The Ultimate Insult

So I was reading the IHT today and came across this rather amusing titbit about shoe throwing and waffles.

Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty....In France, of course, it's a waffle. Throw a waffle at someone and you have said, in essence: "I loathe you. Your people are donkey traders."

And I was reminded of a discussion I had recently on cannibalism in New Zealand. Some Maori tribes engaged in cannibalism as the ultimate insult to their enemies, the act I was informed was not so much about the ingestion of one enemies as it was about shitting them out the other end as the ultimate insult. Here the French seem positively puerile. Children throw waffles real men eat you and shit you out the end. UGH.

Along with being taboo cannibalism is one of those topics that is deeply misunderstood by most. Although various cultures around the world are purported to practice or once partook in cannibalism - including (according to wiki): Prehistoric Europe, Africa, South America, New Zealand, North America, Australia, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, New Guinea, India, Sumatra, and Fiji - many reports are apparently over-exaggerated as a means by which to label the "cannibals" in question as barbaric and therefore in need of a civilising mission

A case in point is this, also via the wisdom that is wiki

According to a decree by Queen Isabella of Castile and also later under British colonial rule, slavery was considered to be illegal unless the people involved were so depraved that their conditions as slaves would be better than as free men. This legal requirement may have led to conquerors exaggerating the extent of cannibalistic practices, or inventing them altogether, as demonstrations of cannibalistic tendencies were considered evidence of such depravity



Contrary to Hollywood fantasies, the practice cannabalism typically occurs in rare instances and often under highly ritualised circumstances, such as the highest insult offered to ones enemies. Cannibalism also occurs in situations of extreme deprivation (the movie Alive) and/or insanity or sociopathic behaviour. On the flip side, sociopathic behaviour can also be used as reason to eat someone in some societies. My department convenor who has spent the vast majority of his life studying Papua New Guinea every so often likes to joke about the prospects of some particularly socially withdrawn PhD student being eaten during fieldwork, should they continue with their non-reciprocal behaviour.

Overall however, the accusation of cannibalism is far more common than the practice itself and a very useful way indeed to dehumanise the barbaric "other".

Then there's autosarcophagy where people eat themselves....someone some where has had the good sense to exclude sucking a wound and biting your finger nails in this category. Eating your own placenta however is included. I remember seeing a television show once where some weird hippies made pate out of afterbirth and fed it to their unwitting friends. Although I recently had a discussion in Canberra and was informed that human beings are one the few mammals that don't systematically eat their own placenta, I'm so averse to the idea that think this is reason enough to never talk to someone ever again.

In another instance, Wiki reveals that on January 13, 2007, Chilean artist Marco Evaristti hosted a dinner party for his most intimate friends. The main meal was agnolotti pasta, which was topped with a meatball made from the artist's own fat, removed earlier in the year in a liposuction operation.

Again no thank you. If eating someone else against their will is the ultimate insult, fine but I'm not sure the reverse is true, offering a pound of your very own fat, placenta or otherwise is not in most people's book an enduring sign of the deepest level of intimacy, although it may be often the apex of many a porn movie.

God this topic is gross.

However I think the general theme of "food as insult" is interesting. At this time of year a lot of people will be delighted to find mail parcels of christmas cakes and gifts of home made mince pies. A lot is written about food and identity and the sharing of food as a means to social engagement and inclusion, but what about the opposite? What about food as insult? What about poisoning, food sabotage and other forms of misanthropy with food?

Of course cannibalism is the ultimate in anti-social food behaviour but to a much lesser extent, so is refusal to share a meal. And I think this is often what so incenses such vehement dislike by some omnivores of vegans and/or vegetarians, along perhaps with accusations by the latter of barbarianism.

All and all, I am reminded of a quote I read a while back in Jame's Ferguson's Anti-Politics Machine, although he used the concept of money instead of food, the two terms are equally interchangeable.

"There is no such thing as relationships between people and food, rather food mediates relationships between people"

Happy holidays


    Very nice post & funny about the waffles!

