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The Zero Deterrent Approach to Eating

In the "Cult of Escapism": The Zero Deterrent Approach to Eating

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Zero Deterrent Approach to Eating

There’s nothing hard and crunchy about rice, avocado and fried cucumbers, which means my tooth just found something foreign. I spit it on to my finger and identify: legs, head, a wing. It’s a beetle. I flick it aside and keep eating. This automatic reaction reminded me of a broader theme – Peace Corps Volunteers’ zero deterrent approach to eating.

Urged by insistent parents at a young age, I’ve been a plate finisher for many years. But I cleaned plate out of obligation and fear of reprimand. Now, after nine months in the Peace Corps, finishing food is mechanical, mandatory – a rhetorical question. Fly in the soup? Slurp. Seven boiled plantains and nothing else? No problem. Severed human head? … Ok that hasn’t happened yet but I’d probably eat it.

It begins with host families. If you don’t finish a meal you at least offend them and (perhaps more importantly) you’ve just abandoned your only chance at eating. So you shovel it in. If you’re a real pro, you may smile too. Many volunteers bring hot sauce to each meal (discretely, I usually had a bottle in my pocket) to add flavor. All become experts a dishing food to the dogs. Whatever the method, after host families, we are trained and will dutifully eat boiled woodchips if necessary.

I thought the habit would disappear when I moved in by myself but now I think about the beetle and everything I’ve eaten off the ground and all the boring boiled food I routinely and voluntarily prepare. It’s hard to explain, beyond saying that choosing not to clean the plate is like choosing not to urinate – it’s not an option. You can, like when peeing, put it off or save it for later or stir fry it, but eventually, it’s gotta go.

So we bite a beetle, flick it aside and keep eating. We’re handed a large bowl of rice with nothing else and we pick up the spoon. Sometimes, I notice a dull mental alarm trying to alert my mouth – “Unpleasant! Do not eat that! You just dropped that on the ground! Twice!” The alarm hasn’t stopped me in months. Hopefully it’s louder when I’m presented with boiled head.


At June 21, 2011 at 12:01 PM , Blogger Joy said...

I have to ask. WHAT is that disgusting-looking thing in that bowl of rice??! It looks like a cross between a three-tailed scorpion, a witch's hand, ginseng, and some kind of deadly creature only found in Australia.


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