CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

What 11 Popular Zoo Animals Taste Like (According to People Who Tried Them)

Original image
ThinkStock

Have you ever visited the local zoo and found yourself wondering how a juicy hunk of boiled penguin breast might taste? Just about every creature under the sun has been sautéed, deep-fried, and/or sprinkled over a pizza at some point in human history.

(DISCLAIMER: A few of the species on this list are either threatened or endangered. In addition to being ethically dubious, their consumption is illegal in many countries. This article is designed to help satisfy your curiosity and not stoke your appetite.)

1. Elephant

Elephant feet: part of a complete breakfast! While exploring Mozambique in 1864, Scottish missionary David Livingstone was served this pedal delicacy, cooked in the “native fashion,” one morning. Finding it delicious, the traveler wrote, “It is a whitish mass, slightly gelatinous, and sweet like marrow.” Best of all, the meal came with a healthy side of beer.

2. Giraffe

“Properly prepared, and cooked rare,” pens celebrity chef Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, “giraffe’s meat steak can be better than steak or venison. The meat has a natural sweetness that may not be to everybody’s taste, but is certainly to mine when grilled over an open fire.”

3. Penguin

A particularly unflattering description of penguin meat composed by a Belgian seaman in 1898 suggests that it won’t be replacing chicken anytime soon: “If it’s possible to imagine a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish, and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce, the illustration would be complete.”

4. Galapagos Tortoise

These hardy reptiles were a dietary staple to traveling sailors throughout the 19th century. Though many compared the delicacy to fine veal, a young Charles Darwin was decidedly less enthusiastic. “[The] breastplate roasted … is very good,” his journal grants, “and the young tortoises make excellent soup, but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent.” 

5. Lion

Apparently, the king of the beasts makes for one tasty taco. A Tampa Bay restaurant began selling these $35 entrees last year before removing them from the menu a few months later. "[It's] surprisingly tasty," said one customer of this exotic grub. "The taste is kind like venison, and the texture is kind of like gator."

6. Python

Looking to capitalize on Florida’s decades-long Burmese python invasion, Evan’s Neighborhood Pizza of Fort Myers now offers “Everglades Pizza” topped with slivers of these 20-foot snakes. “It tastes like chicken but chewier,” said one customer.

7. Camel

It’s the perfect treat for hump day! Eating camel is a fairly common practice in much of the world, especially the Middle East. Chef Anissa Halou claims it reminds him of “a cross between beef and lamb.” Camel steaks are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to conventional red meat in much of Europe and even parts of the U.S.

8. Gorilla

Gorillas are widely hunted down and devoured in parts of Africa, and the simians’ flesh is routinely sold at nearby markets as “bush meat." Flavor-wise, many have cited their cuts as rich, smoky, and veal-like. Speaking of primates, if you’d like to find out what humans taste like without wandering into Hannibal Lecter territory, Vsauce recently posted an excellent video on the subject.

9. Hippopotamus

In the words of author and hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick, “It is my personal opinion that hippo meat is one of the finest of game foods … The taste is mild, less than lamb and more than beef, slightly more marbled than usual venison. It tastes exactly like, well, hippo.”

10. Peacock

If you’re searching for an exotic alternative to traditional Thanksgiving fare, look no further. The eponymous host of the popular YouTube series “Dave’s Exotic Foods” stated in a special holiday episode that brined peacock sports a light and very turkey-like flavor. However, if certain medieval critics are to be believed, stocking up on some gas-ex first might be a necessary precaution. 

11. Sloth

“It was really, really tough and there really wasn’t much meat,” says American composer Aaron Paul Low, who helped catch and eat an unfortunate sloth on a trip to Peru in 2012. Tired of subsisting on nothing but indigenous fruits, Low claims his party “begrudgingly ate such natural wonders as armadillo, turtle, crocodile, toucan,” and many others. Sloth meat, he says, isn't for the weak-stomached. “[It was] one of the few absolutely disgusting animals we ate.” These adorable tree-climbers are illegal to hunt, but a few luckless specimens still get munched on every year.

BONUS: Panda

Archaeological evidence suggests that prehistoric humans once hunted giant pandas with spears some 10,000 years ago. Since then, the practice has fallen out of favor and no record detailing their flavor is known to exist. However, in 1928, Teddy Roosevelt’s sons Kermit and Theodore IV hunted and ate one while visiting China, but neglected to document its taste.

All images courtesy of ThinkStock 

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
Original image
iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES