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It wasn't the fish heads poking out of the Stargazy Pie that stopped more than a few of our readers cold. It was the eyeballs.

"Not a lot of food nowadays has eyes; what's up with that?" one reader asked in commenting on a recent Salt post that featured a photo of the historic dish, which involves whole fish (eyes and all) poking out of a pie.

Turns out, quite a lot of cuisine features eyeballs. But there's no question that in many cultures, eating eyes is a food taboo.

I first ran afoul of this when I cooked up ukha, a famous Russian fish soup, for a group of friends. The fish heads make for a beautiful clear broth, and my husband, who grew up in Kamchatka, wanted to make sure those big old heads swam in his bowl.

Alas, when the bowls were laid out, the one with fish eyes staring balefully upward landed in front of the most fastidious eater in the room. He has never dined at my house again.

So I called James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, and asked why eyes creep people out.

"Eyes represent faces," he said, "and it's through the face that we learn to recognize and empathize with others. So it's not entirely surprising that we find eyeballs disconcerting."

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