Eat Everything!

Think about some of your favorite foods.  Now think about them in their natural state. Do you not wonder, “how the *expletive* did someone ever think to eat that?”  Avocados.  Mussels.  OYSTERS!!! Dragonfruit.  Chocolate or coffee (in their natural states)!

Do you know how sauerkraut was invented — nay — discovered? In Germany, in fucked-if-I-know what century, cabbage was held in big wooden barrels.  If after a certain amount of cabbage was neglected for a certain amount of time,  someone went to go check on it and found the stuff at the bottom was rotten… but at the same time tasted pretty good… and nobody died from eating it… (turns out that cabbage, with a little salt, a little weight on top and a little time, properly ferments into damned delicious sauerkraut).

Yes it’s true: fermentation — perhaps the most magical technique of all of our food-based magical techniques we are aware of (pickles, beer, cheese, tofu, salami, chocolate; the list is figuratively a mile long) — was discovered in many installments, by accident!!!  And the defining moment of an accidental discovery is that heroic individual, in that ultimately defining moment, who with no knowledge of the heroism or definitive nature of the moment just says, “fuck it. Why not?”, and takes a bite.  I understand the logical stretch I’m proposing here, but seriously, the only thing that might stand in your way of the next big edible discovery is your willingness to eat that thing no one else has eaten before you — only because you asked yourself rhetorically, “why not?”  I strongly believe that most people (especially mild to extreme picky eaters) have not yet tried their favorite food in the world.

The only thing standing between you and your absolute favorite food is your willingness to try the food that you don’t know you like yet.

Let’s take, for example, sweetbreads.

I know this elicits a very divided reaction.  Some people read “sweetbreads” and think “mmm… delicious.” Others think, “I think I know what that is, and no-fucking-thank you.” Others read that and think, “fuck yeah: I love donuts!”

For the record, sweetbreads refer to a gland either at the base of the brain or in the upper digestive tract of (most commonly) a calf. But it can also come from a pig or lamb.  Depending on the preparation, sweetbreads can range from “eh” to “that might be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

Most people are turned off of the idea of a certain food before it’s even put in front of them, merely at the proposition.  That’s why, when I’m with a friend (or fiance as it turns out :)) who I think might turn up their nose at the suggestion of a particular dish, I prefer to just have such a dish put in front of them, whereupon I emphatically suggest, “first take a bite, tell me what you think about it, then I’ll tell you what it is.” For the record, my fiance knows this about me and insists it’s one of the reasons she’s marrying me.

Is this manipulative? Probably.

Is the way food is marketed to the general public the biggest perpetrator of manipulation in our society? Oh, almost certainly.

So, do I feel bad about tricking my friends and those in close proximity to me, into trying foods I know they’ll love? Absolutely not.  In the grand scheme of things, I’m the Daddy Warbucks of food exposure, whereas Hormel and Kraft are the Mr. Bumble (Dickens, C.  copyright 1800yougethepicture, You Want MORE!!!??? publishing).  I’m just trying to offer a bright and fortunate future for those willing to refuse being put in a corner, and to eat whatever they want to eat!

“What’s that? Water buffalo tartare over an espuma of veal bone marrow and sheep’s milk cheese?” Seriously, they’re testing that out at my kitchen, and I’d knock over a nun just to see how it tastes.

Now, I understand we were all brought up in different circumstances.  I’m no different: I didn’t taste real (non-turkey) bacon until my early twenties.  Think about how you’d feel for me if I said, “turkey bacon has always been okay.  I don’t feel the need to try anything else, and I’d appreciate it if you stopped trying to make me try regular bacon.  Pigs are gross.”  Yes, objectively, pigs are gross, but wouldn’t you feel sorry for the things I wasn’t letting myself experience?

If it can be eaten (and you’re pretty sure it’s not poisonous), put it in your mouth and give it a shot.   At which point, you’ve now earned the right to say that you don’t like something.  As a person who has decided to dedicate their professional life (and much of their personal one too) to making sure the things people put into their mouths feel it was worth it every time, I put an incredible amount of time and effort into something I put in front of you. So when you to say, “oh, thank you, but I actually don’t care for shellfish…” Do you really think that bullshit excuse for the food that had been put in front of you in the form of “shellfish” gives you grounds to presuppose things about what I am cooking for you?!?!

Shut up, sit down, and pretend you’ve never had whatever you think “shellfish” is, and once you realize you actually love shellfish, stop on by and say thank you. I’ll not only appreciate it, but so will every person who ever cooks for you again.

This leads me (so calmly, I might add) into the next topic…

You  don’t get to formulate an opinion on something you’ve never tried.

You don’t get to feel strongly about how you like your steak cooked because you’ve only ever had it cooked one way.  Think about it, if you’ve only ever had your red meat cooked medium-well, and insist that that’s just how you like it because that’s the only way you’ve ever had it cooked, then I suggest you scroll back up and start again from the beginning.

You don’t have the right to say you like one thing more than another if you’ve only ever tried one of the two.  If you want to say that you know what you like and you don’t care to try anything else, that’s different and I wish you the best of luck living your life under the rock you’ve apparently carved out for yourself in which to reside.

Escargot is my favorite in this context. For those who don’t know, escargot is snails.  I know, the American wiping the Arby’s off their mouth is saying, “fucking gross” (I’ll let the irony sink in for the rest of you).  Whereas the otherwise sheltered, but cosmopolitan American says, “ummmmmm…I think I’ll try something else.”

The irony of that statement should not go unnoticed either.  In the “I think I’ll try something else,” fallback, you actually mean the opposite: you’ll try the “something else” in lieu of the fact that you’ve never actually tried escargot at all. Dare I say, because your brain already thinks it knows how it tastes.

Going back to bacon (as we always should, am I right!?…..)

It’s amazing to me how the eyes of anyone who’s ever had bacon light up when the mere mention of the word occurs.  Yet (I’d guess) close to two thirds of those same people would get a just-smelled-vinegar look on their face if you mentioned pork belly.

Here’s what people like me who cook for a living find fun: if you take the belly meat of a pig, cure it with some sort of combination of salt, sugar and other spices and seasonings, smoke it, thin-slice it and cook those slices whichever way you’d prefer, you’d find yourself with bacon made from scratch.

The point is, all food is about context of two things: your perception and the final result.  Making a judgement about any piece of food before knowing anything about both of those two things is about as irresponsible as eating gets.  Not to mention you’re potentially robbing yourself of having ever tasted bacon, just because your perception of eating pork belly “sounds gross!”

The best food in the world has come to be as a direct result of experimentation.  Unless you are a raw-vegan, you are an inescapable victim to this generalization.

Champagne was discovered by accident.

Lobsters are genetically all but identical to a “sea roach.”

Foie gras was originally thought of as peasant food.

In order to figure out that oysters were something to try and get down on, people had to watch birds pick them up and drop them from high altitudes onto rocks to break them open — otherwise, we’d still be writing them off as rocks themselves.

Do you see the pattern here? The most decadent delicacies in the world came to light by people taking a chance.  Every time you turn your nose up at something that doesn’t “sound that good,” you’re depriving yourself of what might be the best thing you will have never tasted…or discovered, for that matter, for the rest of us who’d happily give it a try.

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