Monday, March 9, 2009

Bengal Gram and Other Edible Treasues

So often I come back to food. Usually my food musings are really yearnings inspired by hunger and boredom. But today, a big yellow bowl of bengal gram dumplings is my muse. Bengal gram is what they call chickpeas in India. These little chunks are like squishy falafel floating in yellow currry. Mmm-mmm.

I often think this thought: "I like almost any food I can think of yet so many people out there are picky eaters. What's wrong with them?"

When I say "any food" I mean foods that would be served in some corner of the United States. And maybe a few outlying delicacies. There are unimaginable foods, I'm sure, eaten in the wilds of Africa or on the shores of Ecuador that I would not care to sample. But as far as the ethnic fare I've been exposed to goes, I dig all of it.

Fried Guinea Pig -- An Ecuadorian Treat

But I'm not just talking ethnic food either. Even though I still hold that people who refuse to try sushi or Indian food or whatever are just being big babies, these people also refuse to eat things like mushrooms or celery or avocados.

I understand that everyone's palate is different, and I respect rigid food choices that are made for health reasons. But the refusals I see happen every day are not educated or health concsious ones, but childish "eeew!" reactions. I too have foods that I like more that others or that I would rather not eat if something else is available. But I can't think of anything I would completely refuse if nothing else was available, save meat (and that's not because I don't like it).

Since the internet loves lists, here we go.

Foods I like that many college kids don't eat:
Indian food
Thai food
Hummus and other Middle Eastern salads like Mama Ganoush, Tabouli, Tahini sauce...
The icky vegetables (broccoli, spinach, raw tomatos, etc)
Fancy beer
Unsweetened soymilk
Flavored waters with no sweeteners
Honest Teas (5g sugar, compared to Lipton's 24g)
Hot Tea

The only foods I can think of that I would rather not eat:
Meat (I'm a vegetarian, otherwise I'd be all over it. And when I did eat it I liked weird stuff like Prosciutto and goose liver pate)
Eggplant (No one ever cooks it right, but I can take it in Baba Ganoush.)
Chips (I am always thirsty and they just make it worse. They do taste good though.)
Raw Squid (I tried it several times before I made it official that I don't like it.)

Many people are much pickier than that. Some have arrived at their decisions by trial and error, but many have not based their rejections on any developed sense of taste. They flat out refuse foods that contain one unfamiliar or pungent ingredient, and deaden their mouth senses even more by eating repetitively and by consuming flavor-engineered processed foods. The same people can't eat or drink things that don't have added sugar, because they can no longer taste natural sweetness. The same people end up in the bathroom if they eat a few fresh vegetables.

Another list.

What the girls in line at the "Cart" (our snack stand at school) always buy:
Cherry Pepsi
Bagel with four cream cheeses
Mountain Dew
Frosted Flakes bowl
Technicolor yogurt bowl
Fluorescent orange Buffalo chicken chunks
Coffee with ten creamers (the older students)

So I guess I am blaming the destruction of the American palate on the food industry. Scores of kids grow up drinking Sunny D and eating chicken nuggets with ketchup, and their tastes never develop beyond adopting the adult versions of these foods -- sports drinks and KFC and any tomato based sauce. It's as if people who don't eat this crap can handle stronger flavors (i.e. curry, pates) as well as more delicate flavors (i.e. cucumber water), and appreciate both.

Eating crappy stuff has begun to have a cool factor as well, which in the age and land of cool doesn't help matters. If you're in the car with your buddies and you refuse McDonald's, telling them you need to stop off at the health food store and grab a vegan burrito to-go, you won't hang around with those buddies long. As for the popularity of fast-food salad these days, I think it's laced with something.

I can't get into the whole food conspiracy here. It's an evil industry and we'll leave it at that. My favorite health food store is in Tucson, Arizona and it's call Food Conspiracy Co-op. I am not sure if they are referring to themselves as a haven from the enemy (the processed food conspiracy), or as the counter-culture conspirators who smuggle healthy food into town. Probably both.

I just wish young people (and some older people too!) could get past their fears of ethnic, unsweetened, raw, or strongly naturally flavored foods. I am embarrassed for them. And so are my bengal gram dumplings.

1 comment:

  1. The cool factor seems to work the other way around here (Vancouver, Canada). The car full of buddies would be headed to the health food store for vegan burritos and the one who wanted Mcdonald's would be ostracized. I suppose it's good in way, although the scores of hipster 'vegans' living in this city would probably jump ship if something like Mcdonald's became popular in their circles again.


I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.