Disgusting Food Museum at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, Los Angeles
Remember as a kid when you were eager to polish off your favorite dessert, a bowl of ice cream, but the only thing between you and your dessert was a pile of brussel sprouts (or even broccoli) on your plate that your mother ordered you to finish? Those brussel sprouts you purposely avoided throughout your dinner brought about a feeling that most people have come across in a disliked food – disgust. Disgust is a universal feeling anyone has had when it comes to foods they don’t like – it is an individual, but also socially influenced feeling. One food that is identified as disgusting or gross in one culture may be considered normal in another, and some are controversial as well. That’s one of the great things about food – it is a basic necessity that everyone needs and can relate to one another regardless of culture or language. Certain food brings out disgust in any culture. You could imagine my excitement when I found out the Disgusting Food Museum from Malmo, Sweden came to Los Angeles as a Pop-Up Exhibit.
The admission ticket doubles as a barf bag
The Disgusting Food Museum was founded by Samuel West (he also founded the Museum of Failure which also came to LA in 2018) in Malmo, Sweden and consists of an exhibit of over 80 different foods that were identified as disgusting to the general public (general public meaning how other countries may view one country’s food. For example, Japan’s natto, fermented soybeans, is a typical Japanese food, but other countries find the sticky, slimy dish disgusting). Unlike the Museum of Ice Cream, which is more of an Instagram museum rather than on the history of ice cream (much to my dismay), the Disgusting Food Museum does provide details (maybe too much details) on the foods and country of origin. Though it doesn’t delve too much into the historical aspect. There’s also a tasting bar so you can even taste some of the disgusting (or delicious?) foods from different countries!
Natto, a Japanese delicacy, has its haters and lovers even in Japan.
When you first enter the museum, they hand you an admission ticket, which also doubles as your barf bag. The types of food range from normal American foods like Twinkies and lobster, while some foods will make you nauseous (such as baby mouse wine from China, fruit bat soup from Guam). You’ll even get to smell some of the stinky cheeses at the Europe table if you choose to do so. Twinkies were chosen as other countries believe our snacks are unusually sweet with artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup. For lobster, it used to be so disliked in American history that prisoners rioted when they were served lobster too much. Today it is a well-liked dish, but that view of lobster as prison trash food to luxury food took centuries.
While lobster may have been a disliked food centuries ago, it is a dish of luxury today.
Overall, it was a great interactive experience at the Disgusting Food Museum. You get to learn so much about the different foods that are culturally normal in other countries and get an idea of how disgust is so socially structured and influenced. For example, steak tartare was featured as a disgusting item – for me, evidently enough, I identify it as a delicious appetizer, and my eyes light up if I see it on a menu. However, that same dish would draw ire from less adventurous and pickier eaters. The same goes for some of the more common dishes such as stinky tofu, durian in Asian culture. These are foods they eat day to day so they would be offended if they knew how much other countries depicted it (same goes for Vegemite, the briny, overly salty paste that Australians love).
Steak tartare, another delicacy, is loved and disliked by many.
Of course, the museum is not without controversy – critics may argue that some of the foods aren’t disgusting – I agree, it is dependent on your cultural background, but still, the museum does show a medley of various food items that you wouldn’t get an opportunity to see/read about from sauerkraut drinks to fruit bat soup to fermented shark. You even get the opportunity to try some of them at the tasting bar in the back of the museum.
We talked to the employees at the tasting bar and they said they might do something satirical for Valentine’s Day – such as pork brains or some kind of heart for tasting. Yuck, but I do admire their dedication to showing visitors what there is to taste/see with the timing of Valentine’s Day to get a kick!
Part of the tasting bar – you can try Hakarl, icelandic fermented shark. Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay tried it once and couldn’t stomach it. He ended up spitting it out.
Other crunchy critters that are part of the tasting bar.
The museum is in LA until mid-Feb 2019 in the Arts District. Go check it out if you can at www.disgustingfoodmuseum when you can. Below are some additional pictures I took at the museum.
Fruit Bat Soup – one delicacy most would not be eager to try.
Vegemite – the notorious spread of Australia
Durian, which is known as the king of fruits, is so smelly that some hotels have banned it in Asia.
The Jello Salad seems to have disappeared over the decades as a savory dish as it is served today for dessert.
You’d be extremely grossed out by this Italian delicacy. It is so dangerous to consume that it is also banned in Europe (though individuals still make it for their own consumption).