Thursday, March 1, 2012

Everything Learned Can Be Unlearned

As previously stated, I've been making an effort to incorporate new foods into my diet for the past 10 years, with great success. However, until very recently, I thought I had gone as far as I could go. I mean, EVERYONE has foods they simply don't like, right? It isn't a character flaw to prefer not to eat mole or tirimisu. Then I heard about Jeffrey Steingarten, author of "The Man Who Ate Everything" and I began to wonder if all of my food aversions were a product of my own imagination.

Steingarten was hired to be the food critic for Vogue, but he realized he had numerous "food phobias" as he calls them, and feared they would keep him from being objective in his job, as if he were, "An art critic who detests the color yellow." He made a laundry list of all foods he disliked, and pledged to eat at least one food he hated every day. His theory was that food preferences are 100% learned, and that what is learned can be unlearned.... in his case, by repeated exposure. In 6 months, he was able to rid himself of ALL of his former "food phobias" including kimchi, dill, swordfish, anchovies, desserts in Indian restaurants, miso, mocha, chutney, falafel, Greek food, clams, cranberries, kidneys, okra, millet, coffee ice cream, refried beans and yogurt.

We acquire most of our food preferences in childhood, right from the start. Babies who are breast fed will have an easier time later in life accepting new and different flavors than babies given formula, as a variety of flavors color the mother's milk, preparing the child for the culinary delight that await her. Also, most parents give up on new foods if their baby rejects them after 2 or 3 attempts, which is the root cause of little fussy eaters who grow up into picky adults. You get peas spat on you 3 times, and you figure, "OK, she just doesn't like peas!" However, scientists have shown that most babies will accept nearly any food after 8 or 10 tries. The moral here, clearly, is keep it up, parents! You are the most important factor in setting up your child for a lifetime of culinary happiness!

I should note that I did NOT read Steingarten's whole book. I gathered all of the information I was looking for in the introduction, and while I really admire his tenacity and ability to embrace new foods, he said something that annoyed me to my core. "The more I contemplated food phobias, the more I became convinced that people who habitually avoid certifiably delicious foods are at least as troubled as people who avoid sex, or take no pleasure in it, except that the latter will probably seek psychiatric help, while food phobics rationalize their problem in the name of genetic inheritance, allergy, vegetarianism, matters of taste, nutrition, food safety, obesity or a sensitive nature."

Generally, I do kind of agree with his sentiment. People make all kinds of excuses for not eating certain foods, myself very much included. But obviously, I take issue with him throwing vegetarians under the bus like that! For me, and I would say for at least 90% of other vegetarians or vegans, we embrace it to follow a moral code, not because we are afraid of food. It is based on ethics, and if he is going to include vegetarians in the list of crazy people with unreasonable food restrictions, he's a hypocrite not to also put Jews and Muslims on that list! If you respect someone's belief that God told them not to eat pigs, why not respect my belief that killing of animals for food is cruel and unnecessary?

Regardless, a very interesting concept, and a new way of looking at things! I thank Mr. Steingarten for the inspiration to give this experiment a try. But as for the rest of his book.... well, Mr. Perfect Omnivore is going to have to go traipsing all over the globe, eating assholes and innards, sauteed in the fat of ducks and deer, without me. ;-)

No comments:

Post a Comment