WTF: What The Fugu?

Occasionally, a question strikes me that I can’t quite shake.

Not just the big ones that will often occur to us — Why are we here? How are we here? If energy can’t be created or destroyed, what went bang in the Big Bang? — but way, way smaller. Hence part of the irritation: How can something so tiny distract my mind so much?

It’s like a pebble in a shoe. A tiny thing, yes, but just try walking with it there for a few days and see how that goes for you.

That question is: How did fugu become a thing?

For those who don’t know, fugu (“FOO-goo”) is the safely edible part of a pufferfish sometimes offered as a sushi dish.

You’ll note the “safely” part of that sentence. Because, and here’s the catch, puffer fish skin and organs have a neurotoxin in them. Eating them will kill you.

So it has become me trying to figure out how and why that little fact was put aside in favour of trying to keep eating it anyway.

This isn’t just the usual trial-and-error method that one assumes must have been the case over millions of years of hominid existence, where our greattothethousandthpower grandparents looked at, say, a cow and thought that maybe that thing could be killed and consumed. Perhaps after drinking that white stuff dripping from its udders. (One may also wonder at who first saw a chicken egg laid and thought that perhaps that could make some good eatin’.)

For everything everywhere, there’s going to be a learning process with what’s okay to eat and what’s not, whether that be something just can’t be chewed and choked down at all, or that it can be but it doesn’t sit well, or that eating it made Uncle Ug stop breathing and fall over dead.

But when all those Ungle Ug situations happened, you’d think people would learn from that and not… y’know… go ahead and just eat it again.

Yet here we have someone somewhere catching a puffer fish and trying to eat it and dying. And then other people doing it again anyway. Each time, maybe paring down the specific part tried — Skin? No. Heart? No. Brain? HELL no. — until, after who knows how many deaths, it was finally discovered that hey, turns out there are some safe parts inside that, if we don’t slice into any of the neurotoxin bits on the way, won’t kill you.

“… Yay?”

Seriously, though, how did anyone think this was a good process to continue? Why push forth in the hunt for what was hopefully a non-deadly part of one thing we can eat on a planet of billions of other things where the chance of dying from consuming them is exactly 0%?

This all reminded me of a specific Simpsons episode, where (I believe) a new sushi chef is left on his own to prepare fugu for the first time. He’s looking at an iconograph of a pufferfish cutaway with skull and crossbones stamped all over it, hunting for his target meat and finally spotting it, muttering, “Hmm… poison… poison… tasty fish!”

As The Simpson does so well, an absurd situation that also speaks to another absurd situation.

A quick search online didn’t offer any answers for how this process happened, only noting that it’s known that fugu was served up at least some 2800 years ago. And I don’t want to go down a big rabbit hole searching for the answers for something that’s so small an irritation (if a recently persistent one). So if anyone has any insight about the process by which fugu was discovered, kindly let me know.

1 Comment

  1. I can’t do anything about the origin of edible fugu!
    I can, perhaps, distract you with one of my own “ear-worm” questions: Why, when no cell in any human body is older than seven years, do we age? Remember?
    (My answer may not be right, but it satisfies me: Cells learn. They inherit programming and experience from their progenitors, and have room for their own experiences. So learning-cum-experience, body-changes, etc., are perpetuated. I’d love to hear if your thoughts are piqued on this one!)

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