When European colonists discovered lobster in the 1600s, it was considered food for the poor. The sea vermin was used as fish bait and fertilizer and fed to orphans, slaves and prisoners. Servants rebelled. Massachusetts, eventually, passed a law forbidding the serving of lobster to prisoners and servants more than twice a week. “A daily lobster dinner was deemed cruel and unusual punishment,” Rachel Herz writes in her book, That’s Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion. Today, lobster is a decadent dish reserved for special occasions, say a birthday or anniversary or a last meal on death row. Throughout her book, Herz uses such history lessons to illustrate that disgust is not innate — it is the last emotion that children experience and must be learned. Culture defines what is disgusting. For example, Herz, an expert on the psychology of smell and emotion at Brown University, grew up in Montreal, where poutine is popular; however, the slimy, cheesy treat might be considered gross in Asia where some people think cheese is repulsive. Herz began exploring disgust after being invited to judge the National Rotten Sneakers Contest in Montpelier, Va. She spoke to the Post about judging “The Hall of Fumes,” watching gory films and eating spiders.
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