritual and Spirituality
1) View video on breatharians:
2) Fast, Feast, and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, (1985) by Caroline Walker Bynum. Representations 11.

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 11 & 12

Week 11

Tuesday, November 9       Identity
1) Everyone Eats ‘Food Classification and Communication’ Chapter 7 (p.109-123)
2) From Hunger Foods to Heritage Foods: Challenges to Food Localization in Lao PDR, (2006) by Penny Van Esterik in Fast Food/Slow Food: The cultural ecology of the global food system.
3) Leaving Home: One Girl’s Story. Introduction in ‘Exotic Appetites’ by Lisa Heldke (p. xi-xxx)

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 13 & 14

Core concept topic 5: Globalization and Colonization (effects on bizarre foods)

CC Assignment 5: Consider negative and positive effects of globalization/colonization on the Bizarre Food Fair item chosen by your group. Your focus can be on the item itself, or on the effects of globalization/colonization for a particular cultural group that uses the item. How do these effects relate to issues of identity, ritual, and/or religion?   Post on OnCourse by Friday, Nov. 12, 5pm.

Thursday, November 11   Identity
1)Food Definitions and Boundaries: Eating Constraints and Human Identities by Ellen Messer (Ch. 4) in Consuming the Inedible (2009) (p. 53-66)
2) Everyone Eats ‘Me, Myself, and the Others’ Chapter 8 (p.124-139)
3) The Quest for Novelty. In Exotic Appetites by Lisa Heldke (p. 9-22)

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 15 & 16

Week 12

Tuesday, November 16     Sexuality and Gender
1) Extreme Cuisine: part of Chapter 1 ‘Genitalia’(p. 95-1010
2) China’s Penis Restaurant (2008) Stephan Gates The Sunday Times (1 page)
3) Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala, (2005) by Martha Few. Ethnohistory 52(4)
4) Lovin’ Spoonfuls (Ch. 9) in Consuming Culture by Jeremy MacClancy (p.77-81)

Bizarre Food Progress update groups 17 & 18

Thursday, November 18   Food Production
View documentary in class: Food, Inc.

Week 13

(No Class Thursday, November 25 for Thanksgiving Holiday)

Tuesday, November 23     Presenting Bizarre Food Fair Preliminary Products (Groups 1-9)
Research Skill 4: Summarize findings clearly and effectively

RS report 4: Reflect on our in-class discussion of what’s effective and what’s not in the presentations you              heard today in class. How will you apply this to your Bizarre Food Fair product/presentation? Post on OnCourse by Friday, Nov. 26, 5pm.

Week 14

Tuesday, November 30     Presenting Bizarre Food Fair Preliminary Products (Groups 10-18)

Thursday, December 2      IU’s First Ever Bizarre Food Fair

Week 15

Tuesday, December 7        Eating (table manners and consuming food)
Readings: No Offence Ch. 5 in The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser (1991) (p. 297-338)

Research Skill 5: Summarize findings clearly and effectively

RS report 5: Utilizing the questions and feedback your received from visitors during the Bizarre Food Fair, reflect on what was most interesting and effective about your product, and what was least clear and needs further explanation or improvement. You should also note the steps you would take to incorporate        the changes and improve your final product.

You have 2-pages for this report – use it! Post on OnCourse by Friday, Dec. 10, 5pm.

Thursday, December 9      Final Food for Thought  – Summing things up

FINAL EXAM: Tuesday, December 14, 5:00-7:00 p.m. in Student Building Rm. 150