Rate your food threshold


(click chart to enlarge)

If I’ve learned one thing by writing last week’s post about horsemeat, it’s that people draw the line about what is – and isn’t! – permissible for them to eat in different places. Choose any meal you find normal and there will be at least one person who considers it revolting.

This chart (don’t laugh – I’m a writer not a designer!) outlines the various limits I’ve observed people choose when considering menus and questions about appropriate food choices. From Fruitarians who will only eat produce that naturally fell from the vine, to people who will literally eat anything, this chart goes from 1 to 20. What number expresses your upper limit? I’m a 14.

60 Responses to Rate your food threshold

  1. Martin Kouprie says:

    For me the question about appropriate food choices balances on sustainability, so I have to draw a line at the last three, bird nest, shark fin, bear heart and monkey brain. Sadly these last three categories are ingrained into some cultures as “prestige” culinary elements, a major factor contributing to their extinction.

  2. Sheryl Kirby says:

    I don’t know that it’s as easy as that. People have different reasons for eating and not eating certain things and levels might not be the same for everyone. Plus there’s no differentiation in your graph between ethics and squick.

    For instance, ethically I won’t eat shark fin, but I’m not squicked by it – if there were ethical, sustainable sources available, I would at least try it. Likewise with horse. Bugs/insects squick me less than some organ meat. And I personally would choose rabbit over organ meat any day (just because I don’t like the taste of organ meat).

    During my 7 years of being ovo-pescetarian, my reasons for not eating meat were because I didn’t want to support CAFOs – I had (and still have) absolutely no issue with hunting or game meat.

    I get where you’re going with this Dana, and I know it’s based on the comments you received to previous posts, but I don’t think it’s that easy. There’s too many components wrapped up in what we choose to eat – or avoid – to make it that simple.

  3. Barb says:

    I agree – it’s complicated. The pat answer doesn’t work for me either. To pick a number I would say that I am a 9 – 12.5 but when I see or hear about the cruelty animals face in our quest to eat them I really wish I was about a 3 or 4. I’m kind of wishy washy I guess.

  4. Beth says:

    I’m a 13.

  5. The question is no longer simple since other aspects like sustainability have entered the picture. I’ve had shark’s fin soup on many occasions in the past, but today I would avoid it. I’ve also enjoyed bird’s nest soup, but haven’t heard what’s bad about it. Dog and cat haven’t crossed my path, so to speak, so that is a decision I haven’t had to make.

  6. Sheryl’s right. I haven’t had a chance to challenge myself with bugs (although I’ve probably eaten a fair few), but I know that they wouldn’t give me the same emotional qualms as my first taste of rabbit or reindeer. Or that other bad-concsience food: live-boiled lobster.

  7. 15.
    Our food choices are no longer defined by access and ick factor, but by ethics and sustainability. And those are the reasons I wouldn’t try the last ones for those reasons, not because I’m afriad. Okay, I’m a little afraid of monkey brains, I saw Indiana Jones!

  8. What a neat chart!! I know it’s not as straight forward as the chart indicates, but I’m a really visual person and love this representation.

    I’m a reluctant 8 because of my husband. Left to my own devices I’d be a 7. I’d go as low as a 5 but scratch my head at people who are a 1. Don’t they starve?

    Really nifty post, Dana!!

  9. Heather Li says:


    But 19 doesn’t really seem fair to me because I’m Chinese, and growing up, if you go to at least one grand Chinese wedding banquet (and trust me, you go to more than one by the time you’re 4), shark fin soup is the norm.

    Obviously, it’s different now because shark fin soup is just plain ethically wrong.

    I have no idea what Bird Nest Soup is. I haven’t had the chance to eat insects, dog or cat. I would try bear heart or monkey brain if it was unique to that culture and some locals said it was good for you, tastes good; that is, if it’s an actual “culinary” experience. But not if it’s just a plain gross-out fear factor quest.

  10. Heather Li says:

    Additionally, I don’t know how they source bear or monkey for consumption? That really stumps me.

    I agree with Martin Kouprie mostly, but I still go up to 20 because if I had the opportunity, I like to try most things once. I’m not going to go out my way to seek a non-sustainable “prestige” food though.

  11. Kathryn says:

    Great chart. I am an 8, but, if it were based on my normal eating habits, I would be a 5.

  12. Gareth Mark says:

    20, except that I won’t knowingly eat dog or cat unless I find myself in a social situation that precludes refusal.

    I disagree with the conjunction of bear heart and monkey brain. If the bear is killed solely for the heart, that’s wrong, but when and where bear hunting is legal, the heart is simply another part of the game animal. Monkey brain, on the other hand, feels a little cannibalistic to me.

    Interesting chart and discussion.

    • danamccauley says:

      Good point on the bear hunt, Gareth. I worked at a restaurant in the early 90’s (Hogan’s Inn in King City) that had a very famous and popular game festival; we served bear that was hunted by native Indians. We didn’t serve its organ meats but I would have had no issue with them being on the menu in that context either.

