Acquired Tastes

By Rachel Sircy

Normally, I write blog posts that are meant to be instructive and helpful – hopefully someone has found them helpful. And for this post I was going to write about an article I’d read recently about things in your home that you should buy organic other than food – the list includes everything from cotton swabs to couch cushions. Apparently, we live in an incredibly toxic world. However, I decided against it, not only because that article seemed a bit far-fetched to me, but also because I’ve been thinking about something random and strange lately, and I just thought I’d share. Do you ever notice how people change over time? Like, when you go back to a high school reunion and they tell you that so-and-so just married what’s-his-face, and you stare for a second before you manage to ask, “Didn’t they hate each other in school?” People are full of surprises and the funny thing is that sometimes the people who surprise us the most by the way that they change are the ones that we know best.

Take my husband and me. Before we were married, my friends and I used to refer to my husband as the human garbage disposal. Not the nicest name, I know, but we were referring to the fact that he would eat anything that was put in front of him. My friend Shannon and I in particular loved this about him because when we were all in college together (before my husband and I were even dating), if Shannon or I ordered something at a restaurant that we didn’t like, we could always feed it to Elisha. (Elisha is my husband’s name. It’s pronounced sort of like Elijah. Don’t call him anything that sounds like Alicia. He hates that.) In those days, the only thing that Elisha positively would not eat was mayonnaise. This thing with mayonnaise began when he got a stomach bug as a child and the last thing he remembered before barfing his guts up was eating was a submarine sandwich with extra mayo on it. You know how those things go. The last thing that you eat before you get sick becomes the food you can’t stand to even talk about. Well, some people get over those aversions given time, but my husband has gone in the opposite direction. Not only will he still not eat mayonnaise, he now will not eat sour cream, ricotta cheese or pretty much any food that is both soft and white. He doesn’t even like white icing. In fact, he told me recently that his culinary tastes are narrowing. Things that he used to enjoy like curry, tea, etc., are now things that he just can’t stand to eat or drink. And he informed me just last weekend that he really isn’t up for trying anything new. I wonder if it’s my cooking…

Conversely, my culinary tastes are expanding. As a child I was an irritatingly picky eater. I remember time and time again my mother getting frustrated with my whining over having to eat this food or that. I remember my parents and grandparents bribing and begging me to eat things. I didn’t like ground beef. I didn’t like cheese. I didn’t like mushrooms. I didn’t like lima beans or Brussels sprouts After getting sick once, I wouldn’t eat cheesecake or cream cheese in any form except smeared on a plain, toasted bagel. I didn’t like any food that looked, smelled or tasted different than what I was used to eating every day. Once, my mother who was normally as honest as the day is long lied to me about the eggs I happened to be eating. We were staying at my great-grandmother’s house. Great Grandma Deaver raised ducks and chickens, but mainly got her eggs from her ducks. My mother put a plate of over-easy duck eggs and toast down in front of me. I was, of course, immediately suspicious and I began asking what was wrong with these huge eggs on my plate. My mother smiled sweetly (I’m sure she wanted to shake me) and said that Granny just happened to raise really, really big chickens. I ate the eggs and found that they tasted better than chicken eggs. But then my mother triumphantly revealed that they were actually duck eggs and I screamed and refused to ever eat eggs at Grandma Deaver’s house ever again.

Over the years, I’ve grown to love cheese, cheesecake, mushrooms, lima beans and Brussels sprouts. Of course, in the case of each food, I had to choose at a particular moment to force myself to eat them. Cheese was something I came to love somewhere between the ages of three and seven, I believe. Cheesecake, mushrooms, lima beans and Brussels sprouts were foods that I only decided to try after I had been married. brussels-sprouts-1856706_1920

Initially, I was inspired by my husband’s openness to food. I wanted to be as open minded to food as he was. Then, about 6 months into our marriage, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I found myself cut off from easy and familiar foods like take-out pizza and doughnuts. I was forced to try new, bizarre foods like quinoa (which I pronounced quin-Noah until some nice hippies at the health food store corrected me) and cakes made from rice flour and potato starch. This re-routing of my dietary habits was the final sealing of the deal. At first, I wanted to try new foods and then I had no choice about it.

Recently, I’ve surprised even myself by my willingness to try seafood. I HATE seafood. Nothing that I have tried so far in my life has made me change my tastes on this front. In fact, the only reason I’ve been willing to try fish lately is that my cholesterol has become a problem and fatty fish are touted as the culinary cure for cholesterol issues. I think that people who love seafood (and this is most people that I come across) don’t understand what I mean when I say that I don’t like seafood. I’m going to try to explain this here because I want it to be clear what a miracle it is that I’m even willing to put the stuff in my mouth. When I say that I can’t stand seafood, I do not merely mean that I baked salmon fillet on boardprefer chicken or beef. I mean that everything about seafood – the sight, the smell, the texture – is repulsive to me. I find the smell of the ocean itself to be slightly nauseating and that smell of fish, even the stuff that people swear is “not fishy”, is a concentrated dose of that oceanic scent. When I say that I don’t like fish, I mean that often times I have to hold my breath when I take a bite of salmon or tuna (two of the only fish I have managed to choke down) and that there have been times that I’ve had to hold on, white-knuckled, to the edge of the dinner table in order to force myself to swallow the bite I’ve taken. I gag and dry-heave the whole time that I eat fish, but the point of pride for me is that I DO eat it. I don’t enjoy one second of it, to be sure, but I force myself and (occasionally) win the war against my food aversion.

I guess the thing I’m wondering – and I would love some feedback – is, does it seem worth it to choke down food that I hate in the hopes that it will one day become an acquired taste? I’ve always heard that a varied plate is a healthy plate and frankly, that is why I try new foods. I once knew a nurse who could count on one hand the foods that she would eat. They were all white, starchy foods. She believed that it would be better to die young and happy, eating the foods that give you pleasure, rather than live a long time gagging on stuff that you find disgusting. So, what is the general consensus? To eat or not to eat stuff I don’t like, that is the question. You can comment with your thoughts below. I am excited to read them!