The Joy of Eating or Why I Never Met a Food That I Did Not Like

joy-title-1080x675

Mexican food, Chinese food, Thai food, French food, Mid-Eastern food, Indian food, I have never met a food I did not like.  From street venders with their push carts to five-star gourmet restaurants with sommeliers in tuxedos, I have eaten food fit for the gods.  When Karen and I travel we love to explore markets and discover new foods to cook.

We love purchasing foods in foreign markets that we cannot recognize and taking them back to our abode to cook.  Cooking our own foods has gifted our palates with some wonderful tastes that I could not begin to describe.  I still do not know what some of the things we ate were, but I am alive to tell this story.

nintchdbpict000307002046I have met people who say, “I never eat Mexican food.”  They say this as though it were some badge of honor.  I want to ask what type of Mexican food do they not eat?  Does their exclusion of Mexican food extend to deserts like fried ice cream or drinks like Tequila or is it simply tacos and burritos that they do not eat?  I have met people who say, “I never eat fish.”  I usually ask them why and I often hear the reply “they taste too fishy.”  I want to ask them if they ever eat meat that tastes too meaty, but instead I usually ask them if their antipathy extends to crustaceans, mollusks, and cephalopods.  I can see the disapproval in my spouse’s eyes when I pursue this line of questioning.

Other people tell me that they never eat from street vendors.  The reasoning I hear most often is that you can’t trust the food since you do not know where it came from.  This is a really funny reason since I feel the same way about grocery stores, but I will give you ten to one odds they eat food from grocery stores.

download

The lowly potato is one of my favorite foods.  Simply slice a potato and fry it in a little olive oil.  Place it between two slices of harvest bread with a dash of mayonnaise and you have a taste treat that you will never forget.  I love tripe and when I was young my mother would cook tripe (cow stomach) in a big pot of spaghetti sauce.  You eat the tripe and sauce in a bowl and dip Italian bread into the sauce with the tripe.  I get hungry just thinking about it.

download (1)menudo-a-classic-mexican__85101.1588116574After exploring the vast variety of Mexican foods, I discovered that the tasty and hearty Menudo soup is chock full of tripe.  Many Latinos as well as Gringos in the Southwest will not eat Menudo.  Several years ago, after I started dating Karen, I was introduced to Lutefisk.  At first I found the texture somewhat off putting.  Over time, by adding butter or cream sauce I discovered the joy of eating Lutefisk around the holidays.  It is a Scandinavian tradition in homes much like Menudo is in Mexican homes.  Paradoxically, many Scandinavians loath Lutefisk.  The derivation of such foods leads many to disavow them.  I confess to the same attitude towards an Italian dish known as Pasta a Fagioli which my mother loved to make.  I left home swearing to never eat any again.

Show_2_Pasta_e_Fagioli-4-e1494876950597Some of these low-cost and nutritious peasant foods have become quite popular now as people look back to their early roots.  An example of such a food dish is the Italian Pasta e Fagioli which I mentioned earlier.  This is a dish comprised of beans and macaroni.  Beans and macaroni form a “whole protein” which means you get all the amino acids you need without having to eat meat.  A protein is considered “complete” when it has the nine essential amino acids in somewhat equal amounts.  Almost every country in the world has some staple food items that provide whole protein.  In poorer cultures, livestock was valued for its ability to help farm crops and produce milk.  In places like India, livestock was made sacred as a way to prevent killing a valuable resource.  Cows were more valuable alive than they were dead.

why-we-should-eat-insects-infographic-3A few years ago, at the annual Gustavus Adolphus Nobel Conference the subject was on food production.  A number of experts claimed that the day will come when we will no longer be able to afford a practice so barbaric and wasteful as to slaughter animals for meat eating.  There is an abundance of insects on this earth that could provide an almost endless low-cost supply of protein and minerals to our diets.  Most people respond to thoughts about eating insects with something like “I could never eat bugs.”  My retort is “well you don’t eat bloody chickens or bloody cows do you?”  The insects would be processed, and they would provide a grain that could be used in various ways like we use wheat or corn meal.  I get blank stares.

insects-main

In the future, you may go into a grocery store and have a choice of “ground insect burgers.”  You can choose from spider burgers, cock-roach burgers, ant burgers and termite burgers.  Today there is a daily special on worm-burgers.  Bees are off the menu and are a protected species due to their value for crop pollination, but wasps are selling at premium prices.  Nothing tastes as good as a wasp-loaf with a little tomato sauce on top.