  13. Anna says:

    Like Heather says, context plays a huge role in how willing one can be to push a comfort boundary. If I’m in a restaurant and randomly see “insect” on the menu, would I ever order it? Never. But if I’m travelling and somebody took me into their home and served it up, then I would certainly go for it. Let alone considering the sourcing of the food.

    The chart provides an interesting visual entry to this conversation. On a random Wednesday, I’m about a 8 or 9.

  14. Chester Pape says:

    My understanding is that the birds nests are farmed at this point, Simon Winchester in his book about Krakatoa talks about coming across a heavily guarded silo structure that turned out to be a birds nest “farm”. Now I personally can live without a soup made from bird mucus but like tha man said “de gustibus non disputandum est”

  15. cheryl says:

    This is completely fascinating. Of course Dana’s not trying to be overly simplistic, but it’s a very thought-provoking way to get each of us to reflect on our own thresholds.

    I like Gareth’s comment. If you travel, trying a native food may actually be more “ethical” than refusing it. (Again, it’s highly personal.)

    I’d say I’m a 12-1/2, with the caveat that certain foods that never grossed me out before do gross me out now, simply because I know how they’re raised/farmed/etc. I’m not sure about rabbit. It seems weird that I’ve never eaten it — I must have tried it at some point — but the idea bothers me somewhat inexplicably.

  16. Diva says:

    I’m very much in the same camp as Charmian C. While I know its not this simple, visually I love the chart and enjoyed the exercise of mulling over my own limits, as well as reading the responses of others. Very cool post, Dana!

    Again, like Charmian, left to my own devices, I’d probably top out at poultry – but I’m married to a major carnivore so realistically, I’m probably an 11. I draw the line at game. No organ meats for me ever, its both a health and a squick issue. I have tried rabbit off my husband’s plate but only once and would not actively choose to eat it.

  17. danamccauley says:

    I’m glad this post elicited so many comments!

    Seems weird that I have no vegetarian readers. I guess I scared them all away!

  18. Handsome B. Wonderful says:

    Where does seafood fall on this list? I see fish, but no categories covering things like mollusks or crustaceans.

    I like fish, but I won’t go near an octopus or a lobster.

  19. adrian says:

    Congrats on the coverage in the National Post. And I love the chart – I’m a 10, if I could switch veal with rabbit. (Are people more squeamish about rabbit? Really? Certainly not Italians!)

  20. Sharon Haslam says:

    I’m a 13. In my little town north of Toronto there’s quite a bit of “CAVALLO” available (in the finer meat shops)–usually sausages. I’ve considered trying them. Since Dana’s thought provoking articles on horse meat I now have an excuse not to eat them at the Italian BBQ’s. I wish I knew some Italian before someone offered me CONIGLIO! Although now that I’ve had rabbit I actually enjoy it. Maybe the problem isn’t the food– it’s what we call it?? Dana would you try SOUPE AUX NIDS D’HIRONDELLES–sounds pretty good, eh?

  21. […] Dana McCauley came up with a Food Threshhold Chart.  Though there’s some debate in the comments on ethics (for example, I have a particular vegan friend who loves meat, but will not eat it because of ethical issues) vs. tastes (I, for example, would be kind of squicked out eating a cockroach), I think it’s interesting.  We Westerners have a fairly narrow view of cuisine, and often turn our noses up unfamiliar cuisine. […]

  22. danamccauley says:

    This interesting article on the whale eating tradition in Japan speaks to similar concerns and thoughts that many of you shared here:


  23. […] a friend of mine made me aware of a web site that seeks to determine a person’s food threshold. The basic premise, for those of you too lazy to click on the link, is that there are different […]

  24. flaime says:

    Weird…I would say 13, except that bear heart is fine. I’m not sure why the conjoinment in the chart? So am I really a 20? no. 13 is as good as it gets…though I don’t understand what would put rabbit above liver? I know a lot of people who wouldn’t eat liver who would eat rabbit.

  25. […] A Toronto-based food consultant posted her eating tolerance chart on her blog earlier this week so that users may gauge how squeamish they are when it comes to […]

  26. […] – Rate your food threshold. [Dana McCauley] […]

  27. […] – Rate your food threshold. [Dana McCauley] […]

  28. Andrea says:

    13, though I would list rabbit before organ meats, but that’s me. My father is a hunter and angler and I grew up eating wild game, still do when he gets enough venison to share. Also, aren’t lobsters technically related to insects (same Phylum)? It’s not a cut and dry issue, that’s for sure, but very interesting.

  29. Joanna Fragostefanakis says:

    12…I could never eat a rabbit, they are pets! I thing that anything past 12 is too unethical for me and are relatively gross.

