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Eating animals. Lots of animals.
January 14, 2009 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I have a soon-to-get-serious contest with some friends to see who can eat the most animals in one calendar day. The question - what constitutes an animal?

The initial day's eating in question (11 animals) was totally legitimate in my opinion - cow, pig, bison, deer, salmon, moose, turkey, clam, lobster, crab, prawns. It is all the more amazing that chicken wasn't eaten. This was incidental to the day, however, and thus the real competition has yet to begin. This will get ugly - mosquitos will be eaten. So, we need to sort this out now.

I'm of the opinion that for it to be a different animal it needs to be at the Genus level in the Linnaean classification system - ie if you were referring to salmon, an animal would refer to the genus Oncorhynchus. Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) would be the same animal as Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Otherwise, you could eat five different types of salmon and call it five animals.

Some are of the opinion that the above list is bogus and that a higher (but ill-defined) classification should be used, such that ungulates would all be the same animal and fish would all be the same animal. This is total horseshit, I think.
posted by jimmythefish to Science & Nature (32 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're clearly correct. However you should go only by the proper binomial name, a lot of food animals (fish especially) have been giving deceptive marketing names which group unrelated species together. The Chilean Sea Bass should count separately from freshwater bass because they're not related. The sea bass is actually called a Patagonian Toothfish, but marketers realised that noone would eat something that sounded like murderbeast from the Triassic.
posted by atrazine at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


Well, however you do it, the definition is going to be somewhat arbitrary and is going to allow some duplication and rule out stuff that ideally wouldn't be ruled out. You just need to agree on something.

But, since you brought up classification, mosquitos aren't in the animal kingdom.
posted by winston at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm with you. The definition must be above the species level, but below the order level. Either family or genus would be my suggestion. And I think genus is probably the right level.

And your friends are full of it. Ungulates aren't all the same animal. That would make venison equivalent to beef. Neither are fish. That would make a salmon and an eel the same animal. Pshaw.

Even species-level would be acceptable. You could easily go to a sushi joint and get two dozen different animals in one sitting. But, everybody can do that, so I don't see how it would disrupt the game. You'd just have very high scores at the end. But, that's going to be true if you go with genus as well.

So, in final analysis: I'd do genus.
posted by Netzapper at 2:37 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


But, since you brought up classification, mosquitos aren't in the animal kingdom.

What!? (The classification is on the right in the sidebar.)

Man, if you can see it with the naked eye and it moves and isn't a venus flytrap or its friends, you can pretty much guarantee it's an animal.
posted by Netzapper at 2:39 PM on January 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Dude this is mega complicated as you have clearly laid out. You and the other participants need to lay out all your ideas in a list and role a die or dice to see what level is chosen. Salmon is a good example, but you also point out problems with higher classifications (domestic cattle X bison = beefalo)? A fertile hybrid of not just two species but two different genus. Then you've still got horse, donkeys and mules to deal with. Really, dice or another random choice is your only way of choosing the cutoff level here.

I however would go for the species/subspecies level and just go for shear, mindnumbing, number and require evidence.
posted by Science! at 2:43 PM on January 14, 2009


Did they change the Animal, Vegetable, Mineral kingdom designation? How is a mosquito not an animal?
posted by spicynuts at 2:47 PM on January 14, 2009


Gastronomical cladistics. I love it. Here's some interesting species distinctions that might help you decide how you want to draw the lines:
  • Are veal and beef to be considered different? Lamb and mutton? Pork, bacon, and ham?
  • Are pork/bacon/ham (Sus scrofa domestica) and boar (Sus scrofa) to be considered different?
  • Are Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) and Pekin duck (descended from Anas platyrhynchos) to be considered different?

posted by Johnny Assay at 2:48 PM on January 14, 2009


Are veal and beef to be considered different? Lamb and mutton? Pork, bacon, and ham?

No...pork, bacon and ham are all the same animal. Same as veal and beef - it's the same species.

Are Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) and Pekin duck (descended from Anas platyrhynchos) to be considered different?

Yeah, these would definitely be different as they're a different genus.

The one hiccup I have with going to the species level (and apparently the genus level with the duck example) is that it becomes a practical nightmare - at a sushi restaurant it's sonetimes hard to get confirmation of the type of salmon. It could be simply a case of defaulting to one animal unless you have confirmation of a different species. This is based on the honour system, but then the whole thing is, too, so I find this acceptable.

Hmm.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:54 PM on January 14, 2009


You need an independent arbiter to act as final judge. It would be this person's sole discretion whether or not veal and beef would be considered different, etc., and all participants must agree to abide by this person's decisions beforehand. If each participant is scheming out their plans to win ahead of time, he or she can ask the arbiter privately for a decision that won't be made public to the other participants, but that decision would be applied to all participants. Perhaps a list of possible animals (not necessarily a final menu) could be submitted to the arbiter in advance.

