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Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Thursday, November 13, 2003


Eating flying rodents
is really batty


Scientists have confirmed that eating hairy, flying rodents is not good for humans, an astounding breakthrough in the study of the natural world akin to the discovery that poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick hurts.

It will come to the surprise of readers brought up on Big Macs and burritos that bats are considered food in some cultures, although bat eating really tests the meaning of the term "culture."

Recent studies show that residents of Guam who eat bat are more likely to get Parkinson's disease. The question is, Did anyone actually think eating something that looks -- as writer P.J. O'Rourke put it -- like a colonel in the rat air force could possibly be good for you?

I lived on Guam and have seen bat consumed. It is not a pretty sight. You'd think that if you are going to eat an animal as ugly as a bat, you'd clip off the wings, take off the head and feet, de-fur the critter and carve out the little chunks of bat sirloin, which would then be roasted beyond recognition over a raging fire and then served with a strong dipping sauce to further disguise its frightening origins. But no. The way Guamanians prepare bat is to put the creature, wings and all, into a soup of coconut milk and then eat it whole.

I try to imagine the first person to eat a bat: He's sitting around thinking of what to have for dinner. He's tired of fish and chicken. So he says, "You know what might be tasty? A rodent. But not just your run-of-the-mill rodent, a FLYING rodent. With a 4-foot wingspan. Honey, heat up the coconut milk!"

Paul Cox, director of the National Botanical Garden on Kauai, discovered that Guam bats eat seeds from the cycad tree. Those seeds contain a neurotoxin that is transferred to humans when they eat the bat. And that may be linked to the high incidence of Parkinson's among bat eaters.

Now, Parkinson's is no laughing matter. But come on, people, certain things in nature are grotesquely hideous by design, like bats and Keith Richards. Their visceral repugnance shouts, "Leave me alone, or something very bad will happen to you."

HAWAII IS HOME to the "hoary bat," which some exceedingly lonesome naturalists have called "beautiful." The hoary bat is the islands' only native land mammal. It was here when Hawaiians arrived 1,700 years ago. They named it 'ope 'ape'a, which, I believe, means "What the hell is that!?"

It's been on the endangered species list since 1970, which thankfully keeps it off local menus. As bats go, with its fluffy fur collar surrounding its face, the hoary bat does look kind of cute, kind of like a mouse being eaten by a mink.

The wife of the mythical god Maui allegedly was abducted by an eight-eyed bat. Maui rescued his wife and then cut off the bat's head and ate the eyes as revenge. History does not record whether he utilized a strong dipping sauce.




See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com



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