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Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 15, 2007

Prof Searches World for Uncommon Foods, Shares Adventures in Book

What do you call a food scientist whose travels in search of bizarre eatables have seen him hunting down civet droppings in Ethiopia and collecting argan nuts excreted by goats in Morocco? Or exploring caves in Southeast Asia and getting a first-hand look at how smugglers transport high-priced nests for use in bird’s nest soup?

University of Guelph food scientist Massimo Marcone, the professor who made these journeys, has an idea: “I’m Mr. Magoo. I was out of my element. I’m a university researcher who all of a sudden finds himself in the middle of the jungle.”

Safely out of the jungle, Marcone has written about his travels and bizarre foods in a volume called In Bad Taste?: The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies recently released by Key Porter Books. He will sign copies of his book at Chapters in the Stone Road Mall May 26 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Part travelogue and part science, the book details the author’s journeys to various countries in search of unusual foods. But don’t look here for sheep eyes or pig brains or other Fear Factor-style antics. What interests Marcone are not gross-out sophomoric pranks but common foods with an uncommon twist.

Plenty of people drink coffee, but few of would probably relish Kopi Luwak — and not just because it’s the most expensive beverage in the world. It’s made from beans extracted from the feces of civet cats living in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

And everyone has consumed salad oil, but not oil made from argan fruit excreted by goats and collected and processed by Berbers in Morocco.

Similarly, your everyday cheddar cheese is a world away from casu frazigu, a cheese made with maggots in Marcone’s ancestral homeland of Italy. And few of us would go to the lengths of morel lovers who partake in an annual contest to find wild mushrooms in a Michigan forest.

Why do people eat certain foods? What makes a food a delicacy? Is a delicacy really different from or better than its conventional cousins? These are some of the questions Marcone explores.

He returned from his travels armed with samples that he tested in his U of G lab. He found some surprises there, such as discovering fewer bacteria — and fewer kinds of microbes — in that Kopi Luwak coffee bean than in control samples.

He also found that a number of food delicacies are vulnerable to adulteration and product misrepresentation. And he has uncovered many violations of nutritional labelling standards, even after accounting for what he calls the outrageous leeway in food standards normally accorded to manufacturers.

Marcone wrote the book over the past two years, based partly on a diary and notes about his trips.

Dudley Herschbach, a Nobel laureate and Harvard University chemist, wrote a blurb for the book jacket. Both researchers belong to the editorial board of the Annals of Improbable Research. Herschbach calls the book "very striking and exciting. The exhilarating thing about science is that it opens our eyes to new possibilities in terms of making us aware of remarkable foods that people have evolved and the lengths that an enterprising guy like (Marcone) will go to find out all he can about that.”

Shannon Cosby
416 203-9307 or 416 912-5452

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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