Photo Credit: jackmalvern
Food spoiler alert.
Everyday, more and more of our food bliss is being destroyed. Recently, I re-posted “14 Things You Really Don’t Want To Know About Your Groceries” on my Facebook wall. One of my friends, his love of bacon so great, refused to read the article. Another admitted to no surprise when reading of the weirdo crap our food goes through before it hits the grocery. After some creative thought concerning point no. 13—our “bacon” gets hung in a carwash closet thing to be sprayed with bacon-tasting liquid smoke—she wondered aloud about how even the food industry has limits.
“But then why is it, if they can make ‘bacon’ taste like ‘bacon,’ why can’t they make broccoli taste like ‘bacon?’ Because they’re cruel whores?”
Dole? Proctor and Gamble? General Mills? General Foods? All cruel whores.
Another food darling killed happened to me last Christmas. I was home for the holidays. This meant that as many times as I could, I’d stop by my favorite coffee shop in the entire world, Coffea. During one of the stops in, I snatched up a pound or two of whole bean coffee. To my surprise, this also meant I also got a complimentary cup of coffee. How great is that?! I don’t remember what I selected, but when I did, the lovely barista smiled and said, “Good! That just won” something or rather. I was elated, of course. She handed me the brew, steam curling through the air. I inhaled, took a sip, moaned and then reached for the cream.
“Are you sure you want to do that? [Blah, blah, blah] is a very acidic coffee, and cream isn’t recommended.”
Waaa? I thought. I started to sweat. A courtesy smile—for myself—flew across my face. “No, that’s okay. I like to live dangerously,” I said, or some crap attempt at humor, wit and nonplussed whathaveyou. But inside, I felt true shock. As some would say, I had a cheerio for myself. Too much acid for my beloved cream?
After all these years of drinking coffee, after all the cupping (for those who might not know and are dirty, cupping is the name for coffee tasting. Dirty birds), all the articles and books I’ve read, even all the conversations I’ve had with roasters, I’ve never felt such shame. This is mostly because as much as I’ve evolved as an eater and a drinker, I have carefully maintained this place of cream in my coffee. This coming from someone who will even drink coffee from a feakin’ wine glass. Yup. I do this from time to time so I can train my schnoz, especially when I open a new bag of coffee. Raw sugar, berries, dark chocolate versus milk, red pepper, pine, citrus? These things make their way to the descriptions. How can I not nose up with a wine glass?
This was a true epiphany, a doorknob moment that psychologists explain as when their patient, just as they’re turning the doorknob to leave the room, turn around and express some sort of breakthrough thought. Walking back now to the counter, I interrupted the lovely barista and thanked her for her suggestion. I told her that I write about food for a magazine and that I used to have a large staff of folks I used to train to do exactly the thing she pointed out: to be mindful of how food and drink should best be consumed and like Gandalf to Balrog (but in a much sweeter way) convey a “You shall not pass!” suggestion when so moved or when it feels right.
By this time, the barista looked a little pale. I realized I, indeed, was freaking her out. Before leaving, I made things even more awkward and said I should write an article about this. Months have passed, I’m still going to town with the cream in the coffee, but things have changed.
For anyone who considers themselves a foodie or food lover or whatever you want to call yourself, like cairns on a road marking a landmark, there are moments you recall as foundational. Kaisan soup did this for my bff.
“For at least ten years, I was vegetarian. I had dreams about it. So big! So much food, so much heat. First time I had the fusiony-flavor of tobasco sauce and miso broth—just extraordinary.”
Because my mother is a perpetual motion machine for quotes, I asked her about her foodie moments. This is what happened:
“Do you think that the skin tag remover stuff on tv really works?”
Sometimes, it takes my mother for-ev-ur to answer a question. Most of those times, she just doesn’t say anything. I’ve learned on the phone to not even question if the call was dropped. For a couple years now—and this is both brilliant and courteous—she’ll abruptly ask a question or sidestep the conversation for a moment to give herself time to process. As abruptly as she left the food conversation, she left the fascinating skin tag conversation, all non sequitur-like.
“And food? Food is so emotional to me.”
“What do you mean?” asks moi.
“I mean, like the Peanut Butter Cup Perfection? You can’t get any better than that. There’s nothing else out there that can give me that feeling. And yet, uh, bread pudding? If I had to eat that, I’d just— I don’t know. That gives me bad memories.”
“What else?” asks me again.
“Of course, there are those foods that you get sick from, and even the smell—But I don’t think I ever had that with food, just whiskey.”
Food-centric moments like this are rare but Herculean in their influence. The tectonic plates of existence shift or are influenced forever on after one of these moments. My curdled-cream sullying the pristine cup of coffee (the cream didn’t actually curdle) was different from one of these, and this isn’t because it involved me being ashamed. Much of my life involves shame and awkwardness. That’s nothing new. No, this was different because it involved me, of my own volition, letting go of something that I suspected as not being truly as good as I thought it was. I guess I liken it to that weird hardening off that needs to happen because you can drink Scotch neat or sip Tequila. You have to learn to inhale and exhale at the right time. You also have to develop something in the grey matter to make sense of that wallop of sensation.
This is also similar to the time I tried to like the taste of durian, a fruit so stinky it’s banned from eating in public in some countries.
This will be something different. Nothing like quitting smoking but more threatening that easing off on carbs. No, actually, it might be as threatening. Just thinking about it makes me prickle a little. But I think I’m ready to kill my little food darling.