Food IV – How I Eat

Consider this question: Who enjoys their food more? Is it the man walking down the New York streets who will stop at any sidewalk stand and get any item with everything on it, or the gourmet chef who will only eat the finest foods with the best ingredients? For the first man every new food is an experience to be had. He tries things simply because anything is worth trying once. His personal motto might be be "variety is the spice of life" or "you never know what your missing until you've tried it". The chef approaches food differently. Food is not an experience, it's art. A new food is not eaten simply because it has never been eaten before but to gain a new color for his pallet, a color he might use to create a new dish in the future. The chef will not be compelled to sample every item from the sidewalk gourmet because he already knows such food has no place in his mouth, or his kitchen, whether he has tried a foot-long with all the trimmings before or not. I have to admit both men scare me when it comes to food, but if I were to entrust myself to either it would certainly be the chef. Unfortunately for me, most people are New Yorkers, not chefs.

When I frequent a restaurant I order the same dish every time. The New Yorker cannot appreciate this. "Have you tried everything else on the menu? How do you know you will not like something more?" It is human nature to assume the worst when one does not understand his fellow man. I do not know all the rotten things the New York eater thinks of me when I refuse to order a different dish, but his face says enough. Often they are compelled to change me, even rescue me from this bland life I lead. A variety of tactics are used. Typically they restate their fundamental belief in the form of a question. "How do you know you won't like something else more?" I cannot take them seriously here because I know they do not try new things to discover the food they like most, but because they enjoy the thrill of the unknown. Some are more crafty in their approach: they offer me wisdom. "Once you have tried such and such you will increase in learning concerning what you enjoy." A noble attempt, but no. Other times they appeal to my pride. "You not man enough to try that?" Please. Occasionally I get the hypothetical situation plea. "What if one day you are in a foreign country and all that have to eat is..." This argument can be augmented with a missionary plug. "What if you're a missionary? You wouldn't want to offend the people." Suddenly I am on an island where all they serve is battered shrimp and banana cream pie and if only I would eat their food the entire tribe will convert. Forgive me if I'm not convinced.

Unlike the New Yorker I do not find it amusing to try new things, whether food or otherwise. I am broadly content wherever I am and could go the rest of my life only knowing the friends I know now, doing the things I do now and eating the foods I eat now. The New Yorker might jump down my throat and say, "well what about before you knew those people or did those things or ate those foods you presently enjoy." They might think they have me against the ropes here, but this is only because they cannot appreciate the sincerity of my contentment. Even before I knew the friends I love so dearly now I was perfectly content with the friends I had before and felt no inclination to branch out. Even before I had tried my now favorite foods I enjoyed my former favorites just as completely. I find no thrill in the unexpected, and I rarely mourn an "opportunity" lost if all it would mean is one more experience I can check off of my "list of things I have tried". Do I know what I am missing? No. Do I care. Not at all.

People who know me well will not be satisfied with this description of myself, however, not because they believe I want to meet new people or try new foods but because they know I am not content to keep doing these same things for the rest of my life. If they think that I would not be content to stay in school forever they are mistaken, but that is not they are thinking. They are right to believe that my life is aimed in a direction, by my own choice, that will lead somewhere I currently am not. It's true, I am not content to remain as I am either in character or occupation. Even still, I only maintain this continual pursuit under the most severe obligation. I often feel like Moses, or possibly Jonah (I like Moses better), because I would love to stay where I am but the task has been set before me and the rod is in my hand. While I actively participate in it, it is not my choice to chase after this change, it is forced on me from above. If all of life were as meaningless as the food we eat I would be content to never change a thing and live a quite life with my wife in peace forever. I fear this is not my destiny and so I wait in hopeful dread. Dread because I do not like change, hopeful because it is not my choice.

If the New Yorker wants me to try something new he must forget his New Yorker attitude because his delight in new things will never inspire me. The chef has a better approach. "I have fine tuned this dish to perfection over time and I believe it is ready." The dish is offered to me not as something new but something complete. I can appreciate food as art more than food as something unexplored. But do not think it will be so easy to convince me to try your "new creation" by mere semantics. If you are not a true chef I will not humor you. A casserole made with 7 types of processed meat is not art. I grew up in a family of New Yorkers and I know all their tricks. No, food does not taste better as a left-over, fresh vegetables do not taste the same as canned and yes I can taste the onions, raisins and olives you put in this, no matter how many times you tell me I can't. When I was a kid I thought the only vegetable I liked was corn. I later discovered that corn was the only thing I could tolerate canned. I have found I like almost all fruits and vegetables when they are fresh and ripe. There was a time I thought I didn't like meat because I was only offered cold lunch meats, and I thought I didn't like cheese because I was only offered American singles. In a house full of New Yorkers I got "you're picky" but in a room of chefs I hear "I don't blame you." I have yet to find a meat I don't like when prepared by a chef (someone who views food as art) and a local cheese (Tillamook) has become a regular at my table in various varieties. I have a special place in my heart for the chefs who confirmed the maxim I discovered when I was young, (Steve reminded me of this in an earlier comment) "Food is supposed to taste good". Thank you for opening my eyes, but, if its all the same to you, I would be much obliged if you do not ask me to open them any wider.

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  • Amira

    Well, you’ve tapped into what Paul said about being content in all circumstances. I envy you the ability. I am there now, more than, but it took a long time and maturity to get there.
    I follow the web blogs of some children who have cancer. If ever there was an antedote to self pity, those sites will do it.
    Having said which , Adam, a new food cooked by a trusted chef/ friend/ family member ought to be tried as their judgement in the past has proved to be sound. With the honoroble exception of asparagus eh??
    Amira

  • MOM

    Holy bolagna, Adam, I feel like you just told the whole world that all I ever fed you was American singles, canned veggies and prepared meat. Did you forget about Kraft macaroni and cheese, or your garbage can survivel kit. How about those chicken nuggets and french fries, and plain pizza!!!! I’m sure that if I told you that I had finally perfected the food that I worked so hard to make perfect for your sensitive palate that you would have eaten it. Yea…right. Well……..there’s one thing that you can be perfectly clear about my ever fussy son……..It’s that I’ll always love you no matter what you choose to eat.
    MOM:)