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food party Harkarl Monkey brains monkey feast strange food Surstromming Thu Tran weird food

Strange & Disgusting Food

When I was a psychologist in a mental hospital I had a colleague who was from China. Ming had come to the US for his PhD and had stayed after graduating. One day after doing our rounds and encountering some really strange and disgusting behavior among our patients we started talking about the most disgusting things we had ever seen. Ming became really quiet and in a low tone said he had experienced something in China he would never forget. He then described a banquet he had attended many years ago. It was a very special dinner in which guests sat around a table that curiously had a hole in the center. The table was constructed so that a monkey could be secured so that only its head came through the hole in the center. Ming then described how servants brought in a clean, live monkey and locked it tight under the table with a metal collar so that it head was exposed. The host then took a special hammer and cracked the monkey’s skull, pulling away pieces of the skull while the monkey screamed. Diners then spooned out the living brain of the monkey and consumed it raw while the monkey writhed in its death throes. Ming said he was sickened by this dinner, but apparently being invited to the ‘monkey feast’ was a huge honor and he didn’t want to offend his host who was some big shot official..so he pretended to eat the brain, or at least that is what he told us. Hardened as we were by working every day in the mental hospital we were pretty disgusted by Ming’s story. How could people be so cruel? Yet if look closely at the factory system that transforms animals in our culture – from chickens, to cows, to pigs – to food it is every bit as bad. And this says a lot about us as a people…

I consider myself to be somewhat of a ‘culinary anthropologist’ in that I believe food tells a lot about people and their culture. When we examine the origins of different food and how they came to be used in specific cultures we quickly drop into an interesting study in sociology, psychology, politics, and history. For a glimpse into the world of strange food check out the following:

Weird Meat

Weird Food

Strange Food Art (scroll down it gets better)

More Weird Food

Weird Food Laws

Disgusting Delicacies (not for the faint of stomach)

Surstromming (Scandinavian fermented fish in a can)

Harkarl (putrified shark)

Unusual Foods from Indonesia (don’t watch if you like pigs, bats, or cute puppies)

Tarantula Tempura

Here is an Italian delicacy one of my former students reminded me of…

Also check out one of my favorite artists and extreme foodie Thu Tran

Thu writes and stars in the independent Film Channel show Food Party which has to be the most bizarre thing on television – highly recommended! (And no monkeys are killed – only a ‘Cave Duck’)

By Bizarre Behavior & Culture Bound Syndromes

Dr. Kevin Volkan is a psychologist, writer, and educator with over twenty years of clinical, corporate, and academic experience. He is Professor of Psychology at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) and is on the graduate medical Faculty in the Community Memorial Health System. Dr. Volkan was one of the founding faculty at CSUCI which is the 23rd campus in California State University system where he teaches a course on atypical psychopathologies titled Bizarre Behaviors and Culture-Bound Syndromes. This course explores the outer range of extreme human behavior including paraphilias and was the inspiration for this blog. Consonant with his interest in deviant psychopathologies he also teaches clinical psychology and a course on the psychology of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Dr. Volkan has been a Silberman Seminar Fellow at The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC in 2010 and 2014. Before coming to CSUCI, Dr. Volkan was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School where he researched ways to measure medical student and physician performance, and the psychological origins of medical error. While at Harvard, Dr. Volkan also taught for the prestigious Harvard-Macy Institute, a joint program run by the Harvard Business, Education, and Medical schools. In this program he taught medical students and physicians from Harvard as well as from all over the world. Dr. Volkan’s background in psychology is varied and he maintains an active interest in several psychological approaches to understanding human nature – including socio-biological, psychoanalytic, psychometric, and cognitive-behavioral. He has had a long-standing interest in the psychology of compulsive drug use (which has similarities to the psychology of paraphilias), and has published a book on the subject. Dr. Volkan worked as a clinical psychologist for many years. This experience included serving as staff psychologist and Vice Chair of psychology at Agnews State Hospital in San Jose. During his tenure at Agnews, Dr. Volkan worked with patients who demonstrated many severe behavioral problems, including profoundly autistic, psychotic, self-injurious, and developmentally disabled individuals. Dr. Volkan was awarded the Sustained Superior Accomplishment Award from the State of California for his clinical work. In addition to his hospital work, Dr. Volkan also maintained a private practice in psychology in the San Francisco Bay Area. He served as a psychologist for the California Victim Witness program, seeing patients who were victims of crime and/or abuse. Dr. Volkan’s clients included a diverse population of people representing a wide variety of socioeconomic strata and psychological distress. Dr. Volkan received a BA in Biology from the University of California, an MA in Psychology from Sonoma State University, an EdD in Educational Psychology from Northern Illinois University, a PhD in Clinical Psychology from The Center for Psychological Studies, and a MPH in Public Health from Harvard University. In his spare time he practices martial arts and plays guitar in a rock band.

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