    As for the last point, it's interesting to think about ways in which food can be used in insult,
    of course I do not feel that abstinence or non-adherence (whether of food, or religious or political beliefs) can be inherently anti-social unless the society itself is prejudiced against the abstinence.

    For instance sex can be seen as another type of human mediator or function of relationships, but to abstain is either glorified or treated as suspicious behaviour... (I find it a little bit suspicious when people abstain from sex)

    Basically people treat any behaviour that differs from their own as an insult I guess! And I guess that's exactly what you were saying!

    Maybe I get a bit irritated by friends having really unhealthy diets, i.e. those who are obsessed with bad quality greasy chinese food ?

    To eat something that is neither healthy nor (in my opinion) delicious, seems like a shame, because it is different to my own core food values...
    (sounds prosaic doesn't it....)

    But still when I think on it some more, I guess I wouldn't take the above dietary habits as an insult....

    Same thing if someone takes over and orders all the food in a restaurant for the whole table (most of the time I like to choose at least one thing...godammit!)
    so I think 'insult' isn't quite the right word there either... it's more about my reaction than their intention

    therefore I think there is a difference between a behaviour which can be irritating,
    and an intentionally anti-social action which can be taken as an insult?


    Regarding my post above, talk about waffling haha!

    In Barcelona one of the most memorable late night moments was when I went into McDOnalds to get a dirty cheeseburger (yes - losing my religion...) and a few people told me 'watch out' as I went in, I thought they were talking about me going down the stairs in high heels

    There was a girl in stillettos standing in the middle of a pool of bright pink vomit throwing big macs and other food at all the customers.

    Somehow I managed to get my nightclub snack unscathed and escape....

    I guess throwing food in someone's face is a good way of insulting them?


    of course it depends on what culture you are in

    in the free wheeling west the opinion is very much each to their own

    in other places, the person who invited everyone is expected to order and to pay the bill

    of course it depends, it would be silly to say it doesn't but the key point that you illustrate nicely above is that different social norms regulate behaviour when it comes to food and sharing

    It would be naive to not understand why perhaps a family would be insulted if they invited you to eat with them and you declined. Sharing of a meal is sharing of the self, of values and culture. It is the act of sharing that is important. Food is the medium by which this sharing takes place. To reject the food is to reject the hospitality of another and implicitly to reject that person. That is why there are elaborate rules surrounding the sharing of food and the giving of gifts. This is an old chestnut in anthropology first elaborated on by an anthropologist called Mauss who studied Maori gift giving.

    Of course a distinction should be made between individual preferences and social norms. Of course the two can intersect positively or negatively, but of course Hock's predilection to junk food is different from someone who violates social norms of another culture, family or group. It's pretty obvious to me which is which.


    what if my family feels there is a social responsibility to feed kids healthily and we only allow our kids to eat dried fruits and we ban marshmallow santas...

    (note: there is a grave danger I will actually become this type of parent)

    maybe I would be insulted by the junkfood lover who refused to eat our wholemeal broccoli macaroni cheese?

    (funny side note: my workmate Jens does not eat vegetables and he likes to say the only orange thing he will eat is Fanta..... one day he did refuse my offer of a strawberry muffin that I had baked because it contained fruit.....i guess he was implicitly rejecting me, I guess I got over it tho)

    Def accept that it's understandable for societies that value the consumption of all food to feel insulted by a vegetarian at their table...

    but (having experienced some degree of alienation due to my 'different' habits while living in the Shingon-shu temple), I do feel it's crucial in societies that incorporate foreigners or different cultural groups, for them not to find 'different' behaviour insulting or scary.

