I Eat Duck Foetus and That’s Okay
It was another languid night in the Philippines when my cousins decided to treat me to a local delicacy. We convened around the family dinner table, gathering plates and salt to prepare for our feast.
We tapped the top of the egg on the table, forging light cracks.
“First, you drink the broth,” my cousins instructed. I followed suit and brought the shell to my lips. The flavour was inviting and warm, reminiscent of the many broths mum would serve on the table in Melbourne. I drank from the egg like I would a shot of liquor, and the liquid cleared to reveal a hodgepodge of yolk, egg white and the crown jewel: a duck foetus.
“It’s better if you swallow it whole,” said my cousin – ‘it’ being the duck foetus lodged in the egg, cooked alongside the yolk and white.
I sunk my teeth in and passed the contents of my mouth down my throat without incident. They were right, it was better. I quickly finished the rest of it, which was basically the same as your standard hard-boiled egg sans foetus.
I put my empty shell on the table and my cousins and I giggled. I was filled with this satisfaction that despite living so far away, I was still able to share these moments with them.
“You’re really a Filipino, huh?” my eldest cousin said, bemused and slightly surprised. I flashed him a proud smirk.
When I told this story in Australia it was received very differently. I’d get the most devious look on my face, as if I was going to rock my friends’ worlds.
“I ate a duck foetus LOL!”
I revelled in their disgusted exclamations. “A foetus? How crazy!”
I used to whip it out whenever I wanted to draw attention to myself. It was like my own little party trick, made at my culture’s expense. Being non-white in a Western country basically commodifies your cultural experience for the entertainment of the masses, and for the longest time I would cash in hard. It was exploitative, sensationalist and downright disrespectful.
There’s something so insidious about recoiling at a culture’s food at face value. Food is such a fundamental piece of the human experience that it almost feels personal when it’s ridiculed. You are what you eat, after all.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with not liking the taste of things. I’m not trying to shit on people for having taste buds. But feeling unashamed in exclaiming “THAT’S SO WEIRD!” when I tell you about sharing a meal with my family comes from a huge position of privilege and Eurocentrism. Newsflash: not everyone has the luxury of discriminating between food sources, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Unfortunately, chia bowls and quinoa don’t grow on trees – certainly not in the Philippines.
And it’s not like the West is the pinnacle of ethical eating by any stretch of the imagination. Most of my friends who reacted to the story aren’t vegetarians, yet they still recoiled at the fact that the animal I ate was a foetus. I figure if I’m going to eat meat there’s no point in kidding myself otherwise. Me eating curry made with pigs’ blood is no less morally questionable than your typical Sunday roast.
For some reason though, we’ve anthropomorphised animals, and created this hypocritical attitude of simultaneously loving and killing them. I blame Pixar movies and Marley and Me. As a result, the West just likes to mould their meat into indistinguishable shapes, and disregard any parts that suggest it was once alive. That way you can pretend your six-nugget meal isn’t the same as that cute chicken you fed on your primary school trip to a farm.
Like every other culture, the West has myriad flaws and contradictions, so I’m not sure anyone has a leg to stand on when they criticise what other people choose to eat.
In the end, we could all benefit from taking off our Eurocentric lenses and seeing food for what it is. It’s fuel. It’s a crucial ingredient in how friends and family spend time together, no matter where in the world they are. Please try and keep that in mind the next time you’re backpacking in Asia and the dish on your plate has more legs than you’re used to.
Cover via The Food Bible