Bon Appetit

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Travel and Food

Food-and-Travel-Writing-Living-Bridge-Pune

Yesterday I had an argument with myself.  One of my key values is gratitude.  Years ago, I attended a Demontreville Retreat, and the Retreat Master gave us a sermon.  In the sermon, he told us that Saint Ignatius Loyola believed that ingratitude was the gateway to all sins and misbehaviors.  I thought about this and realized that I am often ungrateful for the joys and benefits that life has given me.  I take things for granted.  I ignore things.  I am simply unappreciative of things.  I compare myself to others and come up ungrateful and angry.  Wondering why or how these people got more than I did.  More money, more talent, more fame, more prestige.

When I started to think about writing this blog, I was confronted with a question.  Are gratitude and appreciation the same thing?  I discovered at a marriage retreat that Karen and I attended that tolerance and respect are not the same thing.  Once, I had thought that my goal in life should be to tolerate others.  I frequently used the quote that “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority and the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”  I thought tolerance was the epitome of human behavior.  I learned at this retreat that respecting others is much different than simply tolerating them.

gratitudeappreciation2Thus, the question arose in my mind about the difference or relationship between appreciation and gratitude.  Perhaps this is like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a needle, but I thought the question deserved some reflection.  Is the relationship between gratitude and appreciation similar to the relationship between tolerance and respect?

After looking up the definition of both words, I have come to the conclusion that gratitude and appreciation are more symbiotic than tolerance and respect.  To have gratitude is to have an appreciation for something.  However, while gratitude is easily defined, the concept of appreciation presents more difficulty.  Websters Online Dictionary defines appreciation as: “Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”  I may be grateful for something and this is a heartfelt or emotional process.  Enjoying the good qualities of someone or something is more of a mental or cognitive process.  What exactly do I appreciate about my spouse?  I say every day that I am grateful for a wife like Karen but why?  What are her good qualities that I appreciate?  How often do I compliment her on these qualities?

In this blog, I am going to talk about appreciating travel and food.  Covid 19 has rendered both of these tasks more difficult.  One of the symptoms of the Covid virus is a loss of smell and taste.  Without smell and taste, you cannot tell the difference between a medium rare steak and roast chicken or between vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate brownie.  Until you lose these abilities, you may never realize how important smell and taste are to your life.  Food is never something to simply sustain life.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.

The Covid virus has also made travel an onerous task.  Countries have closed their borders.  Many nations have instituted mandatory quarantines on travelers arriving in their countries.  Dangers exist in crowded places such as airports and airplanes.  Fools are out there in public insisting on their rights not to wear a mask.  Travel means to be in closed confined spaces with a multitude of people.  All situations which exaggerate the risk of getting the Covid virus.  Furthermore, who wants to come down with a deadly virus in a foreign country 5000 miles from home.  These facts have made travel truly frightful for many formerly adventurous people.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine

“Well, I’ve done a lot of traveling and, I think over all, travel does broaden one’s soul. If anything at all, that’s probably the most important of what’s happened to me during the past five or six months.  — Malcom X, An Interview with Bernice Bass (December 27, 1964)

Travel and food go arm in arm and hand in hand.  You must eat if you are traveling.  Travel exposes you to mysteries every step of the way.  What will this new land be like?  What will the people be like in this foreign country?  Will they like Americans?  How will I communicate with them?  What do they eat?  Will their food make me sick?  What foods should I avoid?  How will I know what their food tastes like?

