Tuesday 4 October 2011

Accidental protein

I discovered today that there's a straight line from rats in the roof to maggot pupae under the bed, but that's as far as I'm going with that particular story, other than hoping that the line bypassed my wide and snoring mouth. Although really, there's no logic to that, seeing as how I've cheerfully bitten an ant's bum and chowed down, a little less cheerfully, on a huhu grub, which is a maggot on steroids. Seriously, it's a Michelin-Man maggot.

It wasn't nice at all, and I won't be having another, thank you; but the ant was very refreshing. It was a green ant, and I was encouraged to try it on an Aboriginal bush-tucker walk in the Tiwi Islands, just off the northern coast near Darwin. It was a tiny shot of citrus, full of vitamin C, and an invaluable part of a healthy diet for the Aboriginals. (I also tried dog's balls another time in the Territory, but you'll be relieved to hear they were twin berries rather than the real thing - very authentic-looking, though.)

I marvel at the things the Aborigines ate out in the bush - not so much at the insects and such because needs must etc, but because so many of those foods are extremely toxic in their original form and require, some of them, immensely complicated processing to make them safe to eat. You have to wonder how many people died discovering the recipes. And it's a pretty serious thought too that even when someone died a no doubt horrible, writhing death after eating a particular plant, they persisted with trying different methods of making it safe, because they had to, because there was precious little else to eat.

I was researching a South Australia story yesterday and read about Burke and Wills (not to be confused with Burke and Hare, who are entirely different). They were spectacularly unsuccessful explorers in Australia in the 1850s who eventually died in the Outback of beriberi, because they hadn't paid proper attention when the Aboriginals showed them how to prepare nardoo seeds: they collected, ground up and ate them without first roasting the seeds, which was the crucial step to remove a chemical that destroys vitamin B. So though they had full stomachs and weren't hungry, they had no energy and just faded away.

And so, that heart-breaking scene I saw in a painting in Castlemaine, Victoria, last year showing the last moments on earth of poor old Billy, Burke's horse, which Wills shot for them to eat, need never have happened.

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