If you only knew me growing up or even up until the last couple years or so, what I’m about to write will come as quite a shock.
I love food. I am a foodie.
Growing up in the Midwest, my food choices were rather limited and we tended to eat meat and potatoes and while many people use that term generally, I mean it literally: we ate meat…and potatoes. But that’s not it; there were other options, I just wanted nothing to do with them. I was picky; ridiculously so. The joke was always that I ate chicken fingers (no sauce), cheese pizza and hot dogs. Eating out was an exercise in finding places that offered those items in a predictable way with french fries or bread and nothing could touch on the plate.
All through college my diet was classic Midwest with very little variance from the mid-line of American food, occasionally straying to Europe for some exotic Italian food (please laugh) or south of the border for some Mexican and across the Pacific for some Chinese food but only what amounted to chicken fingers with a simple, sweet or tasty sauce (read: sweet and sour chicken, sauce on the side). Seafood? Please; if you don’t walk on land, you’re safe. Sushi? Are you kidding me; people eat raw fish and they LIVE?? No, this cowboy was still pretty set on chicken, the occasional steak (not hamburger, I didn’t touch ground beef until probably 2003…no joke) and cheese pizza.
Fast forward to 2001. Boy goes to work, boy goes into bathroom and passes out for reasons unknown, boy wakes up with paramedics kneeling around him telling him not to move as boy realizes there’s blood pooling on the floor behind his head. (I was that boy…in case…you didn’t pick up….on……nevermind, you get it). Apparently, when you fall like a tree and your skull hits a concrete floor there’s an elevated chance of severing your olfactory nerve which results in a loss of your sense of smell. The kids @ Wikipedia are calling this Anosmia, if you were so inclined to read about it. Not sure if you know this, but like 90% of taste comes from smell (no sources were cited or researched…just roll with it). Plug your nose and eat something; that’s me. This has an obvious effect on one’s ability to eat, both positive and negative, and enjoy the taste of food and what I realized since I wasn’t able to really taste anything was it’s a great time to start trying new things.
Fast forward to current day. I eat everything. I mean, there’s not a lot I won’t try once because why not? What’s happened is I’ve learned how to taste again but in a very different way than you do. Since I still can’t really smell anything, I rely heavily on the basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami. Combine that with a mouthfeel that’s off the charts sensitive and while I can’t pick up subtle nuances of flavors quite as well, I’m an incredible judge of quality food and can taste things remarkably well.
But a great deal of this food renaissance has nothing to do with the fact that you could be sitting next to me, un-showered for days and I’d have no clue (try it some time, it’s makes for a great laugh). No, it has more to do with discovering who I am and making the changes I wanted to make, maybe all along. I love food because it’s tasty, yes, but I more enjoy food because I see it as an art; a physical manifestation of someone’s vision, their love, their talent for creating and I devour it. Literally. It’s also the best way I’ve found to be with people, sharing smiles, laughter, emotions, stories, all while nourishing your body. Funny thing with food is there are studies that have shown your opinion of food and how it tastes is based hugely on everything BUT the actual taste of the food. Have a bad date at some fancy steakhouse? That $50 steak probably tasted like shit. Have a great date at some dive bar? Those jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks probably tasted better than some hack dish Eric Ripert would pit against your beloved fried food. Some of the food I’d argue is the best I’ve had recently was probably very good food (nothing earth shattering) but it was the atmosphere, the people I ate with, the conversation that made that dish something I can still taste when I close my eyes and smile.
There are still things I just don’t care for or don’t play nicely with the eff’d up way I taste and some things I still prefer plain, but I’ll admit that some of that is nostalgia. I still love cheese pizza. I eat hot dogs with just the bun, no condiments. I have quirky food combinations I lust over. But, I also have a voracious appetite for sushi, crab, ethnic foods; anything but chicken fingers without sauce and if you would have told me 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, for that matter, that I would be clamoring for the fried heads of shrimp at a sushi bar I’m not sure a person in my life would have passed on taking that bet and laughing their ass off at you.
Yes, I’ve come full circle and embraced the discovery and transformation from food simpleton to food lover and I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. Maybe it’s because I was younger and being so used to plain foods meant
some most other foods tasted gross or the texture of the food was offsetting, or because the people I was with were not willing to take chances on new foods and the excitement of taking the plunge was quashed so I resorted to the same old food habits I forged years ago. But most likely, it’s because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to truly put myself out there and take the plunge and embrace the change that I yearned for deep inside. Well, I made that change and I left the safe harbors of chicken and hot dogs and am really excited for things on the horizon I once never knew existed. In that respect, I guess I consider myself an explorer of this new culinary landscape; a Christopher Columbus with fork and knife in hand. And no sense of smell; don’t forget that part.