“Mmm, tasty penguin.”
My parents took me to an aquarium as a child, the kind that had a dolphin show, and a whole section of Antarctic animals. My memory is hazy, but there was an outdoor enclosure for the penguins, and I remember peering, my little face pressed up against the glass, fascinated. They asked me if I liked the penguins, and I gleefully exclaimed, “Mmm, tasty penguin!”
The shock! People around with other children looked askance. Who was this monster child who saw adorable penguins and immediately thought about cooking them?
“No,” my parents frantically explained. “We don’t eat penguins!” I must have smiled and nodded in some way that convinced them I wasn’t some penguin-eating freak, or a killer whale in disguise. We continued on to the gift shop, where I picked out a reasonably sized stuffed penguin to take home. Maybe they figured I was making amends, because I bought it and cuddled it all the way back to our house.
A few hours later, my mother came to check on me. I’d shoved the stuffed penguin in my pretend oven, and I dramatically opened it up and shouted, “tasty penguin!” again. I’d fooled my easily trusting parents, and now I had a penguin all my own to cook. I don’t know how they eventually broke me of my penguin-cooking obsession, but at some point after that I moved on to using a tiny faux blender to prepare a mixture of Cheerios and water that only my younger brother was gullible enough to actually eat, but back then he’d do anything I say.
He’s a dad now, and I took my nephew to the aquarium just before his first birthday, and crawled into the penguin exhibit with him, a series of tunnels so you can be right at penguin level. The nephew can’t talk yet, so no inappropriate outbursts, but I did get him his own stuffed penguin, just to see if this runs in the family.
I’ve told this story about myself for years, but it’s taken me until tonight, at 31, thinking about what to share with this Listserve, for me to actually search and see if penguin is edible. It’s considered contraband, which makes me feel like even more of a preschool rebel. However, people have and do eat them in particular locations and circumstances (see Frederick Cook’s 1897 excursion and how it helped them avoid scurvy), just not small children on day trips in Rhode Island.
If you are wondering what penguin allegedly tastes like, the Internet says it’s akin to veal.
Originally published on The Listerve, Sept 9, 2015