Nature’s Secrets

Only explorers could love this menu

March 31, 2013 

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, and safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.

Ernest Shackleton

The Who’s Who of global exploration gathered in March, celebrating the 109th year of the Explorers Club. Eating exotic critters, sharing new limits to the endurance of the human spirit, and wearing indigenous dress, explorers swarmed the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. It’s a far cry from the rigors of Antarctic huts, Amazon forest canopies, Everest base camps and undersea submersibles.

The exploration theme for the 2013 annual meeting was “Sacred Places,” and the six who received awards reflected on their most sacred sites: outer space for John Glenn and Scott Carpenter; the bottom of the ocean for James Cameron; Himalayan peaks for Chhiring Dorje Sherpa; shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina and caves in the Ukraine for Christos Nicola; oceans (circumnavigated primarily via rowboat) for Erden Eruc; and mountaintops for Monika Rogozinska.

With more than 3,500 members from more than 60 countries, the Explorers Club roster has boasted polar explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert E. Peary; underwater pioneers Robert Ballard and Sylvia Earle; astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Kathy Sullivan; aviators Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager; and anthropologists Richard Leakey and Jane Goodall; and a healthy influx of students aspiring to be tomorrow’s explorers.

An unusual contribution from Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 Antarctic expedition to this year’s festivities was the recent excavation of one case of Mackinlay’s Scotch whiskey, entombed in ice near his snowbound hut at Cape Royds. Over 100 years later, it was unearthed and returned to the Glen Mhor Distillery in Inverness, Scotland, where the spirit profile was re-created and affectionately called “the enduring spirit.”

In addition to spirits, the explorers’ banquet features an unforgettable array of exotics. Over many years, delectables have included Tibetan yak loaf, oven-roasted alligator, ostrich tortilla, rosemary herbed rattlesnake cakes, roasted muskrat, crickets with pepper jelly cream cheese on celery and toastettes, honey-laden Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantula tempura, mealworm sushi, Musca domestica in mushroom caps (translation: flies on fungus) and weasel coffee. All products are farm-raised with sustainable practices, and represent different cultures and ecosystems around the world.

Throughout history, many explorers have owed their survival to consumption of arthropods. So, keep an open mind when you next encounter an outbreak of cockroaches – it may be the lifesaving diet of future explorers!

Meg Lowman, an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert, directs the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center. Online: www.canopymeg.com.

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