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5 Foods People Actually Die For

By Christa Weil

When making soup requires scaling a cliff, and grabbing a few olives involves avoiding gunfire, it's time to find some comfort food that's a little more comfortable.

1. Iwatake

The annals of Arctic exploration are filled with accounts of frostbitten limbs and near starvation. In fact, many adventurers have reported being so hungry that they've scraped papery-crisp lichen off rocks and boiled it into passably edible food. One outdoorsman even claimed that if braised shoe leather was in a taste-test with lichen, the shoe leather would come out on top. And yet, this very same survival food is considered a delicacy in Japan. There, iwatake (iwa meaning rock, and take meaning mushroom) is so highly sought-after that harvesters are willing to rappel down cliff faces for the precious growths. (It takes about a century for the lichen to get to a worthwhile size.) Needless to say, this is specialty work. As if the rappelling isn't tricky enough, iwatake is best harvested in wet weather, because the moisture reduces the chance that the lichen will crumble as it's pried off with a sharp knife. In its preferred preparation, the black and slimy raw material is transformed into a delicate tempura. And while iwatake in any form doesn't taste like much, it's esteemed for its associations with longevity. As for the harvesters? Their longevity's more questionable. "Never give lodging to an iwatake hunter," goes an old Japanese adage, "for he doesn't always survive to pay rent."

2. Bird's Nest Soup

800px-Birds_Nest_soup.jpgCantilevered high off cave walls and cliffs along the seas of Southeast Asia are the nests of the white-nest swiftlet—a bird that's managed to turn an embarrassing drool problem into a useful D.I.Y. project. The nests, sturdy constructions no bigger than the palm of your hand, are made from the birds' spit. Yup, these swiftlets have specialized saliva glands powerful enough to turn their tongues into avian glue guns.You'd think being stuck in caves high above the ground, and the fact that they're birds' nests, would protect them against humans—but no. Ever since sailors first brought the nests home for the Chinese emperor and his family in the first century CE, bird's nest soup has been a favorite among the country's elite. Never mind that it's virtually tasteless; the dish is revered for health reasons. Of course, acquiring the main ingredient is less healthy. Nest harvesters must stand on rickety bamboo scaffolding hundreds of feet off the ground in pitch darkness. They must also endure unbelievable heat and humidity as they try to avoid all the insects, birds, and bats that live in the caves. In addition, the extraordinary value of the nests means the zones are patrolled by machine-gun toting guards. Harvesting rights are multiyear, multimillion-dollar deals arranged with national governments, and poaching is ruthlessly prohibited. Unarmed fishermen have been shot dead after accidentally beaching in swiftlet territory, and local tour group operators pay exorbitant fees to avoid rifle-assisted leaks springing in their kayaks. It all underscores the fact that being a nest harvester is less of a career choice and more of a life sentence—especially considering that the skill is almost exclusively passed on from father to son.

3. West Bank Olives

2.Olives-Brined.jpgCome the November harvest season each year, Palestinian landowners on the far side of the Green Line (which bounds the pre-1967 border between Jordan and Israel) cope with the standard hazards of olive picking. They deal with raw fingertips, accidental falls from the upper boughs of the trees, and backaches from stooping to gather fallen fruit. All that effort to glean olive oil, which has fueled the local economy for centuries. But the latter-day olive harvest involves a much more deadly threat. Some Israeli settlers are intent on driving the farmers away from the groves, and they've armed themselves with rocks and scope rifles to block the Palestinian landowners from their livelihood. In recent years, Israeli police and Jewish peace activists have worked alongside the pickers to curb harassment, but the year-round tending of these ancient groves remains a life-threatening pursuit. Humans aren't the sole targets, either. According to the Jerusalem Post, vandals burned or otherwise destroyed more than 1,000 olive trees in the West Bank in 2005. Sadly, it will require plenty of time and hard work on the part of the governing bodies before the farmers' only concerns are workaday aches and pains.

4. Snapping Turtle

Asnapper-soup2.jpgTurtle soup was a staple of 19th-century gourmets, usually ladled out of huge tureens for the first course. And no wonder; turtle meat is tasty, fibrous, and chewy—kind of like barbecued pork. But getting the meat in the quantities Grover Cleveland and his ilk demanded meant getting the biggest turtles around, and in most of the United States, that meant going after snapping turtles. The traditional means of capturing the giant creatures (which grow up to 180 lbs.) is called noodling, which involves brave souls trawling along the banks of rivers, lakes, and ponds, and occasionally wading neck-deep to stick a boot into the turtles' lairs. If a noodler hits shell, next in are the hands, which try to haul the critter out while avoiding its famously strong jaws.

On-the-job accidents come with the territory. According to outdoor expert Keith Sutton, author of Hunting Arkansas, "noodlers are nicknamed "˜nubbins' as the result of unfortunate encounters with snappers." Amazingly, the job isn't over once the turtle is captured, either. Turns out, killing the animal is another exercise in raw nerve. We'll spare you the details, except to say that it's ill-advised to handle the animal's head until at least a day after its execution. Even decapitated, the snapping turtle has a long memory.

5. Gooseneck Barnacle

800px-Barnacle.JPG.jpgYou've probably never seen gooseneck barnacles on a menu in the States, but it's only a matter of time. Besides being a popular Christmastime appetizer in Spain and Portugal (where it's known as percebes), it's gaining ground in America and being harvested off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. But harvesting this rock-dwelling crustacean is no simple matter. Barnacle fishers typically tie themselves to the rocks in a surge zone along the ocean and pry the creatures off between waves. To do this, they have to use a crowbar to break the animals' self-adhesive, which is so resistant to tampering that scientists were long mystified by its chemical makeup. In other words, removing a barnacle takes lots of traction, which, given the waves, can be tricky. A poorly maintained tether, or a harvester too impatient to tie in, can easily end with a call to the Coast Guard. Of those brave enough to harvest gooseneck barnacles, one Coast Guard official said, "The best we can do is retrieve the bodies."

Editor's Note: Christa Weil is the author of Fierce Food: The Intrepid Diner's Guide to the Unusual, Exotic, and Downright Bizarre (Plume, 2006), available in bookstores nationwide.

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
Hulu
Hulu

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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