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A Matter of Taste: Unfamiliar Foods
In the James Bond movie “Octopussy”, Roger Moore, a.k.a., 007, is captured by the villain, an Afghan prince named Kamal Kahn. Seated at the dinner table with his evil host, James Bond is revolted by the stuffed sheep’s head glaring at him from his plate. In gastronomic horror he watches Kahn twist out one of the creature’s eyeballs and gloriously pop it into his eager mouth. Bond refuses to partake claiming he “loses his appetite when he’s stared at.”
The foods that people choose to eat or not to eat is an interesting subject of study. If humans developed in a vacuum, free of all external influences, we would probably consume what naturally appealed to us. There are underlying biological reasons, (biochemistry, genetics, taste bud anatomy, etc.), that create individual differences in taste preferences. If we were without our feelings we might choose our victuals much like Spock, the emotionless Vulcan of Star Trek: based purely on nutritive value. But we have not grown up in a vacuum nor are we passionless automatons.
We become accustomed to certain foods based on our life experiences. People have a natural reluctance toward foods and food combinations that are unfamiliar. My father loves veal cutlet and loves eggs, but place the eggs on the cutlet, (as in the classic German dish wiener schnitzel), and he recoils and makes a face. I make a delicious salad from mixed greens, asparagus, and potatoes topped by a green onion dressing. My mother, who likes potatoes, didn’t eat them, simply because she “never heard of putting potatoes in a salad.” Go to the Internet, put “salad with potatoes” in the search box, hit enter, and watch reality contradict her experience. But that’s not the point. It’s not objective reality that matters; it’s her reality that matters.
If my anti-potatoes-in-salad-mother grew up in Southeast Asia, she’d be eating fried rats and insects. But one needn’t traverse half way around the globe to encounter unusual foods. Growing up in northern NJ, my Italian friend’s father would bring home a goat at Christmas. He would eat numerous parts of the animal including the brains. I certainly have my own limits. I sautéed veal kidneys to perfection in cooking school but I refuse to eat an organ involved in an animal’s urinary process. I did however try the frog’s legs and yes they do taste a little like chicken. My mouth was saying “Hmmm, not bad”, but my brain was saying, “IT’S A FROG!” If kidneys or frogs legs had been a staple in my childhood, I probably would feel differently about consuming them.
During a trip to Montreal years ago I treated myself to a top notch French restaurant each day. I had wild boar, caribou, and ostrich and enjoyed them all. These delicacies are mildly adventurous at best. They were all reminiscent of tender beef loin and being an ardent carnivore, it wasn’t a great leap. I tried the escargot but my reaction was the same as the frog’s legs: tasted good but IT’S A SNAIL!
Some people avoid certain foods for religious reasons, their value system, or for health concerns. That’s understandable. But some also avoid certain foods purely out of misinformation. I’ve encountered individuals, who believe black pepper sticks to your appendix, eating peanuts after sundown causes stomachaches, fluids shouldn’t be consumed with meals, eating sugar causes diabetes, and schizophrenia is due to a vitamin deficiency. And then there’s the minority whose sanity needs to be questioned. One fanatical woman I knew was incensed about the “evils” of sugar. One day after her church services the local school teacher was handing out lollypops to the children. This woman actually ran through the parking lot snatching the candy from the children’s hands.
Avoiding certain foods because of your values or your health is one thing. But when foods are avoided simply due to a lack of experience, erroneous information, or mental aberrations, then we are placing arbitrary, irrational, or unnecessary limitations on the joys life has to offer. I am not recommending that you start frying grasshoppers, (as in Thailand and Mexico), consume mountain oysters, (steer testicles), or drink seal blood, (like the Eskimos). But I am hoping you will be open to analyzing and expanding your dietary gamut. I don’t think putting an egg on a veal cutlet, or eating potatoes in a salad is a radical course of action.
Expanding your culinary horizons provides three benefits:
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