I have Always. Hated. Picky. Eaters. I've had boyfriends who wouldn't eat anything but "kid food," like chicken tenders or whatever. I know a guy who is weird about beans. I had a friend in school who couldn't handle any food being mixed together. It always irritated the ever-loving kale out of me, because UGH WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU JUST EAT IT. But then I moved to Los Angeles and now super weird specific dietary restrictions and warnings that often have nothing to do with "real" allergies are totes everywhere. And now I get it.
But let me align myself with you even more first, average reader. I'm just like fictional you! My people are honest, humble farmers. We ate what was grown, and we were damn well lucky to have even that (I'm told). Actually, if you've ever seen that awesome episode of Roseanne where she schools Darlene's home ec class on how to shop on a budget, then you know how I ate growing up. Lotta hamburger surprises.
I'm not rich now or anything, but now that I have near complete control over what I eat, I exercise it. Like a motherfucker. No, I don't have any documented food allergies. Yes, I can eat whatever pretty much. But now that I have such a wide range of highly specific choices available to me — here more than where I lived before (Nashville) — I've begun to take advantage of them. And it's made me pickier, because once you venture into this uncharted territory, it's a slippery slope.
For instance: I don’t do dairy. I have no idea if I'm lactose intolerant. Or if I have an actual allergy to dairy (probably not). I know that it doesn't do me any favors now that I've have sinus issues, and that when I stopped eating/drinking it, they improved enormously, along with my face. And that when I eat it again, I will suffer in some way or another. Suffer! Funny word. I will feel like crap, or be constipated, or break out, or feel super stuffed up.
Am a I tiny widdle baby who is gonna die if I accidentally eat cheese in something? No. Jesus, of course not. But do I feel like putting up with how it makes me feel for a few hours, or the next day? No. And so I'm going to avoid the fuck out of it. And I'm not going to take any guff for it.
It's not easy. Dairy is in so many things, things I love, things that are America and also very specifically in Indian food I love. I do my best. I try. But I ask, or avoid when obvious, and I feel healthier and better for it all the time, so what can anyone argue with me about? Huh?
Let's take it a step further. I love coffee and I need it to live. I used to put half in half in it, but I can't now due to the diary thing reaching an all-time critical mass. This has led me to soy, the now-widely available dairy substitute.
However, I am not convinced and neither is everyone that soy is the end-all be-all solution to the dairy thing. For one, is it really going to make a huge different with allergies? Soy is still a mucus-forming substance. So though drinking it certainly changes certain aspects of my health, it might not really do that much to change the issue I'm actually mostly trying to fight. Sinuses.
That, my friend, is how I ended up at coconut milk. Please, mock away, I'm immune. If you don't mind the high-fat aspect of it and use only a little, it's great in cooking and baking and coffee use and doesn't have the other soy issues. Do you know how many easy-to-patronize coffee shops — chain or otherwise — have coconut milk sitting around as an option for coffee? Zero. I'm this close to launching a campaign.
So in one lifetime I went from Vienna sausages to coconut milk in my coffee, or else. Jesus, you're thinking, isn't soy good enough for you people?
To which I reply: Not if there's something better.
But in the broader sense, this makes all kinds of sense, no? Individual health is trial and error. Always has been. Eat that berry: live. Eat that berry: vomit uncontrollably and die. Good luck!
In some ways we know more than ever what's in the food thanks to labeling and more food education, but we also understand less than ever if we're helping ourselves or harming, big-picture. See the gluten-free debate. Does everyone need to avoid gluten? Probably not. If people want to and it's helping them arrive at better health? Who am I to say no?
I am lucky enough to have health insurance, but when I go to the doctor, I see a lady for 15 minutes who only cares about what ails me today, and isn't going to break down and map out a healthy eating plan based on a vague list of issues that are not presenting in obvious condition-form today, but that annoy me enough to want to experiment with what I put in my body on most days to see if I can't rejigger a better out come. That's kind of on me.
Nutritionists and dieticians are not super cheap, and besides, that's only going to result in more restrictions to my nutritional intake. And yes, I know it's an enormous luxury to get to fret over coconut milk, and I'm so grateful for it. I grew up on food stamps. This is fucking absurd!
But that doesn't make this Slate piece that says "Vegetarians won't die if they sometimes eat food with poultry broth in it" any less snobby and dumb. Guy makes broth for people, broth has animal stuff in it, guy is incensed that he can't just act like it's still a vegetarian dish because, duh, chicken broth is better. (I agree, it's better-tasting, but I don't support his argument.)
I am aware that those herbivores who possess a strange, almost metaphysical fear of contamination will remain impervious to my logic. But I know for a fact that many other vegetarians are hardy, practical folk who just care about the environment and the ethical treatment of animals. I’m with you on all that! Which, actually, is one of the main reasons I make stock. If I’m going to roast an organic, free-range, hazelnut-fed chicken, the most respectful thing I can do afterward is to make the most of the remaining flesh and bone, which most people just toss out. I’m being a responsible, frugal meat eater by doing this—can’t vegetarians acknowledge my effort by letting slide the few tablespoons that might end up in their soup?
I’d hope so, because, to be honest, to do otherwise is really rude.
Technically guy, if we're battling on etiquette, it's rude to not offer a truly vegetarian offer when hosting a fuckin' dinner. It's also not logical to say — I made X effort to make thing good based on my ideals, can't someone with another set of ideals that aren't mind concede X since I did X? In a word, no.
But yeah, he's right, vegetarians won't die if they eat it! But no one says they will by refusing your stock! Anyone who ever ever has MUST be the exception and not the rule.
But he's missing the point of the avoidance even more. Everyone on a restrictive diet probably gets why things with salt/meat often taste better at least by most standards. But like me, they have decided not to eat something, and it's better to just not eat it. For whatever reason that is — health, environmental, conscience, preference. Cheese is so yummy, but the most conscientiously prepared cheese doesn't change my reason for not eating it, dig?
And especially: Preference. We are a preference-driven people. No one seems to mind all this choice in other areas. Thanks to how specifically the internet and most consumer goods are divvied up, I can almost completely model my life based around very specific preferences of color, taste, and ideology.
These are our lives. We have more choice than ever, even with food. Aren't we supposed to … exercise it? I would argue most of us are pickier than we think. Picky with flexibility. We know what we can get away with, we indulge in things when we can rationalize it. And the rest, we avoid with vigilance, unless we can't, and then we mostly just deal, like this XO Jane piece on living mostly gluten-free/vegan points out.
But hey, who knew coffee would become as snooty as wine? And don't get yourself started on water. I just read an announcement that a restaurant in Los Angeles has a 45-page water menu. And even a water sommelier to help guide your choice. I want to spew my tap water across my keyboard in outrage like everyone else who grew up on bologna, but perhaps in a matter of weeks I will be able to calmly impart how "Iskilde from Denmark is a great water for a vegetarian mushroom dish because it has earthy taste notes."
If it turns out it fits better with my particular Northern European digestive system, I'm getting in line. Stay tuned.
Image via Charles Whitefield/Shutterstock.