Eating the bones in Beijing 

Exploring odd corners of the food chain

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The stomach — it’s a beautiful thing, a necessary pullover off the internal highway that starts with your mouth and ends with your ass. And what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in function. Think of it: you grab something from the outside world, shove it in your mouth, chew it to pulp and send it chugging into a vat of combative acids and enzymes. It leaves this vat stripped of all nutrients, rejoining the exterior as a stinking, sometimes amorphous blob. And you’re stronger for the exercise. Now think about that: If you eat certain parts of the Earth, you become more powerful. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Jim Barnum loves his stomach. I bet he’d like another one. In fact, I bet Jim Barnum would be the happiest cow on the farm, just steadily filling his four vats with the finest grass in the pasture. But he has to make do with only one — and that’s kind of sad. Like, imagine you knew this guy who could play a mean guitar, just a sick lick aficionado, but he had no strumming hand. That’s sort of what it’s like to watch Barnum eat. As with many things in life, there’s tragedy in Barnum’s glory.

Me, I puke a lot. My stomach is no Barnum barracks. I puked twice in a week while in Beijing. First time, I was eating an artichoke. It was a formal lunch, and I was trying to wrestle this thing down, this disgusting thing that was suddenly not an artichoke at all. It was crunchy, scratchy, and putrid — scrutrid, if you will. With diminishing professionalism, I had to rush through this labyrinthine restaurant in search of the bathroom, a friendly Chinese escort helping me along, probably getting a thrill out of my trauma. I threw open a stall door and tossed up the fauxtichoke, gasping for air and looking rather pale.

When I got back to the table and examined a similar piece of food, it became obvious that it was a duck foot, all webbed and pallid, talons and bumpy skin. Barnum, meanwhile, was chewing by the plateful.

Naturally, I’m stoked he accompanied me to one of Beijing’s outdoor food markets. With us was Paul Morgan, intrepid traveler and, on account of his four years in Taiwan, a slick speaker of Mandarin. Knowing better, he would not participate in the following experiment. Rather, he took pictures and offered moral support. The experiment? To eat weird stuff in the interest of completely disposable journalism.

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