……………this is dedicated to Yuliza!
There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.
Linus from Charles M Schultz’s Peanuts
As a child of the 1960’s, certain guidelines of etiquette were impressed upon me by parents and teachers alike. The precept that stood out most prominently over time was never to discuss religion or politics in polite company. I have repeatedly seen the wisdom of this teaching over the years. I have observed many a holiday dinner or cocktail party turn south when discussions of either took over. Drinks and dogma oftentimes prove a recipe for disaster. Two or three daiquiris in—and diplomacy is a thing of the distant past.
I feel an increasing urge to revamp this tenet by adding food to the list. Linus was right! Heated discussions over food (or the Great Pumpkin) seem to me to have become territory as dangerous as religion and politics in recent history. Foodies appear to have split into opposing factions as fervent and diametrically opposed as political parties and warring religious factions.
I feel the need to proclaim from the get-go that I take the medical issues resulting from food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances very seriously. I know anaphylactic shock can be deadly. I have watched friends with celiac disease experience severe suffering after accidentally ingesting wheat products hidden in their food. I have baked many a flourless cake, gluten-free pizza crust, and meatless chili for friends. I have done so out of care for their physical health and out of respect for their personal preferences and life-style choices.
So, in order to be clear – – I am not addressing medical needs when I suggest adding food to the list of things people can no longer peacefully debate. Rather than examine food sensitivities and intolerances from a medical model, I would like to consider them from a social model. Lack of sensitivity and intolerance has become a social disorder as well.
Acquaintances whose religious beliefs differ from mine have enlightened me that I am destined for hell. Friends who align themselves with the other political party have informed me that I must vote as I do out of stupidity and lack of education on the topic. To add insult to injury, a friend has recently informed me that my death is imminent because I choose to consume entire food groups banned from his repertoire. So fervent is this individual that I fully expect to walk into a culinary intervention some day soon. I live in fear I might be kidnapped and deprogrammed because I spend copious amounts of time at the altar of an oven baking the great and evil demon – – bread. Clearly I have been processed by gluten and the need for the food clergy to arrive and perform an exorcism of the endosperm is in order.
At what point did it become socially acceptable to be rude about food? As a child my parents entertained on a frequent basis. If guests at dinner parties didn’t hanker after a food – – they skipped it and moved on to something they did like. They didn’t seek to register a complaint with my mother. Some – – and here is a novel concept in this day and age – – even gave the offending victual a taste because my mother had spent the precious resources of her time, energy, money, and love preparing it for them.
At what point did we add food to the list of things we found acceptable to proselytize about? I do not wish to be harangued at the dinner table. I don’t want movie stars telling me how to eat. They are actors, not nutritionists. I rely on them for entertainment – – not advise. I do not appreciate being condescended to because I do not share in the food beliefs of friends. Yes, I know what gluten is. I bake bread professionally. I have read many a scientific study on the topic and would be willing to bet my opinions on the topic are just as strong. The difference is – – I do not think I have the right to belittle others because my opinion differs from theirs. It is so insulting to tell another that they are unenlightened, unlearned, or uniformed when they have done their due diligence yet reached a differing conclusion. Never mind my low cholesterol, healthy skin, bones, teeth, and low blood pressure. No argument can be entered into, considered objectively for or against, or brought to the table for open discussion when verbal bullying is at play.
Dating has become such dangerous territory in this culinary climate. It is pure black comedy. A few years back I went on a date that almost ended in my climbing under the table and curling into the fetal position to suck my thumb. The gentleman courting me enetered into a four-hour treatise on the evils of lactose when I ordered a dish containing cheese. When I would not relent to his point of view he commenced pounding the table and screaming. No other species on the planet consumes milk after infancy. This proves how unhealthy and unnatural it is, he bellowed. Tell that to my cat. My head is full! I retorted and retired for the evening. So pissed off was I – – my kitty made out like gangbusters that evening. He deemed it the best date we ever had as we gorged ourselves on all the remaining lactose laden products in the house.
Speaking of cheese…its power to offend knows no bounds and astounds. I have a friend who is simply magnificent. She is beautiful, brilliant, talented, funny, kind, compassionate, adventuresome, curious, and pure pleasure to be around. She has a sophisticated palette, an open mind, and an infectious sense of curiosity that render her a joy to have over for dinner or to go out and shop or dine with. She has recounted countless culinary horror stories in the realm of dating. Over time a theme began to emerge. Every time a date or relationship ended badly she would come to me and say through chokes and sobs I should have known it wouldn’t work. He didn’t like cheese! Who in the hell doesn’t like cheese? Self-professed cheese fanatics, we concurred. We have always joked that her dating profile should sport the title… Must Love Cheese!
As funny as these tales are, they point to greater truths worthy of deep reflection. Food is causing rifts between people. With the current climate of intolerance and insensitivity it has become increasingly impossible to enjoy food with people who are not like-minded. Who wants to date or- – worse yet – – marry someone who terrorizes them over food? Travel is increasingly less fun when food choices and adventures cannot be shared, partaken of and enjoyed. Entertaining a cross section of friends becomes a veritable nightmare. What can you serve that will be palatable to your paleo friends, vegan co-workers, lactose intolerant aunt, barbecue loving boyfriend, vegetarian brother, anti-gluten boss, and breathartarian buddy? It sounds like a set-up for a joke. But it is serious business.
Food is so much more than just physical nourishment… it provides emotional nourishment as well. Many of the happiest moments in my life have taken place in the kitchen cooking, or around the dining room table sharing with friends and family. Sadly, I have found this occurs with increasing infrequency. I do not find it emotionally nourishing to be bludgeoned to death with food sermons whilst I eat. I have segregated myself from those with differing food ideologies in response to being segregated by them — so I can enjoy my meals in peace. I now seem to need to ferret out a tribe of like-minded people to peacefully break bread with in private. I have had to take my meat eating, gluten-filled, lactose loving ways underground in order to peacefully partake of what I choose to consume – – sans criticism. To receive an invitation to my house for dinner these days – – you simply must love cheese!