II. So I’ve been reading two books this summer that my mother recommended, A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright and The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. And it lead me to think about how we view food, and food coupled with drink. Myself, I am a slave to pastas of every variety and the blue and yellow of a DeCecco box are enough to make me swoon, but what about everybody else? My 4 months abroad in Italy gave me a chance to make some lifelong friends and alter some of my perceptions while strengthening others. Everyone had different tastes, many of which I found amusing. My dearest roommate, a Persian pescatarian who didn’t cook, relied heavily on Buitoni pre-made pizzas, gelato from Chocolat (I am happily, equally as guilty) EXY — the local vegetarian take-away store — and hard boiled eggs.
She is not a fan of cooking but she is a lover of food and would eat anything I put down in front of her never shying away, even when I brought out the Srichacha chili sauce. Her pescatarian ways also challenged me to produce meatless meals and remold my brain from its strong convictions that a meal isn’t a meal without some meat. It was a running joke when she would catch me hunched over my computer for hours looking up recipes for our next dinner party or sniffing out the new Italian microbreweries/brewpubs around Milan. There were still others in our friend group who would order plain cheese pizzas, something I’ve never understood, and a Becks. However, when sat at our kitchen table they too ate what was in front of them and enjoyed it.
Back in the states, I had an illuminating conversation with a dear friend of mine who is also an avid cook and a lover of good beer. We had a discussion about how we were raised when it came to food and drink. Her family rule was no matter what you were served you were expected to eat. In fact, she and her siblings would become the catalyst for other families’ picky children to try new foods when faced with the attention-creating prowess of their eating habits. This too was how I was raised and we both benefitted from parents who could cook, who were adventurous in travel and diet and with the money to do so. Is the blame or the responsibility for “good eating” shouldered solely by the parents as Willy Wonka would say ? Are we faced with a combination of good parenting and personal choice or are some people naturally inclined towards, as Visser would say, neophilia – the pursuit of the new?
We also talked about the idea of the “food pusher”, or one who forces food upon one’s guests consent given or not. She places herself in the more aggressive streak of food pushers whereas I find myself in a more insidious position: if I invite people to dinner, I place all the food on the table equally in front of everyone and food in the middle to be eaten by hand. The arrangement uses unseen peer pressure as the trigger for the others who lag behind. For example, if everyone is eating fettunta and you are the only one not, you feel kind of stupid and HUNGRY when everyone else is making those lovely yummy sounds and wolfing down the few pieces left.
From a personal stand point, I have never been afraid to try new foods and actively crave the seeking and eating of these new morsels. A pivotal book in my high school years, was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: the one line of advice I took away from the book was to never order something I’d had before. Even in my baby diary my mother wrote (besides, “she cries when is told No.”) that my new favorite food was mulligatawny soup. I have the same craving when it comes to craft and microbrews. The emotions I feel when confronted by a wall of pasta are much the same when I step into a beer store for the very first time. I’ve been compared to a kid in a candy store when I shop for beer: in the beginning, I had no control and could spend $100 on beer, oops! My drive for the new usually means I try a beer and move on to the next, so that drinking a beer I’ve already had feels counterproductive — like I’m wasting my time on a beer I know, when I should be plowing through to discovering unknown breweries. However, this urge too I have learned to control and recognize the benefits of coming back to some beer to dig a bit deeper and create a better understanding of it.