And this person, of course, should know enough about biology to know that genus is clearly the right call as a general rule of thumb.
posted by arco at 2:59 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think you can pick a single taxonomic level and use it for all foods. I think your point about fish and ungulates is a good one; however, if you narrow it down to the genus level even determining what genus your food belongs to can be problematic. For example, there's at least three different species (belonging to two different genuses) of shrimp sold in the US: do you want the headache of trying to determine which genus your shrimp belong to? If you're trying to come up with a scheme that roughly coincides with the intuitive judgments we'd likely make about what constitutes the same animal, are you satisfied with a scheme that acknowledges two different kinds of shrimp?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:05 PM on January 14, 2009


In the old 3-kingdom model, Animalia was the garbage can. Anything that didn't fit in the other two (plant and fungus) was an animal.

As it currently stands, the easy classification is: if it's got nerve cells, it's an animal. (There are also things without nerves e.g. sponges which are considered animals, but I doubt any of them will be a choice for your contest, so you can ignore them.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2009


his is based on the honour system, but then the whole thing is
Cellphone pictures. I get hit up all the time by people wanting cameraphone pics for a scavenger hunt. And all this is is an elaborate scavenger hunt.

I'm totally with you on, Genus though.

Word of advice? Asian grocer. All sorts of canned and frozen fun in one place. More so than your typical supermarket anyway.
posted by piedmont at 3:14 PM on January 14, 2009


More fun: "There are more than 30 genera...in the Family Pectinidae" (i.e., scallops). "The word 'mussel' is most most frequently used to mean the edible bivalves of the marine family Mytilidae" (for which 29 genera are listed). Going down to the genus level gets pretty messy for invertebrates. With genera, you can go to a decent seafood restaurant, get their sampler of different oysters on the half-shell, and voilĂ ! you've eaten three or four different "animals." I like arco's idea of having an independent arbiter, rather than having one hard-and-fast taxonomic level at which the distinctions are made.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:20 PM on January 14, 2009


If you're trying to come up with a scheme that roughly coincides with the intuitive judgments we'd likely make about what constitutes the same animal, are you satisfied with a scheme that acknowledges two different kinds of shrimp?

Well...the line has to be drawn somewhere. Genus is a good compromise between being identifiable vs. keeping things interesting.

Based on some of the suggestions above, here is what I tentatively propose (since, as I should have mentioned, there is no time limit for this competition - title goes to current most-animals holder):

1. Genus level is used as the default taxonomy for defining an animal.

2. If the Genus is not able to be determined (ie if a market is simply selling 'shrimp') it does not count as a separate animal if another determined animal of the same species is eaten that day. For example - if a known genus of shrimp is consumed (no matter how rare) and then default shrimp cocktail is eaten later in the day, that's only one animal. There are to be no assumptions made. The burden of proof is on the eater.

3. An independent arbiter is the final judge, and this person will most likely have a biology degree - I know a few. The lists will be reviewed periodically. It is up to the eater to provide accurate, detailed information regarding Genus of said animal consumed.

4. Should there be an unusual case of beefalo or similar item (quite probable here in Alberta, that one) it is up to the discretion of the arbiter, and that decision stands as precedent from that point forward. An attempt will be made to classify problemed animals beforehand.

5. A running list of animals will be created as lists are submitted.

6. A title-holder belt of animal origin will be made, and must be worn during all ceremonial occasions.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:22 PM on January 14, 2009


er...that should be:

does not count as a separate animal if another determined animal of probable different genus is eaten that day.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:25 PM on January 14, 2009


I would draw the line at the species level not the genus level, to simplify things.

Unfortunately if you really want to know what species you're eating it turns out not to be at all simple. However, there are companies that will help you out, for a fee. Here's a talk on how they do it.
posted by pombe at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2009


I meant species not genus. Apparently it's been too long since my intro bio classes.
posted by pombe at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2009


I mean genus not species. Apparently I can't type straight either.
3 min edit, where are you?
posted by pombe at 3:46 PM on January 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


As another aside, what will constitute "eating an animal" for this contest? Does it count if a contestant hacks off an unnoticed corner of his girlfriend ostrich skin boots or a bit of his own eel skin wallet and eats that? Just another thing to think about and clarify to avoid controversy.
posted by Science! at 4:01 PM on January 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


*girlfriend's
posted by Science! at 4:02 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does it count if a contestant hacks off an unnoticed corner of his girlfriend ostrich skin boots or a bit of his own eel skin wallet and eats that?

