Viral 'Food Disgust Sensitivity Test' reveals cultural insensitivities

Originally published at: Viral 'Food Disgust Sensitivity Test' reveals cultural insensitivities | Boing Boing


The researchers developing the test have of course taken this into account, but this information has fallen by the wayside when it was transformed into a fun online test. That context is missing on the test, but also from the Twitter reactions to it.

Disgust elicitors can be not only culturally specific, but also the same across cultures (Curtis & Biran, 2001; Tybur, Lieberman, Kurzban, & DeScioli, 2013). Some elicitors are directly related to the presence of pathogens, while others do not directly pose a health threat. The variability of disgust elicitors within and across cultures caused researchers to develop a theoretical model to classify disgust elicitors above and beyond the domain of pathogen avoidance – for example disgust elicitors related to moral violations (Haidt et al., 1994, Tybur et al., 2009, Tybur et al., 2013). In food research, the moral domain of disgust might be of importance when it comes to either the acceptance of new food technologies (Scott, Inbar, & Rozin, 2016) or differentiation between appropriate and inappropriate animal-based food products. Most people in Western societies would probably call it disgusting (in terms of morally unacceptable and offensive) to eat cats or dogs, while in certain non-Western countries these animals are part of the countries’ cuisine. Food-related moral disgust is especially relevant with regard to culturally determined food appropriateness, though there is presumably a low level of variation between individuals from the general population within a cultural region. Therefore, the moral domain of disgust was not considered in the present research. Rather, the focus was on both cues that might symbolize hazardous items and cues that are not pathogen-related that may evoke a non-morally based disgust reaction. For example, spoilage and decay of animal and non-animal food often coincide with changes in color, texture, smell and taste, which are then recognized as disgust elucidating cues, even though they are not necessarily an indicator of pathogen presence (Martins & Pliner, 2006). Moreover, food contamination with human body fluids and products was identified as a disgust elicitors in previous research (Haidt et al., 1994, Tybur et al., 2009).


Yeah. The common USian aversion to tofu has often made me think, “Yall are missing out on some great meals!”


I’m not sure to what extent this question about a complete fish including the head should target specifically Haitian Americans. To what extent are Haitians the only ones who eat a complete fish?

I am German and once went to eat with an American actress in Berlin, and she was served a whole trout (which is normal in Germany), and the poor woman almost had to vomit with disgust.

I was allowed to eat the fish then. It was delicious.

I was served whole fish (including head) all over the globe: Brazil, France, Japan, Korea,… so why should that question be targeting “Haitian Americans”?!?

Even the question about the whole pig on a spit is not a question that would target any specific culture. In Bavaria, suckling pig is traditionally eaten. We call it “Spanferkel” there.

The only point where one could discover any kind of cultural bias is the question about sushi, because sushi is clearly Japanese.


Probably because the article is written by a Haitian American, who might not know that Germans eat whole fish? And since Germans are European, and this is an article about racism and how that connects to cuisine and how that works in American context, so that is probably your answer…

But are you suggesting that a Haitian American should dismiss his own experiences and focus on those of people in another country, just because they happen to share a particular cuisine? If so, why?


Interesting experience. I’ve been served whole fish at restaurants in the US, as well as in many other parts of the world. It may not be usual in the US, but it’s not unheard of.


I didn’t take the test but from the description on the IDR website it seems to be focused on reactions to different types of animal flesh as well as “hygiene” related issues such as how fresh the food seems to be or how well it is cooked. But does it completely ignore other categories of disgust, such as how I would react to certain types of novelty carnival foods, or highly-processed and extremely artificial snack foods that are popular in America and elsewhere?



Probably because the article is written by a Haitian American, who might not know that Germans eat whole fish?

Sorry, but I would call this a case of cultural ignorance, then.

It’s a bit like when an American is writing: “The Metric System is an offense to my American values” and someone in India is proclaiming this would be hate-speech against Indians. D’uh, it’s not. 90% of the world is using metric system. 90% of the world is eating a whole fish.


