Andrew Zimmern Dishes on Food, Culture

The host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” was a guest lecturer in José Andrés’s class on Monday.

Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods"
Andrew Zimmern, host of "Bizarre Foods," lectures about food and culture at GW on Monday.
April 17, 2013

On the menu Monday at José Andrés’s “World on a Plate” class was a lesson on food and culture. So who better to lecture than host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” Andrew Zimmern?

“Is he influencing the way we behave, the way we eat, or the places we travel to?” asked Mr. Andrés, the internationally renowned chef and owner of ThinkFoodGroup, which includes area restaurants Jaleo, Zatinya and Oyamel. “That’s what we’re going to be exploring today.”

Mr. Zimmern came to class with an arsenal of stories on his travels visiting tribes in remote areas around the world, sharing how they live and what others can learn from them.

He told of his time with the Tanzanian Maasai tribe, a pastoral group of “superhumans” who subsist on fresh blood drawn from a cow’s neck, two-week-old spoiled milk and millet porridge. Then, after a dawn-to-dusk day of hard work, they feast.

“They do this meat grill out at the end of the day, and they basically eat to pass out,” Mr. Zimmern told the class, flashing a photo of fresh animal carnage on his PowerPoint in the Jack Morton Auditorium. “They gorge themselves on roasted meat. It’s absolutely delicious, you would love it.”

Mr. Zimmern said from the Maasai he learned about love, family and the people’s relationship to food.

Meanwhile, in his experiences with another tribe in Botswana, Mr. Zimmern learned about the respect people have for the food that Earth provides them. After trapping birds, one tribe insisted on waiting a day so their souls could escape before eating them.

Traveling defines Mr. Zimmern, he said. “I believe in the transformative power of travel,” he said, adding later that “everything I’m good at in life I’ve learned abroad.”

Mr. Zimmern is a different person when he travels, he added. At home, he prefers to spend time alone or with his family. But traveling to a country like Bolivia, he said, is different.

“I run to the public bus station, get on a rickety, old 1950s school bus with a 14-year-old driving who paid $5 for his license,” he said. “No insurance papers. No idea when we’re going to get to our destination. No guarantee that we’re going to get there. … And I run to those buses, I get on them, and I ask questions, and I’m interested in you.”

Ultimately, traveling exposes people to new ideas, showing them their view isn’t the only way of seeing the world. The experiences can be the “ultimate form of persuasion” in regard to someone’s views.

That thought tied nicely to a lecture by Clay Warren, GW Chauncey M. Depew Professor of Communication, earlier in the class. Dr. Warren talked about the persuasion tactics, including logos, ethos and pathos, used by advertisers, encouraging students to be skeptical consumers.

Nearing the end of their semester, the students will learn about food crises and international aid next week before presenting their final projects in their last class on April 29.