More seriously though, if you eat your own fingernail clipping, or a tiny bit of your own dead skin that flaked off, is that sufficient to constitute eating human? How about a drop of blood?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:08 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The only way to do this, I think, is to sit down and list every animal that qualifies. Otherwise, there's too much gray area. Does salmon roe count as an animal? Is it the same as salmon? What about soft roe? Bonito flakes? What about chicken broth? This needs to be clear. I'd start by simply saying "all mammals." And the point about eating human above is certainly valid--it's impossible to avoid eating a little of yourself every day.

To do this properly, I think one would have to include not just the number of different animals consumed, but also the mass. And pretty soon, with all the rules and measuring and pedantry, it stops being fun.

So really, I say toss this whole idea and just throw a party where you invite a bunch of your friends and ask them to bring a dish or three involving the craziest meat they can find. Snake, kangaroo, pigeon. Everyone's a winner!
posted by kprincehouse at 4:58 PM on January 14, 2009


Something that may be helpful to you.... Encyclopedia of Life

I think this is an awesome idea...you should post the results :)
posted by AltReality at 5:50 PM on January 14, 2009


Yeah, this is one big category error. How we eat things doesn't map well to cladistics or biological classifications. In the kitchen, a tomato is a vegetable, because its culinary use conforms to vegetable usage -- you'd much more likely substitute a tomato with a vegetable than with a fruit. For all that, biologically it's a fruit. Biologically, an avocado is a berry, in the kitchen it's, among other things, a substitute for buttery spreads.

To a cook (and to a gormand), veal's a different dish than sirloin is a different dish than calves' liver. That they come from the same animal has little to do with their culinary use (although a cook will distinguish "meats" from "fowl").

And in practical terms, you can't do this: the fishmonger doesn't himself know which genus his mussels are in. Why not count culinary categories, rather than species?
posted by orthogonality at 7:37 PM on January 14, 2009


Well, the whole thing started because my friend bragged that he ate 11 animals in one day (the list mentioned in the original question). So, it's less a culinary feat than it is a raping of the earth and a big fuck you to biodiversity. To beat him, we need rules and his initial (and contuinuing) opinion is that the genus level is a good compromise. Species is too messy and complicated.

The beauty of the arbiter is that hell decide what's what. Also, if you don't have confirnation of taxonomy, it counts as the same genus, even if it technically they aren't - say if you ate a shrimp that is really some false shrimp that's a different genus entirely - if you ate it thinking it's a shrimp and have no way of proving otherwise, you just ate a shrimp.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:19 PM on January 14, 2009


Does it count if a contestant hacks off an unnoticed corner of his girlfriend ostrich skin boots or a bit of his own eel skin wallet and eats that?

More seriously though, if you eat your own fingernail clipping, or a tiny bit of your own dead skin that flaked off, is that sufficient to constitute eating human? How about a drop of blood?


I think a good rule would be that it would need to be captured or purchased with the reasonable intent of that item being a food. If it could better be described as a wallet first, it's not a food. Also, can't count humans unless you, like, eat a baby and the arbiter gives the OK.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:27 PM on January 14, 2009


I think a good rule would be that it would need to be captured or purchased with the reasonable intent of that item being a food.

Intent can be a tricky beast. You could have a weight or volume minimum so discourage the wallet eaters. Say 10g or a 15mL? Of course, if you're into the insect thing, you could tack on an extra case for eating the entire organism.
posted by megamanwich at 12:34 AM on January 15, 2009


Would afterbirth count as eating human? Cause I'm sure you could find someone willing to let you share in their eating of it. It makes a nice pate, I hear.
posted by Grither at 5:18 AM on January 15, 2009


No...pork, bacon and ham are all the same animal.
Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, jimmythefish. A wonderful, magical animal.

I think your idea of only counting separate genuses will work well. Honestly, you seem to have a much better handle of this than the askme answerers. Report back with the final count and species list!
posted by sid at 6:56 AM on January 15, 2009


>> So, it's less a culinary feat than it is a raping of the earth and a big fuck you to biodiversity.

If you follow some of the logic in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and rare breeds revivalists, the opposite would be true. Raising animals for food and creating a sustainable market for them is a way to ensure the survival of the species as a whole, if not individual critters themselves.
posted by sagwalla at 7:42 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sort of a tongue-in-cheek fuck you ;). Thanks for the link though.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:17 AM on January 15, 2009


The NCBI taxonomy, for all its problems, may be a useful resource to help map common names to scientific names, and thence to taxa:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Taxonomy/Browser/wwwtax.cgi?id=33208
posted by primer_dimer at 5:48 AM on January 16, 2009


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