I’d agree. Especially if you make it into a fun little “is this gross??” quiz for American folks. And it’s known. I took a business trip to Tokyo years ago and my host took me and another business visitor out to dinner at this little Teppanyaki place. It was awesomely small and quaint. He ordered for us, after asking about allergies. As the dishes came in, we mentioned how yummy they were and on one of them he started snickering. Then he goes “you ate tongue!”. I mentioned it’s pretty standard food in the Mexican American menu so I didn’t care and it turns out my fellow diner was the son of a butcher and said “yeah, I’ve eaten it before, no biggie”. Our host was annoyed that his prank didn’t play out.

People eat different things all over. You don’t have to necessarily like it (I’m not fond of balut for example, but I know people who tell me it’s amazing) but you should accept it.


Not really no… he’s telling this information from a particular perspective in a particular context… I’d argue it’s not on him to be exhaustive. No one is being racist against Germans and discriminating against German culture here, the same can’t be said for Haitian culture…

It’s not the same at all, especially since the metric system is used in some instances in the US, just not very often and not generally. But equating that with specific cultural cuisines of people who face systemic racism on a pretty constant basis is not helpful at all.

That’s not what’s happening in this article. It’s about systemic racism. I get that some people find accepting that America has a fundamental basis against people with dark skin uncomfortable, but it doesn’t “go away” if we ignore it. It, in fact, gets worse.

Which is what the guy is arguing. Especially within the context of our American commuities that are diverse culturally. Too many white people in america refuse to embrace that diversity favoring instead to be xenophobic and racist… this is one point where we can see these attitudes expressed.

So, no bringing an entirely DIFFERENT country into the discussion is not helpful and in fact, obscures the point he’s making here about racism IN AMERICA… :woman_shrugging:

1 Like

This has happened to me in many countries. In Taiwan I was served:

with a bit of a “let’s see you eat this” smile. It was delicious. So was the stinky tofu, and the snake liquids that were offered up on various occasions.

This came in a pile of around 100 on a plate in rural China, again with a “bet you won’t eat this” laugh. It was remarkably similar in appearance to a goldfish or a gourami. Crispy, sweet, delicious. For sanitary reasons the local Chinese restaurant I frequent can’t make it.

A region’s food is a window into the soul of their people. Trying their interesting cuisine is like meeting some of their most interesting people.


Whole fish is served in US and Asia and most every country I have been in. I can admit the first time I was in China and my client sent me over the eyeball and cheek that I didn’t know quite how to eat it though :-).

Why should a whole fish be disgusting, I’m wondering. Researchers, where are you?


I agree, but the one food that I couldn’t bring myself to try when traveling abroad was dog. I wad offered it several times on a work trip in rural Korea. I know that folks say that pigs are just as smart (or smarter) so there may not be an objectively sound rationale for eating one and not the other, but having co-evolved with dogs as our companions, and growing up in the US, I just can’t do it.

(Also, I do try to avoid eating factory-farmed pork these days, but I’m ok with eating wild boar since their population really needs to be controlled and they can be quite destructive as an invasive species.)


It used to be that Chinese only trusts a live fish to be fresh, and the chef basically net it out of the tank and kill it in front of you, then take it back into the kitchen, prepare it, and serve it all, and you can tell it’s a whole fish. Many restaurants still do serve whole fish. Those who haven’t… try a Cantonese-style deep fried whole sole.


Fwiw I don’t think the author or anyone is suggesting this is true. Most people in most of the world eat fish with the head on often enough to be unsurprised by it. The US is the exception to the norm. Because of this it reminds the author of something about Haitian food that Haitian food shares with German and other cuisines : fish heads.


OK then.


From the snippet in the original post (you didn’t even have to read the entire article off-site):

Personally, as a Haitian American, the question, “It is nauseating to have a whole fish, including its head, served to me on my plate,” felt especially pointed. As someone who enjoyed pwason fris, a whole fried red snapper, head and all, throughout my childhood, the word “nauseated” gave me a little bit of pause.

It was personalizing that particular example. Not hard to understand.


TIL we’re 10% of the world population. (No, we aren’t.)


Definitely a lot of cultural bias around what foods get classified as “gross” or not.

Try explaining the concept of cheese to someone from a culture that never domesticated animals for milk production. “You see, we take this big lactating beast and induce it to produce more milk than it needs to feed its young. We squeeze it’s nipples to collect the surplus in a bucket, then we add bacteria and salt until it gets all chunky…”