GOOD

Six Times Food Smugglers Just Wanted a Taste of Home

Tales of fruit bootleggers, label-swappers, and some damn good cheese.

Last month at Los Angeles International Airport, U.S. Customs agents noticed some unusual cargo arriving from Lagos, Nigeria. Hiding in two picnic baskets were 67 giant African snails, totaling 35 pounds, intended for human consumption.

While the case made for spectacular and unusual headlines, food smuggling is actually a common occurrence. Sometimes it’s unknowingly perpetrated by oblivious tourists, other times it’s a conscious scheme to evade import taxes, and, occasionally, organized crime gets involved, as Mexican cartels have during this year’s lime shortage. More often than not, however, food smuggling into the States is carried out by humble immigrants simply craving a taste of home.


To highlight the tasty contraband that never made it stateside, we compiled a list of some of the more bizarre food smuggling attempts in recent memory, each a reminder of how far people will go to preserve their cultural identity.

Photo by ukhomeoffice

Giant Snails

Considered a delicacy in Nigeria, where they are commonly peppered and stewed, these big fellas can reach up to eight inches long, are high in protein, and are abundant in a country with pronounced disparities in food security and economic equality. The snails are also culturally significant, particularly to the Yoruba people, whose origin story involves their divine creator descending from heaven and creating land by pouring earth out of a snail shell. In America, however, the snails are blacklisted because they are incredibly invasive—known to eat native fruit, vegetables, and even stucco off building walls.

Photo by Harsha K R

Indian Chickpeas

In February, a couple on their way back from India was detained at Dulles International Airport in Virginia for trying to sneak in 30 pounds of chickpeas and popcorn with green curry leafs. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in the Punjabi dish chana masala, a popular street food cooked with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, cumin, and lime. Chana masala is a good source of inexpensive protein for a country that boasts as many as 500 million vegetarians. Customs and Border Protection prohibits the Indian legume from entering the country though, to protect against the introduction of plant diseases and insect pests outside their borders.

Photo by Andrea Westmoreland

Live Turtles

Dubbed “Operation Flying Turtle,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service busted a Japanese turtle smuggling ring in Los Angeles in 2011, arresting two men for trying to bring 55 live turtles into the country, hidden in snack food packages. Turtle hot pot stew (suppon nabe) is a popular Japanese dish with a storied history dating back to the first century. It is said to bestow sexual potency and stamina in men, provide health benefits for cancer patients, and was even favored by Japanese emperors in the Imperial Palace. Though the importation of live turtles for consumption is banned in the U.S. to protect against non-native species in local habitats, the dish is rumored to be available at certain late-night spots in New York City and Los Angeles, if you know where to look.

Photo by kaiton

Ackee Fruit

This forbidden fruit is illegal to bring into the United States because its poisonous seeds can induce vomiting, seizures, and even death. But in Jamaica it is a staple, eaten alongside salt fish as the country’s national dish. Its history is deep and closely tied to national identity—the fruit originates in West Africa and is said to have come to Jamaica on slave ships. Away from home, cravings for the pear-shaped fruit are so strong that hundreds of people are caught each year hiding ackee in legal Jamaican fruit import containers, and women have been known to hide Ziploc bags of ackee under their dresses to elude airport metal detectors.

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy

(Cocaine-laced) Goat Meat

Last year in New York, a Trinidadian man was nailed at John F. Kennedy International Airport for trying to bring large packages of goat meat into the country, a good that’s banned by U.S. Customs to safeguard against disease. After Trinidad and Tobago abolished slavery in the early 1800s, Indian immigrants filled a mass labor shortage in the sugarcane fields. The spices they brought with them became a hit with the locals; goat roti and goat curry, made with those South Asian herbs, are now two of Trinidad and Tobago’s most popular dishes. As for the traveler at JFK, it likely didn’t help that hidden inside the already prohibited meat was something even more illicit: seven pounds of cocaine.

Photo by Javier Lastras

Mexican Cheese

In 2009, a San Diego mother of five was stopped at the Mexican border coming back from Tijuana with 149 pounds of unpasteurized Mexican wheeled cheese hidden in her car. Cheese first arrived in Mexico as a result of Spanish colonization and the introduction of milk-producing animals transformed the local diet, spawning a rich tradition of regionally diverse cheeses, which are still prepared by families using safely guarded, generations-old recipes. The late Mexican journalist and poet Junto Sierra once said, “The grocer, not the conquistador, is the real Spanish father of Mexican society.” As a repeat offender (she was arrested five years earlier for smuggling marijuana across the same border crossing), the mother was slapped with a jail stint, fine, and probation. However, she earned sympathy from a Customs and Border Protection supervisor, who told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “The people want a taste of home…you can’t get (it) from the Vons queso Oaxaca. It’s just not the same.”

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics