Last night I began reading The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. I’ve already read his second book, because it was available at the library one day, and he’s already my food writing idol. The introduction to his first book covers the various food phobias he had when he began as Vogue’s food critic in 1989, I believe. Bugs, anchovies, Greek food, okra, etc. He writes about why he has them and how he got rid of them.
Jeffrey talks about food issues all the time, and about the importance of becoming a “perfect omnivore.” He says human beings are unique in that they are prepared to eat anything, except for a very small percentage of people who are truly allergic to something like wheat or lactose or nuts. Naturally, this has led me to spend many hours contemplating my own food issues.
As a child, I wouldn’t eat anything except plain hamburgers, meatloaf, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. Really. I mean, I would eat what my mom made, but I frequently hated it. She loved to torture me with quiche and zucchini, two foods that I now crave as an adult. I loved ketchup but hated all other condiments (I still love ketchup, but I like mustard too).
Most of things I couldn’t stand are now regulars in my diet, and for the most part, I’m willing to eat anything. However, there are a few things that still repulse me, or that I just do not ever want to eat:
- Olives. I like olive oil, but I don’t like raw or cooked or pulverized olives. I feel like a bad gay man, especially when I see Uncle Teddy nibbling on them like some dainty queen. I don’t like tapenade, and I take a twist in my martinis.
- Anchovies. This one I share with Jeffrey. I recently began eating a bruschetta with anchovies at work, and I promptly threw it away. Sabena told me to buy anchovy paste and to use it in sauces, that this is a great trick of New York chefs. I bought the anchovy paste but it remains unopened.
- Calf’s liver. This is a new one, because I just ate my first slice of calf’s liver last week. I was so excited when my favorite student brought me a heaping plate of liver and onions, but I am still haunted by the taste memory. It was horrifying. It was like biting into wet garbage. I enjoy goose liver, but this was too rich. The preparation was beautiful, but it was the organ itself that was almost the end of me. I immediately ate a bunch of chocolate and candy to erase the taste, but a week later it still creeps up on me from time to time
- Clams. I used to be afraid of mussels too, but now I like them. But I find clams completely unappealing. Oysters too, to some degree, although I’m curious to eat one, because I never have. I do like clam sauce, though, so how far off can a whole clam be?
- Figs and dates. They’re too sweet, and I don’t like them. I’d sooner eat candy.
That leads me to wonder about the difference between food phobias and food dislikes. Am I scared of dates, or do I just not like them? I know, for example, that I don’t like fruit and chocolate mixed together, even though I love fruit and I like chocolate.
Anyway, I know that I am scared of olives, anchovies, and liver, and I don’t know what to do about it. Jeffrey says that exposure is the only way. Eat an olive every day for a while, etc. We’ll have olives at the party this weekend, so maybe I’ll get drunk and eat one.
Do any of you have food issues that you’ve either conquered or not? I’d love to hear about them.