Jon de Vos: More poisonous than a politician
November 7, 2008
Take it from one who knows little about it. The puffer fish is the creepiest fish in the ocean. This fish is so ugly that its common name is the Toad fish but, oh no, it doesn’t stop there. In the blink of a threatened eye, that repulsive-looking three-inch fish in front of your goggles, can pop open to a medicine-ball sized nightmare bristling with spines that ooze a nerve poison more potent than any venomous snake and 500 times deadlier than cyanide.
So, this raises an obvious question, why would anyone eat this virulently poisonous terror, when theoretically safe McDonald’s fish sandwiches are readily available around the corner?
In Japan, it is recognized among the finest delicacies in the world, found on exclusive restaurant menus as “Fugu,” pronounced like the Bronx insult. It is traditionally served raw, laid out on the plate in the form of splayed chrysanthemum “petals” and available to wealthy connoisseurs at $800 for a two-ounce serving. Fugu was celebrated centuries ago by the Edo poets as life’s most exalting experience. In 1790 AD, the poet Issa wrote, “Don’t waste the beauty of Mount Fuji on people who don’t like fugu.”
There might be a little something lost in the translation but the sentiment remains.
The answer to the question may lie in the dreamlike euphoric intoxication found in trace amounts of the fish’s poison, tetrodotoxin. Take a little of the drug and you nod out in bliss; take a lot of the drug and you bow out to your ancestors. A happy medium is what the fugu aficionados strive to attain as tiny amounts of tetrodotoxin remain in the most scrupulously cleaned fish. Fugu processors undergo three years of rigorous training before being licensed in their trade. Fish processed for export to the United States may only be handled by those processors with ten years of licensed experience. To further reduce the risk, a team of inspectors count all of the excised organs and compare it to the number of processed fish. The counts must match or the entire batch is destroyed. A lot of fuss until you consider that a four-pound fish will bring $20,000. On the other hand it’s bound to hurt repeat business when customers slump over their sake and die . . . with an inscrutable grin on their faces.
Recently, one of Japan’s most famous Kabuki dancers died after eating Fugu and the world mourns about a hundred Japanese gourmands annually. But, oh no, it doesn’t stop there either, because we haven’t discussed zombies yet.
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Zombies are a myth. Or are they? There is a body of evidence that says that witch doctors blend a combination of tetrodotoxin and extracts from the Datura plant into “zombie powder” that will induce a trance-like state nearly indistinguishable from death. In 1988, Harvard ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, interviewed a former Haitian zombie named Clavius Narcisse. Clavius claimed his evil brother fed him some of the potent mix and forced him into two years of mindless debauchery. After his brother died, Clavius woke up and rejoined society.
Let’s see, two years in a trance-like state of mindless debauchery, doesn’t that aptly describe the U.S. Senate?
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