As anyone who has seen his TV program knows, Zimmern travels the globe, eating sometimes truly strange food. His program, while entertainment, also is a travelogue. He shares with his audience what he learns of other cultures through his exploration of their traditional foods.
Zimmern’s remarks began on a serious note.
“Our food life in America is truly [messed] up,” referring to the relationship between sustainable eating and our food industry. “Eating well in our country is a class issue.”
Zimmern was critical of school lunch food and the lack of variety in the diet of most Americans.
He said, countries outside the western world engage in “snout to tail dining.” In other words, no part of an animal is wasted as a food source.
Holding degrees from Vassar College in art and art history, Zimmern has worked as a chef and restaurant owner in Minneapolis. About 10 years ago he became involved in TV.
“I really believe you can change the world one meal at a time,” Zimmern said. “People talk about their differences. I wanted to talk about what we have in common through food."
He has sampled such unfamiliar fare as 8 week old putrefied shark in Iceland, fish stomach sauce in Phuket, cow vein stew in Bolivia, and insects of all sorts in countries too numerous to recount.
He has eaten every part of a cow, pig, and chicken. Zimmern has traveled to 80 countries, and as his culinary explorations illuminate, sources of dietary protein vary throughout the world.
In every Bizarre Foods episode there is a street food scene, a market scene, and a family dinner. There always is at least one child in each episode, because, Zimmern said he wants to reach children.
“We are too stuck in our ways,” he said. “It is never too late to start a food life.”
Zimmern segued into observations of specific parts of the world by using a large map, members of the audience, and darts. As each threw their dart, the location of their hit prompted a discussion of his experience in that locale.
Australia’s Northern Territory coast brought forth a reminiscence of spear fishing on the reef for a sushi lunch. The fish heads and entrails were thrown from the boat, only to have a 20-foot shark snap them up where Zimmern had been spearfishing minutes before.
The next dart hit the African country of Cameroon.
South of Cameroon, in Namibia, Zimmern filmed a segment with an indigenous tribe. The tribe’s simple, pastoral way of life is being lost, he said. The cause is education.
“Our desire in the West to put our cultural imprint on the tribe is the downfall of their traditional way of life,” he said, adding that this was inevitable. “You can’t bring back the horse and buggy.”
The last dart, hitting southern Sudan, illustrated that traveling the globe in search of culinary experiences and culture can be fraught with danger. In Khartoum, Zimmern’s plane was shot at while on the tarmac.
Another dangerous place he visited was Uganda.
Laying in his mosquito net at night, too afraid to sleep, he was startled by a noise and feared someone was coming to attack his camp. Instead, it was a teenage boy bringing him a bowl of cut watermelon. He and the boy sat together, eating watermelon, and watching a huge, golden, African moon rise above the horizon.
“If you really travel, you will have experiences that will change you for the rest of your life,” he said.
Zimmern’s message is clear: The importance of travel is the people you meet along the way, and the ways of life different from your own you learn to respect.