The Disgusting Food Museum, a new educational pop-up where visitors are put face-to-face with their worst food fears, opened Wednesday in Sweden. It is chock full of revolting dishes from all around the world. There is bull penis from China, maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia, and rotten shark from Iceland. But we take offense with the so-called “disgusting” delicacies the museum purloined from America. On display are Twinkies (not the best dessert, but not the worst), Spam (have they tried it fried?), and root beer. Root beer! Root beer is as classic as ice cream shops and late-night diners. It is the Norman Rockwell painting of fizzy drinks.
Apparently, root beer tastes like toothpaste to some people, though. Into the museum it went.
The cultural uproar sparked by foods chosen for the exhibit is the point of the museum itself. The disgust we feel for certain foods is biological as well as a byproduct of our surroundings. Samuel West, founder and head curator of the Disgusting Food Museum, argues that we have to overcome these disgust reflexes if we want to be responsible food eaters.
“We can’t continue the way we are now,” he told the New York Times about his inspiration. “I was asking myself why don’t we eat insects when they are so cheap and sustainable to produce? The obstacle is disgust.”
The sustainability aspect also explains why basic foods like pork are on display. The museum used four disgust factors to judge foods: taste, smell, texture, and how the dish is made. Pork isn’t disgusting to the senses, but the way pigs are treated in industrial factories might be. Along its walls, the Disgusting Food Museum plays videos showing how food is made, like geese being force-fed for foie gras.
But the real shock value is in seeing baby mouse wine from China or fruit bat soup from Guam—for us, at least. It’s in opening the museum’s “smell jars” to gag from the scent of Swedish surströmming (fermented herring). And it’s in learning that Jell-O salad also made the cut for team America.
The Disgusting Food Museum is open through January and might hit the road after. In its collection are 80 items from 35 countries. The ticket to get you is also a barf bag. As a late entry, the museum might want to consider a special exhibit for this man, who was filmed drinking soup from the serving ladle at a super market hot bar. Gross.