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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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molluscs a category of invertebrate animals including many important foods. Most are seafoods: cephalopods such as squid and octopus; bivalves, for example the oyster and the mussel; and the single shells, including the periwinkle. The last group is the least prized, but has a famous counterpart on land, the edible snail; whereas there are no terrestrial cephalopods or bivalves.

Attitudes towards eating molluscs vary greatly. In countries far from the sea they may be unknown. But familiarity does not equate with acceptability. It is notorious that during their terrible famine of the 1840s those Irish people who lived in coastal areas and could have partly subsisted on food such as mussels ignored this resource. In some countries, a few molluscs are eaten and others shunned. Schwabe (1979), remarks that:

Traditional cultural prejudices about eating invertebrate animals vary in the extreme and generally without rhyme or reason. Mosaic food laws, for example, ban all creatures of the waters without fins or scales to orthodox Jews yet consider locusts to be a valuable food item. Similarly, it is not unusual to encounter Americans who will eat oysters alive but consider the very idea of eating cooked squid or land snails disgusting.