  30. […] Val and I gave up a chance to dine on fresh snake in China. Rate yourself on Dana McCauley’s Food Threshhold Chart. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)1901 $10 Bison Legal TenderBison: Love ItBison […]

  31. […] Rate your food threshold Dana McCauley’s food blog You can rate yourself on how adventurous your eating is. […]

  32. Weird…I would say 13, except that bear heart is fine. I’m not sure why the conjoinment in the chart? So am I really a 20? no. 13 is as good as it gets…though I don’t understand what would put rabbit above liver? I know a lot of people who wouldn’t eat liver who would eat rabbit.

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    • danamccauley says:


      I made the chart based on the type of comments I’ve collected over the years in general. I’ve found that even if people don’t like liver, many have eaten itin childhood and find it pretty normal fare while rabbit freaks a lot of people out.

      The bear heart and monkey brain are grouped together since they are, in most cases, harvested by poachers who don’t use the entire animal.

  33. J-Dub says:

    I am a 3 because I know that in our society the choices you make with your dollar are the only choices counted. I refuse to support the torture of animals for my gustatory pleasure. Plus, the preponderance of literature points to animal products as not only catastrophic for the planet (2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef vs 15 gallons to produce one pound of lettuce and 30 gallons for one pound of potatoes), but also to our bodies (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc etc).

    I truly believe that one must know what they are eating and the consequences of what they are eating. Watch Earthlings for the ethical truth of your lifestyle. Read The China Study (T. Colin Campbell) for the impact on your health.

  34. Cara says:

    “Seems weird that I have no vegetarian readers. I guess I scared them all away!”

    I think it’s more likely that they turned away in disgust. This post (like the horsemeat and the foie gras ones) is far less than scientific or rational. It’s more in the ‘why bother’ realm for me as a vegan. It reads like – I don’t know – like little kids trying to one-up one another.

    I used to be a ’14’ according to your chart, but went vegan for health. You don’t (yet) see me protesting outside of slaughterhouses though I do find much to be concerned about. But increasingly I have become aware of the politics of food in our culture. As a researcher, I am also aware of lobbying, of questionable slaughter, husbandry, labor, and handling practices that are ill-monitored; of too-slowly growing awareness of the toxicity of our western diet.

    But hey. It’s all about adventure, right?

  35. DTA says:

    I demonstrated to my 2-and-a-half year old son this weekend how grasshoppers were edible, but I didn’t feel all that good about it, morally, because I’m not sure it was a humane death. In general, I don’t eat animals I’m very fond of–I have a strange liking for crabs, so would never eat one. Nor do I think lobsters are well-treated. We do as a family raise chickens and sheep for meat, with that whole Pollan/Salatin white person’s guilt thing. Pigs next year.

    Call me a 14. Living in Vermont, I’ve eaten my share of bear, although never heart. I would if it were offered.

  36. […] randoms Leave a Comment  I first saw this over at Al Dente’s blog, which led me to Dana McCauley’s food blog. We all have different ideas of what foods are good. It’s cultural and it’s […]

  37. Tom says:

    I must have stumbled through some worm hole into an alternate reality where humans evolved from some life form that wasn’t omnivorous, but on to the chart.

    It doesn’t make much sense to me. 35 years ago I had shark fin soup at a restaurant in Frankfurt Am Main and it remains the single best thing I have ever ate. Bar none. I am not very adventurous, whereas my daughter – who has traveled the world – will try almost anything. I don’t see bulat on the list, doenjang, or how about well hung fowl? I don’t think that anything on the list raises above about a 8 or 9.

    Haven’t any of you ever been hungry? I don’t mean having missed lunch – but haven’t eaten in days and the prospect of the next meal doubtful? It changes your perception of what is edible and even delectable.

    Come on gang, let’s get motivated and get this chart where it belongs. Rabbit a 13? Holy crap! I practically lived on rabbit when I was a kid. A mild tasting, tender meat that takes to braising and frying very well. If monkey brain is a 20 what is bulat? A 50?

    • danamccauley says:

      Tom, if you’d like to send me an improved chart, I’ll gladly post it with credit to you! You make a good point about hunger but that isn’t what this exercise was about. It was about seeing where people fell out with their squeamishness and personal ethics. I have no doubt that I’d eat almost anything if faced with true hunger. Thanks for popping in. I hope you come back.

  38. […] of what someone will eat is why I find the food threshold chart below, which I found on Dana McCauley’s food blog, so much fun. While my ovo-veggie-ness leaves me only at a 5, I figure that my ability to eat nutty […]

  39. […] of what someone will eat is why I find the food threshold chart below, which I found on Dana McCauley’s food blog, so much fun. While my ovo-veggie-ness leaves me only at a 5, I figure that my ability to eat nutty […]

  40. Tad Bronw says:

    Nice!, found your site on digg.Happy I finally tried it out. Unsure if its my Chrome browser,but sometimes when I visit your site, the fonts are really small? Anyway, love your blog and will be back.Bye

  41. […] ~ calista ~ @ 6:45 am Tags: food I first saw this over at Al Dente’s blog, which led me to Dana McCauley’s food blog. We all have different ideas of what foods are good. It’s cultural and it’s just a […]

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