Hundreds of students squeezed into the Bret Harte High School theater last week to watch some of their most daring classmates and teachers compete in the annual World Culture Bowl – a rowdy game show affair that incorporates international trivia and unusual foods.
“When we first started doing it, we only had about 20 people,” said Spanish teacher David Brady, who conceptualized the bowl with fellow teacher and Renaissance adviser Verne Johnson seven years ago. “We were doing other academic bowls and wanted something interactive, using all your senses.”
Now, Brady said, student enthusiasm for the event rivals that of homecoming rallies.
The crowd was on the edge of their seats as history teacher Mitchell Hodson managed to swallow a pig snout against all apparent odds, with the bucket-toting “Barf Buddies” waiting in the wings. Later, they went wild as sophomore wrestler Kodiak Stephens scarfed down an entire balut – a boiled fetal duck egg traditionally served in Southeast Asia – and licked his fingers with gusto.
This year’s winners were Ariana Kirkendall, Jayce Macredes, Daniel Abando, Brayden Walkee, and science teacher Keith Maurer from Team Peru. Each student on the team won $150 in cash, raised by the Bret Harte Spanish Honor Society, and a $300 scholarship provided by Renaissance, a student-run program that recognizes academic excellence and improvement.
In addition to the allure of cash and the excitement of watching a classmate eat a chicken foot, the competition offers valuable exposure to cultural customs that a Calaveras County teen may never otherwise encounter.
“The whole point of (the bowl) is to learn that these things aren’t gross – they’re part of another culture,” said senior Michaela O’Donnell, president of Spanish Honor Society, which organizes the event.
“You can eat so many different things,” said Spanish Honor Society member Leah Cottrell, who emceed the bowl on March 27, along with fellow senior Ellie Tafjen.
That lesson was perhaps most evident when junior Karlee Juarez remarked that the larvae tasted like “burnt broccoli.”