The Criminal Palate: A Halloween Tale

Treat ’em with respect

We speak today of food felons, for they walk anonymously among us. Their despicable, unimaginable, reprehensible crime against society: a lifelong disrespect and disregard for producing and indulging in good food.

Like the dying punk in “Repo Man,” I blame society. These villains are, by and large, the product of either overly indulgent parents or unimaginative cooks, the offspring of a wealthy society. Let us consider each in his own sordid light, described, so as to give you a thrill, as if they might even be you.

  1. The Picky Eater. Perhaps as a parent you are an offender in this first category. You’ve allowed your offspring a childhood of lingering over the fat, tasteless burger and sugary drink at home and at the restaurant. The hissy fits and the social embarrassment are just not worth the effort of saying no. On family visits, you turn to your sibling and shrug: “He will only eat a hamburger, do you mind?” Then, as years go by, the picky ways that began as simply a pacifier become a way of life. Eventually, the errant child enters adulthood. He moves into your basement, bringing with him the smell of stale beef tallow and rancid fat that forever permeate your home and dreams. You took the easy way out and created a picky eater: a societal monster, a criminal now walking the streets recruiting fellow members of the undead palate.
  1. The Because Mom Cooked It This Way Eater. Are you the sociopath who murders your veggies? Do you cook your cabbage into a translucent goo, having engaged in this heinous practice for so long you are insensitive to the pain and the carnage left behind? Sadist that you are, you force the kids to sit down and eat it. “Why should it go to waste?” you say. You had to eat it and like it as a child, so, by God, they have to eat it as well. Veggies aren’t supposed to taste good; that’s why they’re good for you! Once, many years ago, the thought occurred to you to vary the method of preparation — maybe a quick sauté with green onion and ginger or braised with a hearty beef roast — but, nah, you couldn’t be bothered. You just chop-chop-chop, drop it in water, and boil until it is dead-dead-dead. Your poor blighted offspring are destined to grow up to create new translucent generations of the criminally and puritanically unimaginative cook.
  1. The If It’s Thursday, It’s Indian Eater. The worst culinary offender by far is the peripatetic cook, unique to a society of such vast wealth and narcissism that her palate is completely unmoored. She’s the person whose own cultural rootlets have withered and died from lack of nourishment during a sad lifetime of wandering the aisles of global indulgence. This criminal’s family endures the Thai phase, the Ethiopian year, the Latin dinners. A sad nomad of the exotic city and suburban steppes, she eventually inflicts a Thanksgiving dinner of such amazingly disparate tastes that the Jamaican jerked turkey is actually embraced.

Now, I’m sure, gentle reader that none of these horrific crimes apply to you. No, not you. Never would you drown and brutalize a veggie, indulge the tyrannical tantrum of the three-year-old, inflict in a Saveur-induced rage a lifetime of rootless eating. Not even guilty a little, right?  Yep, me neither.

7 thoughts on “The Criminal Palate: A Halloween Tale

  1. Your post made me reflect on my childhood and how fortunate I was that I wasn’t forced to eat anything – although always offered many delicious foods – I got to listen to my own body. I was a “plain jane” (aka “picky”) eater for most of my childhood. As I got older I slowly tried more and more foods and now I appreciate foods from all over the world and all over the garden (cooked and eaten with a light hand 🙂 Sometimes people need to grow into their appreciation. Maybe the core of your writing and my experience is that respect needs to be shown on all sides of the issue – to the eater – the food itself – and the cook.

  2. Long ago I was made to eat something I’d already…expelled. By a nun.
    I have a dentist’s appointment for tomorrow.

    Talking about food and eating is fun.

  3. Hmmm… didn’t learn to suck out a crawfish head until well into my twenties. Though this deficiency doesn’t appear to have held me back. The benefit of growing up in a house where the majority of the food was raised right outside (and having participated in the effort) I suppose I dodged a pretty serious bullet.

    I do like to boil vegetables. But if I’m the cook it seems I just HAVE to taste some of them raw before they get into the pot. The stem at the base of a cabbage – great raw. While stemming and breaking up your green beans you just have to nibble on a few… how else will you sustain yourself until dinner? You brought too much basil in from the garden for the soup – don’t put those four extra leaves in a wrapper in the fridge… good grief. They’re tasty just they way they are.

    I wonder if the lack of ownership in the food procurement/preparation event is as much to blame? If you don’t have some skin in the game (other than to pull out the wallet and drop some coin) – say feeding the chickens and collecting eggs so as to appreciate where an over easy fried egg comes from in the first place. A sociologist should dig into this.

  4. Yep, Clem, I agree. Not having to grow/prepare what you eat sure makes it more likely that you’ll be picky and that you’ll choose cuisine from beyond your own provenance. As far as killing the foods you prepare, I had a grandma who turned her stove’s gas burner as high as it’d go everytime she cooked hamburgers. And everytime one of us grandkids would walk by the stove, we’d surreptitiously turn down the heat. Fortunately, when we learned to cook, we used our other grandma, a fantastic, very old-fashioned cook, as our model.

Any thoughts or questions?