The recent story about balut, a duck egg cooked up complete with duckling embryo inside brought on a collective 'ew' from many, me included.
This made me think of some of our own Kiwi delicacies like pipi eaten straight from the shell, live kina or whitebait fritters full of beady little eyes and I wondered if these duck delicacies were just different rather than bad? Is it just a case of cultural preferences or are there some more serious animal welfare issues to consider? I took a look at balut and some other controversial food items to see if we should really be concerned.
Photo / Thinkstock
This Filipino and South East Asian delicacy is essentially a boiled egg containing a duckling around three weeks into its development complete with yolk sac attached. Potential animal welfare issues are around production and preparation. In the Philippines the young ducking is boiled alive, where as the Auckland restaurant serving up balut chills them first, meaning the embryo is already dead when it reaches the pot.
A cheap and high protein snack, balut is apparently an acquired taste.
Photo / Thinkstock
Foie gras is the cooked liver of a duck or goose that has been force fed by metal tube for up to 25 days. The purpose of this is to maximise the size of the liver which can get to as much as six times larger than normal. There is certainly a welfare issue, with close to 2kg of grain and fat forced down the birds throats each day causing severe discomfort and throat injuries, some resulting in death.
Foie gras is produced predominantly in France and is available in NZ, both as a restaurant menu item and in gourmet grocery stores. California was another producer of foie gras, however its production and sale is now banned.
Photo / Thinkstock
Veal is the meat from cattle under 12-months of age or up to 45 kilos live weight. Most of New Zealand's veal comes from bobby calves - an unwanted by-product of the dairy industry.
There are different types of veal, characterised by how the animals are housed and fed. It is 'milk fed veal' that has welfare issues for the animals concerned. Calves are confined to tiny crates to restrict movement and therefore muscle growth and are fed a milk substitute low in iron to produce a very tender white coloured meat. Veal crates are not used in New Zealand and have been banned in Britain and by the European Union with moves to do so in other parts of the world.
Bird's nest soup
Photo / Creative Commons
Another South Eastern delicacy, bird's nest soup is made from the nests of the swiftlet, a tiny swallow like bird. The swiftlet raises its young in dark caves and constructs the nest from its own sticky saliva which hardens on contact with air. Nests are harvested with long poles and then cleaned and simmered in chicken broth. It is thought to have aphrodisiac properties and apparently has a very rubbery consistency.
Thought to be the most expensive animal product in existence, these nests are now also 'farmed' in purpose built nesting houses, making the harvest easier. The makers of these expensive nests are not a threatened species.
Shark fin soup
Photo / NZH
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in East Asian countries and served at special occasions such as weddings or as a high price menu item. Although essentially tasteless, the shark fin is valued for its chewy consistency and perceived health benefits such as increased libido and energy levels.
According to the Forest and Bird Society over 100 million sharks are killed around the world each year, just for their fins. New Zealand is a big contributor to this figure, ranking among the top 20 countries that export to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Singapore.
Shark finning uses only 2 per cent of the animal with the remainder dumped overboard. Although the animals are meant to be killed prior to having their fins removed, this is not always the case, leaving the shark to a painful death.
There is also conservation issues associated with this fishing practice, as worldwide shark populations are in decline. Shark finning is banned in many countries but not New Zealand.
To be honest, whether it's a welfare or conservation issue or just has the 'yuck factor' I find it safer to stick to my veggie burger. For those brave enough to sample balut, I suggest doing so with your eyes closed.