(CNN) — When Andrew Zimmern tells us we ought to try a particular food, we screw up our courage and do it. His travels as host of “Bizarre Foods” take him to some far-out places and sometimes challenging cuisine, which he always tackles with an open mind, and a wide-open mouth.
Zimmern has seen it all, eaten most of it, and believes that with slight adaptation of the American palate, we can change the world. As he says, “You can change the world one plate at a time. If we can take better advantage of the global pantry and eat from a wider variety of choices we would do more to combat food poverty, our damaged food production system, obesity and other systemic health and wellness issues than any one single act I can imagine. Here are some suggestions, but be creative. It works.”
Five Foods That Can Change the World: Andrew Zimmern
“This is one of my favorite lean healthy meats, popular all around the world. Goat in America is like soccer; we know the rest of the world loves it but we just don’t get it. But there is goat available, and like soccer, it’s growing every year. Donkey is ideally suited for pasturing in America, the muscles can be portioned larger (we love those big steaks!) and the breeds that are most suited for eating pleasure are small and won’t make Americans squeamish like horse does – another animal we should be eating by the way.
Really, any alternative hoofed protein source would be beneficial for the economy and our physical health. Venison, kudu, elk, buffalo – it’s all out there waiting to get us off our addiction to feedlot beef and commodity-raised pig. Heck, I will throw rabbit in there as well, even though they have paws and not hooves.”
2. Little fish
“Try lionfish, dogfish, mackerel, sardines and any other small head-on fish, or an invasive species that is eating small fry stock in our coastal waters. Passion for tuna, salmon and shrimp is killing those fisheries, driving extinction and creating an unfair balance with foreign imports, even undercutting prices on American production in the case of the shrimp.
Little fish with heads on are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines and mackerel are some of the healthiest foods we can eat and contain almost 2000 milligrams of omega-3 per three-ounce portion. They don’t have lots of toxins like bigger fish. They are sustainable and quick to reproduce. This is one single act that anyone on a coast, lake, river system or pond can put into play today.”
3. Your own vegetables
“Or at very least sponsor someone else’s: think community gardens and CSAs. America’s food system is in crisis and part of the problem is that the vast majority of vegetables are provided to us come from a handful of oversized companies. It’s very un-American to concentrate so much power over the many into the hands of the few. And it’s unhealthy and dangerous. The model of a few generations ago, where food production was less mechanized and more regional, made for a healthier way of doing business and was more economically and culturally sustainable as well.
If everyone grew what they could, supported urban farms and community gardens in cities and local CSAs, the pressure relief on our overtaxed system would be immense. The resulting dollar shift would be staggering and deliver a positive shot in the arm to local economies. Our food would also be safer. Small action here can yield tremendous impact, immediately.”
4. Game birds
“Factory chicken farms are one of the more dangerously damaged parts of our food system in America. Disease is rampant, foodborne pathogen damage is widely felt every time there is a tremor of release into our system because the chicken companies are so massive. The meat isn’t healthy for you and tastes like cardboard. Do a test, go down to your farmers market and but some real chickens and real eggs and do a taste test.
The best way to fight flavor fatigue in your home and spread out our dining dollars is also the best way to force a return to a more healthy manner of poultry raising: just eat less of it. Adding a few meals a month from well-sourced poultry protein like duck, squab, goose, turkey, pheasant or guinea hen will not only thrill your taste buds, but ultimately create a more wallet-friendly food world as well. More sources equals more competition and supporting local poultry farms that do it the right way is better for our national system as well.”
“Do the math with me. Why throw away 25-40% of an animal’s total body weight? The blood and organs of many animals can be used to wonderful effect. While I know spleen sandwiches aren’t for everyone, all it takes is one taste of sanguinacci (blood pudding) in Italy, boudin noir (blood sausage) in France, farmhouse head cheese in New Orleans, hog ponce in Southern Louisiana, kokoretsi in Greece or dinuguan (blood stew) and sisig (a spicy dish of pork jowls, ears and liver) in the Philippines to know that we are wasteful in the extreme when it comes to eating the animals that see our abbatoirs every day.
Look, I don’t expect everyone to go crazy for pig ears, but with all the news that the processed foods that contain all the ignored parts (commercial bologna, hot dogs, sausage) limit our life expectancy and cause increases in cancer and heart disease in direct proportion to consumption, I think it’s time for us to wake up and smell the coffee.
The hearts of lambs and cows cook up better than commercial choice grade sirloin, and I challenge anyone to tell me differently. Tongue tastes better and has better mouth feel and cooks more consistently than any other muscle in the ‘pot roast’ comfort food category. Offal seems to be the sole province of ethnic eateries and swank gastropubs and I think it’s high time we returned those ingredients to the dinner table of the American family.”