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Five Banned Foods and One That Maybe Should Be

From maggoty cheese to My Little Ponies to roadkill, some illegal and one legal food items in the United States

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This enticing hunk of casu marzu cheese is rich with fly larvae, but sadly, illegal in the United States. Photo by CulinarySchools.org.

Once upon a time, Americans went blind from homemade moonshine, and meatpacking plants produced something more mystery meatloaf than pasture-raised. The ever evolving dance of food safety and regulation marches on, this time to protect us from…Wisconsin dairy farmers?

1. Raw Milk: In a state where citizens proudly wear giant wedges of foam cheese on their heads, dairy is king. Yet even in Wisconsin the lactose-centric cheer is quiet around raw milk. Many people swear by its such and such properties but plenty of others, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agree that “While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all.” In Wisconsin, raw milk devotees can acquire the semi-illicit substance only if purchasing it directly from a farmer. Roughly half of US states forbid the sale of raw milk entirely.

2. Foie gras: Long considered the height of indulgence, foie gras became a symbol of civil disobedience in July when chefs staged foie gras-themed dinners protesting California’s recent ban. The luscious, spreadable goose innards (specifically duck or goose liver that has been fattened up with force-feeding) raised protests from animal rights group but the debate turned particularly vile when complaints of animal cruelty were coupled with death threats for the chefs who serve foie gras. Known for his conflict-mediation skills, Anthony Bourdain tweeted “Every time a chef is threatened, someone should skin a panda.” But the ban came to pass and neither panda nor chef was harmed.

3. Soda: New York City made headlines on September 13 when it passed a ban and a size limit on sodas available in restaurants, movie theaters and other establishments that fall under the supervision of the Department of Health. The ban will take effect in six months, according to CNN. Identifying the sugary calories in sodas and other sweetened drinks (including some of Honest Tea’s 16.9 oz. bottle beverages), Bloomberg defended the decision as a matter of public health. But seriously, who’s paying for drinks at the movie theaters anyway? Isn’t that what purses are for?

4. Horse Meat: While not illegal to consume, it is illegal to slaughter horses in the States. The situation is in a state of limbo currently after Congress lifted a ban on using federal funds to inspect horse slaughterhouses in November. Without any money to support the inspections, however, horse has yet to appear on many menus and the slaughterhouse industry isn’t picking up steam. Even if it did, culinary interest does not seem high and some have pointed out that the antibiotics and drugs given to these animals not intended for consumption makes them unfit for our plates. Something about that whole symbol of the American frontier also seems to keep My Little Ponies from the appetizer options.

5. Fly larvae cheese: Known as casu marzu, this cheese hails from Sardinia and is completely forbidden here. Because of its status as a traditional food, the cheese managed to maintain its legal status within the European Union. Just listen to this description of how the cheese is made and you’ll understand the ban. According to Delish, the cheese “develops when cheese fly larvae are introduced into Pecorino to promote advanced fermentation. As the larvae hatch and eat through the cheese, it softens. Diners have to dig in before the maggots die.” Poor Pecorino.

6. And one surprising food item that is not illegal: Roadkill. It is absolutely legal to haul that hunk of meat from the side of the road and bring home a feast. In certain respects, the practice makes economic sense and gets rotting carcasses off the street. But it also means an awful lot of meat is going without inspection. The finer points of roadkill cuisine were indeed part of my driver’s education materials though I have yet to try it.

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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