Chasing happiness and trying to feel better, many people nowadays follow one or the other moral or ‘medical’ argument and stop eating certain foods.
Even where there is less thought of what to eat, there seems to have always been a tendency for people to become set in their tastes and refuse to try much of anything new.
Even in personal development circles, recent trends turn towards restriction.
You may learn to cook in order to learn to learn, but you have to make it low-carb, slow-carb, the same breakfast every day so you don’t have to think about it.
Get boxes of Soylent and you never have to worry again…
There is a challenge and a misunderstanding behind that, though:
One, the likelihood that you miss experiences you would really like, especially in social contexts,.
Two, the changing tastes we all have and may well profit from, for our health and happiness.
The Challenge (and Chance) of ‘Other’ Food
Food that is not your usual fare can be a challenge in a whole variety of ways, but the experiences to be had could also be manifold.
In an intercultural context, in particular, both aspects are strong.
You will probably find things you’d very much prefer not to have to try – and you’d probably very much like to be a part of the groups of people you are eating with.
After all, sharing a meal is one of the major ways we come together.
In China, these aspects are particularly strong.
The country’s various cuisines are tremendously varied and offer taste experiences it would be a pity to miss.
Not only that, “food is heaven” and the social glue that brings people together around a shared table.
And there are not so few foods and ways of preparing them that someone who has not grown up with them would much rather not even see: chicken feet and dog meat, jellyfish and thousand-year egg, duck blood and pig innards…
Here’s the thing, though: These foods are few and far between. Often, you can join in a meal, become a part of a new social group, yet avoid some things as well.
The meal on Hainan which made me write about this here theme. All seafood which “I don’t like” – until I was urged to try it all, and I realized I did in fact like a lot of it…
You will not be able to avoid everything, nor should you even try to, though.
Instead, try it.
That way, you won’t be the stranger who just refuses everything, making everyone uncomfortable. Instead, you’ll be the adventurous and open person you wanted to be, who makes others proud – and you may find new things you like.
And here, the other aspect of our relation to ‘other’ food comes into play…
Our Changing Taste
We keep on defining ourselves as who we are, by what we eat, as if these things were fixed.
“I like sweets, I can’t stand bitter.”
“I don’t like sweet things, I’d rather have it savory.”
“I’m a carnivore” or “I don’t eat animal products.”
In light of the way food connects even strangers, you may really want to reconsider restricting yourself – and if you orient yourself on social connections as mattering more than you yourself, then that is you restricting yourself only, indeed.
As much as we hear about dedicated vegans nowadays, most people eat “normally”, anyways. And they, too, have things they just don’t (want to) eat, just because they don’t eat them.
You know what I mean.
“I don’t like broccoli.”
Even worse than broccoli: brussels sprouts. Or maybe you just need to try another recipe. (Well fried, with something fatty like bacon aside, they are nice. Still bitter, but that’s also healthy.
“Veggies aren’t for me.”
“Gimme a steak, not salad.”
“Whoa, that’s just too fatty!”
Except, they may well be wrong.
In defining ourselves as someone who eats, and does not eat, certain things, we may get something about our likes right.
If you do or don’t like sweet or savory, you do have that preference, sure.
(If you can’t handle the heat of the chile peppers, even more so…)
We may also, however, overlook how much our tastes have changed already and will continue to change.
Most people do not like the flavor of coffee or beer or wine on their first try, but they come to like them all.
Similarly, you may not have liked the bitter tastes of broccoli or bitter gourd, and you may not even like the idea of eating frog or shellfish or many other foods.
You may actually like them, by now or in the near future, though.
Me, I was a picky eater as a child.
When my mom made minced meat patties, which are made with onion cubes here in Austria, I tried to pick out all the small pieces of onion because I hated them.
Now, I can fry up onions with some chile pepper, salt and soy sauce and eat them as a vegetable dish accompanying a bowl of rice.
I was sure I would not want to eat frog or most kinds of shellfish, but having been all but forced to try them on recent trips to China, they turned out quite edible. If not outright delicious.
Sichuan Hotpot – with Frog
Guess that’s it for calling (out) French as frog-eaters…
Dog is nothing I find edible, but I’ve tried even that.
Chicken feet, I have to admit, I still refused. We all have our limits.
The aim is not to completely forget about any and all restrictions we may feel, but to push against our limits and make ourselves more at home in this world, anyways.
And yes, we do make ourselves at home like that.
Socially, because we also eat like others do, and together with them. And materially, in what we eat.
And with that, more experiences will come; sensory adventures and delights await.
Or you will gain an understanding of things you really can’t handle, that don’t do you good.
But at least you will know because you tried, not just because you imagine you can’t eat them because you let your fears of the unknown hold you back.
There’s a lesson in that, I’d say.