Contemplation: Food, You Can Eat Any of It

Eliza had made mention and passed along to me an old article (like 1996 old, which is old in the sense that Slate has only been around since then) by Jeffrey Steingarten titled “The Ominivore: Learning to Eat Everything.”  The article discusses precisely what is said in the title, the pursuit of learning to like eating everything.  It is a wonderful piece about food and the way in which we choose that which we do or do not like to eat.  Obviously there are some cases (such as severe allergies) which can restrict what precisely we can consume as food, but the basic premise of Mr. Steingarten’s article is that humans, being incredibly adaptable omnivores, are more than capable of eating anything that can be fixed up (assuming it is not poisonous) and actually learning to enjoy it.

This concept, of being able to overcome disliked food, does not really surprise me because I have myself overcome the dislike of several different foods throughout my life.  As I child I went for a long period disliking pizza and lasagna, both of which I now count (especially pizza) as favorite foods.  In more recent history I have found that I greatly enjoy both mushrooms (of any edible kind really) or eggplants, both of which I had previously held strong disliking opinions about.  Both mushrooms and eggplants are now almost staples in my kitchen.  I didn’t always care much for spicy food and nowadays can hardly get enough of it (though last night I ate the hottest bit of jalapeno I think I have ever encountered and was pretty much at the point of dry-heaving.  It was really quite absurdly powerful).  In fact, at my current point in life the only thing that I can really pin point as a disliked foodstuff is orange juice (and a relative dislike of most things orange flavored) but I truly believe I could teach myself to get over this dislike following Mr. Steingarten’s proposed approach.

Does this mean I lack favorite foods?  Not really, I think shrimp will always be highly prefered over many other things.  Likewise, an opportunity to have even a little bit of chocolate will never be passed up.  What it does mean, I think, however, is that I am quite capable of eating whatever there is to eat, wherever I might be, and as a whole enjoying the eating of it.

Now one might be tempted to refute Mr. Steingarten and me by saying, “Cool point, I still don’t like A, B, or C so why should I care in any way about learning to like them?”  Simply put I would respond by saying it is truly your choice, nothing I say or do can necessarily convince you to try something else out or to find yourself liking.  That being said though, I would beg a moments more time of consideration from you and it goes something like this.

Try thinking of food as art (which when you consider the way some chefs have mastery over cooking this is not a far stretch in the least).  Different flavor combinations or meal types could very easily be put on the same level of various music genres or painting styles.  Now there is, as I have affirmed above, nothing that can really make one like or dislike specific pieces of art, but I insist that the approach to artistic preference is solely a subjective one.  Certain pieces of art have been risen on pedal stools of mastery, primarily in part to a large, and long-lasting, general consensus of greatness, but even they can receive their share of scorn.  And even songs that might prove a failing to most ears have the potential to find someone who enjoys them.  The point is that it all comes down to preference and subjective taste (yet another food thing).

My approach, not just in food, but also to visual arts, music, literature, etc. is to find a broader realm of appreciation.  I think holding preferences is certainly beneficial because it allows us to distinguish our direction in moments that decisions need to be made, but taking firm stances of dislike (or that something is the ultimate pinnacle of creation to which nothing else can aspire) actually is inhibiting to us.  It is inhibiting in that eventually we are bound to encounter somebody who holds a view, opinion, taste, or so forth, differing from our own.  When these encounters occur we are then faced with a conundrum of sorts (some people may not think of it as a conundrum).  The conundrum is that we basically have three real choices which are 1) we attempt to change the other’s opinion, taste, etc. to match our own in that ours is superior or 2) the other convinces us to relinquish our own opinion, taste, etc. to that of theirs or 3) only disagreement occurs (whether it be agreeing to disagree or an argument on every encounter).  To me this seems silly.  If we instead expand our horizons of opinions, tastes, etc. to, if not fully prefering, at least appreciate the vast varieties available to us, then we are able to more fully approach positive interactivity with other people.  Sure we might still have that favorite cheese, or just really love British Ska music, but if we do not limit ourself to just our preferences, and open up our minds to our perceived dislikes, then I think that we might progress through life more pleasantly.

Of course eating food, like sex, serves a very specific function, that being to provide our bodies with sustenance to continue living (fyi, those of you not in the know, sex is about the baby making ).  But also like sex, eating is an extremely pleasurable experience.  That being said I think it is worth finding ways to enjoy the full spectrum of foods made and eaten.  If others can do it we can do it too.  Give it a try, you might find yourself very surprised.

I for one intend to give orange juice another shot.  I suspect it will be hard at first, but perhaps with a little effort I will make it so that it is nearly impossible to find a food I dislike (if one does come up after overcoming my dislike of orange juice I will aim to over come it too).

~ by Nathaniel on December 16, 2009.

2 Responses to “Contemplation: Food, You Can Eat Any of It”

  1. And the sassy black woman from sitcoms and commercials says, “thank you”

    Orange juice is the cure of all illnesses and I’m glad you’re jumping back into the lovely orange and pulpy pool.

    For more of my thoughts on this subject read my overly long comment on RateBeer

    • I suspect it might be slow going at best, and I may never achieve that point where I actively pursue the stuff, but my hope is to get over my general gag reflex which is how I cope with it at present.

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