Taste testers (HLD 309)

26 Jan 2021

Throughout history, important people who feared they may be poisoned, used the ‘services’ of a taste tester.

These (often not quite so willing) people had first go at the food or drink of a king or queen, an emperor, or anyone at risk of having their life brought to a premature end via a meal.

Often the role was given to someone expendable, likely a slave or servant, but apparently Queen Durdhara, a Mauryan empress, ate food intended for her husband and died. (And yes I definitely had to Google to find out where the heck the Mauryan people came from. Indian subcontinent, 322-184 BCE, just in case you’re wondering.)

Pick a figure from history and there’s a good chance they had someone else test their food for them. Claudius, Elizabeth 1, Hitler, and even current figures Putin and Obama, have been reported to use the services of a food taster. And not always a human one! Apparently Napoleon had a dog, who not only served as food taster but also saved him from drowning. During the Beijing Olympics mice were given a sample of food before it was put on a plate for a human.

I also read a lovely article about Antony and Cleopatra. Apparently Mark Antony distrusted Cleopatra quite a bit, and kept a food taster on hand in case she decided to get rid of him. She was apparently highly offended by this, that he thought a food taster could save him if she decided she wanted to kill him. She apparently managed to get some poison through his testing system, but stopped him from drinking the poisoned wine. She gave it to a taster, who dropped dead, and the point she pressed on to Antony was that he needed to trust her above his food testers. And, obviously, to not irritate her too much.

Apparently food testers nowadays are paid good money to sample food – not (just) for poison, but for research and development, and quality assurance purposes. Google tells me that a professional taste tester in the USA can earn over $42,000 a year. Apparently Ben and Jerry’s, an ice cream company, employs in-house food testers. That’s a job I could handle 🙂

The reason for today’s bit of diarrhoea????

My dog has recently employed her own personal food testers. While she is known to enjoy a little nibble of bacon when we are out for breakfast, we discovered this morning that she will not – ever – be the first to taste the bacon. She will watch politely while a human attendant samples the bacon, and if they survive, she acquiesces to assist in the process.

But if a bit of bacon arrives on a plate and is offered to her untested, she just drops it to the ground.

All hail Queen Chewie!

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