    It was largely my lack of not knowing many of the small norms of cooking and cleaning in that Japanese household that exhausted the mama in charge and led her to drive me out of the household...
    I think tolerance and acceptance of difference rates high on my list of behavioural values.. perhaps due to some of my experiences ...


    of course it goes both ways

    I'm not just talking about vegetarians solely, I have a hard time at dinners where people eat frog, overall most are obliging and understanding of my phobia and do not take it as an insult and of course I eat everything else on offer

    I would take it as an insult if someone, knowing my phobia fed me a frog without me knowing

    we can talk about the exceptions to the rules all night but I think you know what I am talking about and I you

    then of course entertaining someone for one evening is different from living with your partner's family

    I think we could easily get bogged down here in finer points

    some people will refuse to give up their preferences even when it breaks with social norms, some social norms are more flexible than others and so on....I'm trying to talk on a broad level otherwise it gets a bit tedious


    yes and thinking about it, maybe my experiences at the temple are why I feel obliged to get on my hypocritical, cheeseburger-eating high horse

    I actually think you should write a book about it!

    make sure to have a chapter on the social mores of being a house guest - I find this quite fascinating when I think on my many varied experiences of being or having house guests... have actually been planning to do some video interviews with my workmates about the things they've had trouble with in this regard, for the blog.... especially regarding accommodation of cooking or food habits and/or resentment due to food behaviours... think this might yield some amusing stories!


    sounds like you should be writing the book not me

    I'm not often a house guest except with my sisters and the odd night on a couch when passing through a city

    If I can help it and can afford it I try to stay at hotels or boarding houses unless the person is a very old friend or I know them very well


    very wise.... and then there's the potential hell of long-term cohabitation i.e. being flatmates...

    another interesting question might be, is it worse to refuse food based on beliefs (religious or animal-cruelty based), or to refuse it based on just not liking something?
    I don't think I would be insulted by the latter but I guess I am more likely to try and convert them to my way of thinking

    i seem to know a lot of people with unusual dietary quirks, ....for instance our friend Denis won't eat any cheese except mozzarella. This hasn't presented any problems so far, though it's sometimes hard to resist saying "go on... try some of THIS, I'm sure you'll be converted"

    my poor kids are going to have a hell of a time


    PS: I think with your talent for writing pithy & controversial discourse and PhD status, the right book is just waiting to be written by you... am sure it will be a best seller


    thanks on the writing compliment

    and now I'm about to get myself into trouble

    but when I made the comment about why omnivores react the way that they do sometimes when confronted by vegans/ vegetarians, I think the extreme response by some omnivores can be explained via what remains unsaid by the non-meat eater. What I mean is that by saying "I do not eat meat" many omnivores take that not only as a preference to abstain but also an unspoken judgement of meat eating as immoral. Even if a the non-meat eater doesn't say so, I think that meat eaters sense disapproval of their consumption patterns and react accordingly. I thought this after I told my sister about a sign for a vegan food festival I saw in Auckland and she responded with even greater dislike than I have ever been known to display

    She even wanted to go and write things in blood on the sign. And I thought, gosh that's a bit extreme.

    So I got to thinking why. I think, whether vegans/ vegetarians like it or not and whether or not they see their diet choice as a personal preference or moral philosophy, food is undeniably social and meat eaters take it as a moral commentary on their own consumption and this incenses them because they do not believe that eating meat is a moral issue. They do this rightly or wrongly.

    I wrote about this within the cannibalism piece because what a person chooses to eat or not to eat can often be used by some to demonise others. Clearly this is the case with reports of cannibalism. This is an extreme example, but other lesser examples extend to the judgement of say some Asian peoples who eat dog. Not many Asians actually eat dog, but you hear about it often enough. Same with Cambodians and tarantualas. Not many Khmer people really eat spiders. It's just another way to exoticise and mark people as barbaric outsiders.

    I think meat eaters can often feel the same way when confronted with non-meat eaters.


    yes, I think you are absolutely right

    and let's face it, vegans have not had the best P.R. department,

    I am reminded of the mormon episode of Southpark..

    vegans need a few more high profile representatives of the less dreadlocked and less aggressive chapter of their movement

    besides woody harrelson of course!

    maybe oprah will convert

    the slogan can be 'vegans make really cute cupcakes'


Blogger Templates by Blog Forum