Friday, May 14, 2010

Stronger than the Five Elements of Taste

I remember the first time I remember having ice cream. I was about 4 years old. Now, I say "remember the first time I remember" because I have to believe my parents were not so abusive as to not allow me to have ice cream before I was 4. Anyway, I was given a bowl by my older brother, bit into it, and hated it. Why? I bit into it. Yet, I quickly got over my aversion and lived a happy childhood of eating ice cream.

About 15 years ago I got food poisoning from meatloaf. I have yet to go near it again my Pavlovian aversion is so strong. But, hey, no big loss there, I mean, no more meatloaf? Who cares!? When I was in military school we were fed cold pancakes almost every day. The result? I did not touch a pancake for 20 years.

My point is that food elicits a more personal and powerful reaction than just what your taste buds can deliver. Have a bad reaction to something? You may swear off it for life. Have a great reaction, and you think that piece of toast with Fortnum & Mason strawberry jam is the greatest tasting food on the planet...never mind that you had that toast and strawberry jam one morning in the suite of the Ritz Carlton in Paris with Scarlett Johansson laying next to you. The total emotion around it all will happily lead you to order toast and jam for the rest of your life. Sometimes to excess. If this food arousal is for toast and jam that is one thing, but if it is for chips, or beer, or chocolate, then that is another.

I say this because of a few of the same comments I heard during my vegan quest from people, "Salads without gobs of dressing taste like dirt." No one has wonderful memories of salads from their childhood - just ask my little brother about the famed cherry tomato incident. You don't like salad? Tough luck, you are forced to eat it as a kid. But in adulthood, any bad reaction to healthy, nutrient dense food, like spinach, leads to a convenient excuse to avoid it. If something tastes bad one day, you are not going to give it much of a chance again. If something tastes good, and the experience is enhanced -- those chicken wings and beer at the Pig 'n' Whistle when the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the Playoffs -- it creates an aura around the food that, in my opinion, transcends even taste. Both very positive or very negative reactions to food are extremely personal and long lasting (How many of you give a horrible restaurant a second chance?). But, if you have a crumby time at Disneyland one Summer, you are not going to swear off the theme park forever.

So yesterday I was put in a position to really fight the urge to not swear off one of the best foods for a nutrient dense diet, kidney beans. A powerful punch of vitamin B9, and fiber, these legumes also make you feel fuller after your meal. And they taste great on a salad. Walking down the salad bar at work I filled my plastic container to the rafters with three types of lettuce, black beans, chickpeas, carrot shreds, cucumber, peanuts, and sunflower seeds...and kidney beans. I took a scoop and there appeared a whitish sort of film on some of the beans, but I shrugged and added it to my large, daily, nutrient dense lunch. At my desk after the first mouthful I almost vomited. The kidney beans had gone bad. I was furious. I felt sick, and for the first time in 6 months I had an image flash with neon light intensity and said to myself, "Salads taste like dirt, much worse than dirt!"

Feeling I was stuck in the pages of Upton Sinclair's 1906 book, The Jungle, about the putrid and deadly state of affairs of Chicago's meat packing industry, I stormed down to the giant cafeteria. It didn't help that I was told in my first week of employment that our cafeteria was cited as one of the worst in the industry by an advertising trade publication. For the past 4 months I thought it was quite nice.

I saw a women in line scooping the kidney beans onto her salad and warned her. The manager came over, picked up the tray, smelled it and snapped his head back in revulsion. He apologized profusely, and gave me a $10 credit...Uh, I'd add another couple of zeros after that reaction.

I chose not to eat a salad that day, and not being a lover of kidney beans before I started this vegan quest, I really fought my urge to be totally repulsed by them now. I know I like them, and I know how good they are for me, so I will make sure I eat them again soon to forget my awful experience.

I went to my sushi restaurant for lunch.
The moral of the story? If your salad tastes like dirt, then make it not so, and then eat lots of it!


Anonymous said...

Really excellent post. Thanks! (And I'm glad you didn't get sick from your experience.)
Tan in Chapel Hill.

PS: OH! I may be the zillionth person to send this your way today, but wanted to make sure you saw it and were following this gentleman's progress:

Sheila said...

What a great point! I really appreciate your insight on this!

Vegan Epicurean said...

So sorry you had such a bad bean experience today. Good for you are not swearing them off completely.

Great post on how we tend to swear off foods after one bad experience. I read something not long ago that we need to be exposed to a new vegetable on average 12 times before we learn to accept it. This may be why children are so picky. Their parents give up long before 12 encounters.

have a great weekend,

Terrence said...

Tan - Actually I am just seeing this article now, thanks so very much for sharing! Can't believe I missed it.

Terrence said...

SHeila, thanks so much! And welcome back.

Terrence said...

Alicia thanks so very much! I know Heather is creative about introducing kids to vegetables. Her little girl is a normal, happy, active and very talented kid...and a vegan.