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Image by Ella Olsson

Litmus in the Lunchbox
By Sharon Whitehill

Their friends at school pretended to gag

as my girls ate sandwiches of sliced beef tongue,

a mild-flavored meat delicious with mustard

or pepper and salt. Though we laugh today,

my children and I, at how closed-minded

the neighbors where they grew up, I remember

my own refusal to sample a chocolate-dipped cricket,

how I still look away as my daughter savors fish eyeballs.

A delicacy, she points out, in multiple cultures

outside the West.


Protein is protein, yes, a fine mantra.

Even when it’s pronounced by someone (myself)

who is no more exempt from such insular bias

than those small-town kids

who favored their peanut butter and jelly.

Witness also my uneasy memories of Iceland: 

unfeigned revulsion at rotting shark meat,

fermented ram testes, roasted sheep's heads.


Why does the pork sausage I eat with my eggs,

or the tongue I once sliced for our lunch,

feel so remarkably different from the head

of a sheep with its ears, eyes, and tongue

on my plate? Why does the very idea

of eating a face seem so much more disgusting

than the minced form of its various parts?


Perhaps it has something to do

with those smiley-faced M&Ms that didn’t sell,

the reluctance to bite off the head

of a gingerbread man. Something to do,

in the case of the pig or the sheep,

with confronting the truth

that I’m eating a creature

that once was alive.

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