National: Take Back Dislike

In our long observation of the world of food-loving people, we’ve noticed that a major tenet of foodieism is the I’ll-eat-anything attitude. The movement is led by testicle-and-worm-chowing high priests Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, who approach nearly everything with an open mind and an open mouth. A degree of gastronomic uninhibition is a matter of pride — we’ll happily admit that we rely on our own culinary adventurousness, our willingness to try new things, as a cornerstone of our self-identification as a Food Person.

But a recent spate of anti-picky-eater backlash has gotten us thinking a little more critically about just how much an adventurous palate is a necessary element of being a gastronome.

In a post yesterday, Jezebel’s Sadie Stein lamented that Barack Obama is a picky eater, a quality she finds intensely off-putting in a boyfriend — let alone a potential leader of the free world. A Serious Eats post on whether diners with aversions should fake allergies garnered nearly fifty comments. Perhaps most notably, on his blog, Michael Ruhlman calls out all those people who fake allergies or ask for substitutions as complicit in the creation of “A Nation of Culinary Sissies.

Here’s where we take exception: The jumping-off point for Ruhlman’s rant wasn’t some dude in line at Subway ordering plain turkey on white bread, no condiments. He was moved to rage by the guests at the 20-course, $1500-a-head Keller-Achatz dinner, held last week at Per Se in New York, whose various dislikes and allergies piled up to the point where fully half of the tables present required various per-diner modifications of the set menu.

We think there are two big problems here. First, we would imagine that most of the diners ready and willing to drop a grand and a half on a meal that’s been called a religious experience would bristle at the suggestion that they aren’t fully fledged appreciators of good food and good drink. These are people who are demonstrating in an absolutely unambiguous way that they’re committed ingredients, preparation, flavor, innovation, chefs, servers, restaurants — what more does Ruhlman want from them?

But second, and more insidiously, there’s the fact that there is a stigma attached to having a food aversion. The stigma is so great, in fact, that people who merely dislike something (yogurt, eggplant, raw onion) will lie to their server in order to avoid the ingredient, shifting the matter from one of a prejudiced palate to one of medical necessity. What’s the point here? Avoiding the server’s scorn? Eliminating the possibility of the chef saying “no, seriously, they’ll never taste it” and adding the anchovies (oregano, corn, garlic) anyway?

When did it become such a bad thing to want what you want? We think it’s time to Take Back Dislike. We’ll start: we freaking hate horseradish. MP:SF editor Adam can’t stand eggplant. MP:Philly editor Elsa loathes bananas. MP:Boston editor Leila will not go anywhere near anything that contains mayonnaise. MP:South Florida editor Carolina likes chocolate and likes mint, but if they’re together in a dish she will run the other way. And the five of us have as much gastronomic cred as anyone else you’re likely to meet.

Being a person who loves food — call it a gastronome, a Food Person, a gourmand, a foodie — doesn’t actually mean that you have to love all food, any more than being a music fan means you have to love Puccini as much as you love death metal. It’s okay to be a picky eater. Leave the bat brains and the fermented shark to the Andrew Zimmerns of the world, and hold your head up high as you ask the kitchen to hold the mayo.

[Photo: Sandwich monster, via amyclaire123’s Flickr]

National: Take Back Dislike