Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
You've probably never seen kidney, sweetbreads and tripe on a restaurant menu but only a couple of generations ago these were common household fare. A few eating establishments still serve liver but it's disappearing from the average supermarket. Sausage meat used to be held together with pig intestines. Lungs, called lights, are included in the recipe for haggis, the Scottish national dish. Rocky Mountain oysters (beef testicles) are more than just a novelty in Texas. More than one Asian dish contains eyeballs. Pigs' feet, enveloped by a gelatin-like material, were a staple in my grandmother's kitchen and her chicken soup always included the chicken's feet! Mom sometimes sent me off to school with a tongue sandwich. She even served the family calf brains — but only once.
What happened to all these delicacies?
Back in the days when food scarcity was just around the corner for all but the wealthy, almost every part of an animal was considered edible. In today's supermarket meat section you won't find much besides muscle meat. Food stores in ethnic neighborhoods are the exception. Various recipes for menudo, a stew popular in the Mexican community, might contain various parts of the cow and pig including the feet, stomach, small intestine and skin. Asian markets almost always display most of the organ meats that have fallen out of favor with Americans.
Are we short-changing ourselves by limiting our choices to steaks, chops and hamburger? A serving of tripe (stomach) provides most of a day's supply of vitamin B12.
Beef liver is high in cholesterol but most of the others, with the exception of brain, have little fat and are high in protein. Although brain does contain beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, it also has levels of cholesterol that exceed the recommended intake three- or four-fold. Pork skin (rind) is a somewhat popular snack food in some regions but it can be high in fat and sodium.
How a product is prepared can convert it from a healthy food to something quite different. The potato is an example. It is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables but in the form of French fries it becomes what I refer to as nutritional pornography.
The United States is a treasure trove of ethnic eating. You'll find many of these non-American foods at Mexican, Filipino, Middle Eastern or Asian restaurants. And don't be surprised to find an eyeball in your soup.
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.