My friends lean toward the foodie side. They say things like, “Mmmm, what is in this chutney? I have to know! It is fantastic.” They say things like, “fantastic.” They discreetly swish their rosé (It was all the rage last summer, rosè, that is. Although it may already be so last year) over their refined pallets. Backyard burgers are made from spa-raised cows. They are served on brioche, which is more like a pastry than a bun. The cheese is always artisanal. As the editor of a food magazine for the past eight years, they assume I myself am of their ilk.
“Did you try the shrub?” I nod and say something glowingly non-committal, like, “I did!”
I had not. If you think that a shrub is a bush, don’t despair. The only reason I know that a shrub is also a drink is because a writer once wrote about the drink version in this magazine. If you are curious, take a bunch of pine needles, put them in your mouth, and chew. You will get a good idea.
I have lied to my host because I eat and drink what is presented (or at least pretend to). No doubt, I live firmly planted under the tyranny of social norms. This is why the ‘special diet’ people garner my admiration. Take The Vegans as Exhibit A (although the list of categories seems to be getting longer by the day). These are the people who sit at the Thanksgiving table and proclaim, “I am not eating that.”
To which the host might say, “You’re not eating what?”
“You’re not eating the turkey?”
“No. But please, don’t worry, we brought our own Tofurkey roll.” [Note to the uninitiated: Tofurkey is turkey-like but meat free. It is made from plant proteins including soybean and wheat. It’s sold in a loaf.]
Serve me squirrel and collard greens, and I won’t dare tell you that I am on a squirrel-free diet. Thus, I admire these people cruising along in their own personal lane—disciplined as an Olympic athlete. But the I-won’t-eat-meat group and the I-never-touch-carbs crowd and the OMG-have-you-tried-the-Fourmed’Ambert people to me all feel like a by-product of the same condition—abundance. And all the fuss simply makes me crave a hot dog (the kind boiling in a pot) and a cold can of Coke.
“You’re not that into food are you?” our managing editor recently said to me. I felt dangerously outed. Yes and no was the answer. At the very least, I can say that I am into the people who provide us the food. What I am not into is being into anything too much.
Maybe I envy the discipline. I have unofficially been on a paleo diet since I turned fifty, when it became apparent that whatever I put in my mouth migrated to my gut. So I now shun carbs for protein. Except at times when I don’t. Times meaning times of the day. Like lunch. Meanwhile, for this issue, we have met vegans who wouldn’t eat flesh to save their own souls. But then again, maybe that is precisely why they aren’t eating flesh— to save souls, including their own. Duly noted.
When I was in grade school, my father bought an enormous pearly-white Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham with spoke hubcaps. The interior was a plush maroon velour. I can still feel it. The clock was Tiffany, which at the time, meant nothing to me until my friend’s dad, while sitting in the passenger seat for the inaugural ride, shouted, “My God, it’s a Tiffany!” I knew then that this was important. And I couldn’t have been more embarrassed. Abundance of any kind, as always, made me quietly squirm. It is a mystery for it is not rooted in some left of center trappings or conspicuous worldly compassion. It’s just that I have always had this pervasive feeling that the chickens will come home to roost, so don’t get too comfortable. Plus, I simply can’t sit there knowing that somebody else isn’t. Offer me the most comfortable bed, and I will lie there all night wracked with guilt as I envision you tossing and turning on the mushier option. However, ask that I make you something other than what is being served, and I am mildly annoyed. And serve me Wagyu beef paired with a $50 Tempranillo, and I get this strange feeling like I am back in the Cadillac. Or in the dining room of the Titanic right before it hits the iceberg.
I am strongly considering creating a new dietary category that shuns all things high end:
“No, no. I am sorry, I don’t eat caviar.”
“You don’t eat caviar? Even Beluga Sturgeon?”
“No, oooh, it’s fantastic … especially wrapped in a warm crêpe with melted European-style butter, but I am a Non-Gourmand, and I would appreciate it if you would respect that. It’s OK. I brought my own hot dogs.”