Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Misanthrope, or "I'll have what he's not having."

It's not about dick-measuring--and the only reason I bring that up at all is that it's pretty much the first question people ask someone who is willing to eat things most people won't. Something along the lines of "Do you do it so you can say you did?" No. It's really not about bragging rights. It's about trust. I don't trust most people to tell me what in this world is good.

Think about this: at least according to the official story, there are a few million Americans who, as of last November, voted for our current president. While my chances of sitting next to one in California are admittedly slimmer than elsewhere, it could happen. Now am I going to listen to that person when it comes to matters of taste? To put it in less inflammatory terms, America's favorite vegetable is, and has been for decades, iceberg lettuce. Now, regardless of political affilation, you see what I mean. (If only the dems had run iceberg lettuce on the ticket...oh, I guess they sort of did.) Basically, if a food item is something I don't see on many menus, I have to assume it's something that doesn't sell much in the mainstream, which means it's not iceberg lettuce, which means it stands a better-than-average chance of being good. Similarly, if something is only found on ethnic menus--each ethnic minority by definition making up less of this country than white folks--I will give it similar odds, which is to say it's more likely than not worth my eating it.

So when someone at the next table turns his nose up at the evening's sweetbread-and-kidney special, you can pretty much guess that I'm going to order it. Double the odds if the waiter tries to warn me away for any reason other than that it's not fresh or is ill-prepared, and triple them if he comes out and says "Americans tend not to like it--too spicy/fatty/whatever." Baby, sign me up, and bring me an order to go, so I can see what it's like with all that spicy fat congealed on the bottom.

And, okay, I do take a little satisfaction in watching a dining companion's face wrinkle up when I order something out of the ordinary, but that's still not why I do it. The proof of that is that I order the same way when I eat alone, too, and if it were really just about saying I'd eaten something weird, I could pretty easily just lie about that, couldn't I? I mean enough people lie about their dicks, and that's way easier to verify. Isn't it too bad we can't seem to verify votes? If we could, and it turned out more people voted the right way, well...maybe I'd start letting you order for me.


Anonymous c said...

As much as I hate to admit, I agree with your cynicism. I trust very few palates out there, besides mine - not that I think I know what's best, but that I know what I like. And that's really what matters when navigating the menu: knowing what you like.

Caveat: dwg, you are an adventurous eater, but would you insist on liking something (even though it sucked) just to spite your adversary?

Would you choose a greasy torta over your friend's double-double (hypothetically, assuming both are on the same menu)?

1:53 AM  
Blogger dwg said...

totally agree on point one: knowing what you like is it. on the other hand, that same point is what convinces so many people not to learn a damn thing about food, since they already "know" what they like. this is the conundrum--i am a firm believer in people's personal tastes being right for them, but i am also a huge proponent of learning more and more, so that what one likes invariably changes. i mean, it's fine to eat peanut butter sandwiches all your life because that's what you liked when you were 3, but...well, i think you see what i'm saying.

this really does seem to apply not just to food, but to almost all things, and in this country more than most. people think that they're born knowing "enough," and what's the point delving anywhere? so many folks are in such a hurry to tell me that they're "street smart not book smart" and that they have "people skills" that you "don't learn in school." what they really mean is that they didn't want to take the time to learn anything new and difficult, since it would waste time they could be eating peanut butter sandwiches. my own caveat: i by no means limit good delving opportunities to academia--i've obviously found a few on the other end of a fork. and wine is a great example--the more you learn, the more you can appreciate, and the more you figure out what it is that you really like and how many different ways it's out there. i remember the wine i drank in high school, but i also remember the first real bottle of wine i drank--it was a '77 cab, and my uncle bought it for us in london. i don't remember the label, but it was all downhill from there.

i digress. it's early.

as for your caveat: absolutely not. i can't insist on liking anything. i can, however, try things that might initially repulse me enough times to get used to them and hopefully make friends with them (i did this with sea urchin, and that is now among my favorite sushi varieties). as for the spite component, it's completely absent from my calculus.

now where's the double-double you promised me? or the torta, for that matter? i'll be on the balcony with the wednesday-times food section.

7:28 AM  
Anonymous c said...

You raise an interesting point in wine tasting, and I totally agree that a lot of people think they already know enough to qualify as knowing everything.

But there must be a more fundamental difference in our Weltanschauung, or we wouldn't end up disagreeing on most everything else, particularly on city/ state/ national/ international matters.

Let me ask you this: Do you believe in discipline when it comes to matters of taste?

Going back to wine tasting, I think some discipline is necessary in order to appreciate the nuances and complexities of the stuff you're tasting. Whether you obtain this discipline through your upbringing or from a class (as I did), I think a structured approach is not only helpful, but appropriate.

It grates my wheaties when I hear people throw out nonsense like "I'm tasting some raspberries and a subtle bit of pine tar," when I know they know next to nothing about wines. If you want to say things like that, you should be able to talk further about it and form a structured opinion. Otherwise, comments like that strikes me as facile and a gratuitous abuse of both the wine and the language.

Not that I'm suggesting there are right and wrong answers - I just believe that as human beings we are hard-wired to respond to certain stimuli a certain way (not necessarily the same way, but there are patterns). I'm always curious to find out why someone feels a certain way, especially when it differs from mine.

9:55 PM  
Blogger The Dancing Kids said...

i would just like to say

1) kudos on the use of Weltanschauung


2) I have been with Dan when he has ordered Jellyfish. Just sayin'

4:44 PM  

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