Have you ever been eating something, chewing away, really enjoying it only to suddenly hear the sound of enamel on a disintegrating unknown object? It reverberates through your head whilst your mind races through various images of what it could be. There is that awful realisation mixed with the visceral need to expel the contents from your mouth but depending on where you are this might not be such an easy option. If you have a sensitive gag reflex, that will also likely be triggered and as the tears form in your eyes all you really want to know is ‘what just went crunch?’
I have no doubt almost everyone has shared this experience. I have chomped down on a range of nasties such as glass, snails (sorry but they are just not food to me),egg shell, fish bones and scales (but no small bikes), and the occasional small stone – which seem indistinguishable from brown lentils funnily enough. If you are expecting something to be crunchy it’s fine, there’s no surprise, but that instantaneous reaction via sensory cues is a marvelous indicator of just how quick the brain works to invoke panic and fear.
Politeness dictates that we don’t show our disgust. Kind of ironic when you consider some of the disgusting practices involved in food production but that is not for this piece. I am going to blend this literal disgust with the concept of disgust as an ‘unconscious response to the unfamiliar or uncomfortable’. Bare with me, it’s possibly going to be a bit of a dogs breakfast but lets see how we go.
I think our taste in food is much like our taste in anything, it is acquired and developed over time. When it comes to children and food, parents are often keen to help them explore a range of things and persevere multiple times until the reject button has been hit enough and the message is clear ‘don’t like it’. Generally it is more acceptable to expose children to different food than it is any other form difference such as race, culture, sexuality, gender identity, functionality (AKA ‘disability), etc . This is probably related to a belief about what is acceptable and harmful.
How many of us were tortured with broad beans? I swear they were toxic, they had to be, tasting like the smell of dirty socks. But it didn’t kill me, and whilst Broad Beans still don’t feature in my cuisine I can see the intent my parents had, ‘give it a go, it might not be as bad as you think, chew a bit more and give it some time you just might like it.’
Hiding foods within something else is a sneaky tactic. I haven’t been fond of mushrooms until friends cooked a variety I was unfamiliar with in a risotto and I was wondering what the smirk was on their faces as I expressed my delight. Once I realised my assumptions had been challenged I was willing to concede maybe I could accept mushrooms were ok.
I’m wondering a bit about other forms of difference that when ‘hidden’ actually enable the richer personal aspects of self to emerge and ‘flavour’ relationships. Instead of rejecting based on a perceived threat or ‘dislike’ our identities are able to flourish under more palatable ideas such as respect, connection, love, acceptance and honoring unique aspects of self.
If a form of difference is visible – that same instantaneous, unconscious fear/rejection response needs challenging from within. I would suggest that talking or communicating in some way breaks down barriers.
My friend Philip made this and I think sums up nicely how we can go about adding spice to notions of identity and representations of ‘difference’:
But here’s the thing. If I am happy to dine at the diversity buffet,let me; it makes no difference to anyone else. I accept others still want to gorge themselves on hate but to ‘force feed’ anything to anyone and denying them the freedom to be aware of other choices is unpalatable.
This is the tension we are left with and it’s a bit hard to digest. If we are talking about genuine disgust on a reflex level it’s possibly going to be ‘messy’ if someone is asked to swallow something they know repulses them. But then how do we develop a broad taste and appreciation of the wonderful flavours of the world?
I’m really hoping the world food shortage is not going to give rise to insect farming because the combination of spiky bits and chitinous exoskeleton are enough to consider snails a delicacy.
If it came to that sort of crunch – I might just have to eat my words. Now that’s food for thought.