One of my favorite books when I was a kid was “James and the Giant Peach.” It wasn’t because Roald Dahl’s lyrical looniness made for an enjoyable read (although it did), and it wasn’t because I had some weird desire to immigrate to another country with a posse of disturbingly large British insects. Mostly it was the peach. I believe, in a qualified manner, that it would be “freaking awesome” to live in a peach. I don’t know how to say it any other way.
My name is Eve, and I am a food addict.
When I say, “I am a food addict,” I don’t mean, “I derive a certain degree of pleasure from the consumption of tasty things and from the subsequent feeling of fullness.” That’s probably true of most normal people. I mean that instead of Us Weekly, I have Bon Appetit; instead of a bedroom, I have a large refrigerator; instead of David Beckham and a tennis racket, I have Mario Batali and a wok. I mean that fresh mozzarella can make my day, and that “Ratatouille” grazed the inner fabric of my soul. I mean that taste supersedes my other four senses. I am hopelessly and unconditionally in love with delicious.
It isn’t easy. The problem with being a hardcore food geek may first manifest, on a purely local level, with the funny looks one gets when she decides it is a good idea to put truffle salt on her movie popcorn — but it sure doesn’t end there.
In America, presently, our grocery bags are symptoms of socialization. Biology tells us that we’re hungry, but our cultural milieu tells us what times of day to get hungry, what goes on the table, how much of it there is and how much of it we can eat without incurring the wrath of Jenny Craig; only then do our taste buds tell us which of our options we like and which we should spit into a napkin. This dynamic, however, deprives us of our authority to personal tastes.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a culinary hub, your appetites may be informed by Michelin-rated cuisine and organic ingredients; if you’re like most Americans, you take your cues from Arby, Wendy or Nabisco. And as a result, the food on which you likely grow up, learn to love and ultimately crave in the wee hours is not a crostino with tapenade or a bite of Bananas Foster or a nibble of crunchy jicama. It’s a Dorito.
(Don’t lie to yourself. Just put the bag down.)
To some extent we can’t escape the social constraints that underlie our declining standards of taste. One major roadblock is, of course, expense — the higher the quality of a dish, the higher the price. Poorer citizens of America are more likely to be familiar with gas-station merchandise than their jet-setting counterparts. But even cost disparity cannot explain away some of the poisonous foodstuffs that strike terror in my foodie heart. The legacy of our nation is aerosol cheese and fried Oreos and blue raspberry candy. Honestly, has anyone ever seen a blue raspberry? What the heck is a blue raspberry? Seriously. We have flourished under the dual misconception that (a) blue raspberries exist in the first place, and that (b) it is okay to put a mythical-fruit-flavored lollipop in your mouth. Those purportedly nutritious protein bars are no better — I refuse to consider the bastard crack-child of Potassium Sorbate and Partially Defatted Peanut Flour to be a “meal replacement.”
What we ultimately must shake off is the notion that food must be quick and easy and functional, not fashionable or fun — that its role in ours lives is merely to satisfy our hunger or help us to lose weight or to distract our hands while we watch TV. We all share this mentality, regardless of social persuasion, because we all have important, time-consuming lives to lead — but starting now, I call for revolution.
We need to take some time to stop and smell the Roquefort.
So dawns my latest and greatest goal as an epicure: I want to slice mangoes over your salad, to stick a kooky menu under your nose and a copy of Bon Appetit in your book bag. I want to reinitiate conversation about food, not just over it. I want to make the Europeans think twice about making fun of our chocolate. My quest, starting with this column, is to make everyone as obsessed with eating as I am, and hopefully, at journey’s end, “Ratatouille” will be your favorite movie too.
Eve Binder is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. She edits copy for the News.