Belize Trip-035 (3)If you do not like to try new things, you should not travel.  One of my mottos is “I have never met a food I did not like.”  Karen and I eat at street vendors.  We often shop locally and pick out foods that we do not even know what they are.  When we were on Naxos, we found a meat market.  We entered and were greeted with a variety of skinned animals hanging from hooks.  There were no labels on these various creatures.  We assumed they sold the meat in kilos, so we asked for a ½ kilo of this and ½ kilo of that.  We decided that we would take the meats or whatever they were back to our little apartment and cook them.  We figured that once we did this, we might be able to guess what we were eating.  This was many years ago and I do not think we ever figured out what we were eating.  The food was good and twenty-five years later we are alive and kicking.  It was a great adventure.  One that we have replicated many times.

Karen and I avoid prearranged travel tours.  We have a formula that has worked for us over the years.  We rent a small apartment with cooking facilities.  We then take day trips by car to places that we want to visit, or we might take a train or plane.  We do not have to pack for more than an overnight stay and we have our own “home” to come back to.  Having kitchen facilities means we can eat out or in.  Days that we decide to eat in will find us at the local food markets.  It is always exciting going to these markets.  We buy things that we have never eaten before.  Another of my sayings is that, “I have never met a food that I did not like.”

Belize Trip-083 (2)I was forty years old before I had my first trip out of the USA.  I had always wanted to travel and my four years in the military had not provided me the opportunity to travel.  Later on, I became so busy with school and work that traveling seemed like a remote luxury.  One day I was on a plane coming back from Thompson, Manitoba.  (Canada does not count as foreign travel.)  I had been working with a mining client that week and was now headed home.  Next to me sat a young woman holding a travel guide to Spain.  It was May and schools were getting out for the summer.  I remarked “Are you going to Spain?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “Oh”, I said, “you must be very excited.”  She answered somewhat petulantly, “No, I went there last summer but my parents wanted me to go again since I am studying Spanish.”

Peru Trip 2007-334 (2)I did not say anymore to the young woman, but I thought “My, would I love to go to Spain or anyplace for that matter.”  Then and there in that moment, I made up my mind.  Karen and I were going to travel.  We were going to see the world.  When I arrived home, I shared my decision and determination with Karen.  She was delighted but wondered how we would manage it.  We have since been to 33 countries for a total of about 25 or more trips.  We like to go to one country and see various sections of it rather than trying to see the whole of Europe or Asia in one trip.  Usually we go for three weeks or so.  We are very budget oriented and try to behave like pilgrims rather than like tourists.  Our trips are usually a balancing act between being a pilgrim and being a tourist.

What have I learned from these trips about the world?  I would say my two greatest insights have been as follows:

  1. Americans are not exceptional.  We are privileged to have been brought up in a country with a great deal of natural and cultural advantages.  People the world over are as smart as we are.  People the world over work as hard or harder than Americans.  The inventiveness and level of development in many countries would astonish many Americans.
  2. People in other countries want the same things that we do.  People all want a successful life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Wherever we have been, we have seen people striving to live a good life surrounded by friends and relatives that they can share it with. 

We try to respect the cultures and people we visit.  We take some time to practice languages where we are going to travel.  We research cultural faux pas and expectations so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other people.  We are visitors in their countries, and we are always grateful for the help that people give us.  Many times we have been helped by people whom we have never met before and who have gone out of their way to befriend us.  We have always been treated with respect on our travels and not as outsiders.  We have made many friends during our journeys.

Conclusions:

Travel to another country may be as educational as a year in school.  A life lived without travel is not really a life lived.  Travel requires risk but the rewards are great.  You will meet people who can enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams.  And to top it all off, the icing on the cake, will be the new foods that will expand your palette of tastes and smells and provide a variety to your diet that will make your life infinitely more interesting.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad.

%d bloggers like this: