Eating Bacon-Flavored Ice Cream is Like Watching Scream 4

You know the feeling.
Heart in mouth, butterflies in stomach, maybe a little nervous laughter. Your attention is so perfectly focused that everything else is a blur.

It’s what we feel when we watch a scary movie or ride a roller coaster. It’s also the feeling we get when we challenge ourselves to try an unfamiliar food.

According to the psychology research site PsyBlog, we choose varied, novel sensations not because we think we’ll like them better—in fact we might even know we won’t—but because of something called conceptual consumption. We like the idea of the thing and we want to possess the experience. We push the envelope because of the self-satisfaction we know we’ll feel once we have made it through the fear and anxiety.

Most of us are satisfied with our modest collections of experiences. We conceptually consume in line with our self-image; we want to see ourselves, and be seen by others, as an interesting person who doesn’t shy away from a variety of experience, whether it’s the roller coaster ride or the tête de cochon.

Then there are those who find that they thrive on a sense of arousal; they crave the pulse-pounding, nail-biting adrenaline rush that comes from intense experiences. Psychologist Frank Farley coined the term Type T Personality —T for thrill-seeking—to describe people who enjoy panic-button experiences. He says that the diner who chooses to taste cocks’ combs and sheep’s eyeballs is the same extreme personality type as a skydiver or a fan of gory slasher films.

Conceptual minus the consumption.
Popular culture has latched onto extreme dining and turned it into a spectator sport. For those of us who are non-T types, television shows like Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin, and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations give us conceptual consumption once removed. We get a vicarious thrill as we watch celebrities engage in extreme eating challenges, still collecting the experience but without the nasty taste in our own mouths.

Sometimes, watching the dining adventures of others just doesn’t do it for you.
The Gastronauts started meeting in NY about five years ago and just expanded to Los Angeles. They organize monthly dinners that test the outer limits of edible. This month saw the inaugural dinner of the California chapter. Not to be outdone by their east coast counterparts, the menu drew from the cuisine of rural, northeastern Thailand with dishes like fried silkworms, ‘jungle curry’ frog, a salad of raw crab with fermented fish, stir-fried eel, and an offal hotpot made with pork and beef stomach, liver, heart, and lungs.

Informal gastronaut groups and adventure supper clubs have popped up in cities around the world. There are dining groups dedicated to offbeat specialties like offal or insects, but most of them organize more broadly appealing adventure meals in local restaurants. You can find gastronauts groups in Boston and Brisbane, London has the Experimental Food SocietySan Francisco and Denver have their Adventure Clubs, and the Cross Species Adventure Club holds topically-themed dining events in Australia and the U.S.

 

 

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