Friday, November 16, 2007

I admit it

I am a food snob.

There, I admit it again. I don’t shun food (as my waistline sadly attests to) but I tend to feel frustrated with people who don’t live up to my expectations with regard to their culinary experience and tastes. In my defense, they’re not particularly high standards to meet. A few months ago I met a woman who rules out entire categories of food based on color- she won’t try anything orange or yellow. And she told me that her most exotic culinary tasting was…rice. Every other opinion I formed on this lady was filtered through the knowledge that she is a culinary ignoramus.

Today I had a quick and healthy lunch at the Thai restaurant down the street. A woman and a young man (her coworker I believe) sat at the next table. She remarked to her guest that she was open to trying something new as long as it had familiar ingredients and was not at all spicy. First, why do people go into a Thai, Mexican, or otherwise traditionally spicy cuisine restaurant and ask for no spice? Perhaps she has some sort of intestinal issue that prevents her from eating spicy foods (although how do native Mexicans, Thai, and Indians handle similar disorders?) and so I was willing to overlook that minor silliness.

The young man ordered Thai dumplings, calling them by their formal name (and you see, I have some culinary ignorance of my own because I cannot remember the name at this moment). She asked him what those were translated in English. No issues for me at this point because, hey, who is expected to know translations of Thai right? He replies that it means dumplings. She stares blankly at him for a good 10 seconds before asking “What is a dumpling?” This took him by surprise. “You know, a dumpling. Like ravioli” So of course she asks, “What’s ravioli?” I was ready to fall out of my chair!!! Her response prompted an entire new conversation thread between the two of them where they discussed her lack of exposure to cuisine beyond her baseline foods she was raised on. She described in earnest the first time she tried exotic food. She was 19 and accidentally tried mayo when it was put on a burger she ordered by mistake. He asked her, “What was exotic about the mayo?”, and waited for her response. Again, with the blank stare from her – “The entire concept of mayo was/is exotic to me; it always looked so strange”. Next they talked about seafood- she didn’t try shrimp until she was in her late 20s because it seemed so scary and exotic. Now she likes it, but can’t bear to strike out and try crab or lobster or any other shellfish. How can new food inspire such anxiety? I understand and can sometimes relate to hesitancy when it comes to trying foods we Americans were traditionally raised to think of as dirty or garbage- brains, intestines, feet, etc. But no one is raised to think of mayo as dirty or garbage. What’s the deal with that?

What is especially ironic to me is that most folks working in the IT industry are technology snobs and yet I am not. That’s why they’re historically lousy at customer support – the customer calls into the support line and can easily sense the seething snobbery over the fact that they don’t know how to do simple tasks on the computer. But I totally get that for a lot of people computers are not used in their job and they may not have exposure to them. Food is another matter. Everyone has to eat. And all of the foods I look down upon someone for never trying are available at most grocery stores.

Are you a food snob? Are you a snob about anything else?


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