Children are the only people who are really honest.
Try to feed a kid some Brussels sprouts, or boiled cabbage, or cauliflower.
"I don't like it!"
The cry of "I don't like it" is the most honest we'll ever be about food.
As far as I can tell, most of life is a steady, grinding process of convincing ourselves that we like something that tastes bad, itches, pinches, annoys us, or is just plain boring.
But we'll leave aside tobacco, neckties, high-heeled shoes, office jobs, and watching political debates. Let's look at this just through the lens of gastronomy.
When we're young, things are simple. Black and white. Good guys and bad guys. Fun stuff and boring stuff. Delicious foods (Kraft dinner! Hotdogs! Cake!) and horrible foods (green things grown in demon-haunted farms in the lower depths of hell).
Scientifically, kids are entirely right.
A lot of the foods we eat do taste bad, you're not imagining the slightly bitter taste or awkward texture of many vegetables. See, our ancestors were fruit-and leaf-eating apes. Fruits want to be eaten; fruit-bearing trees use animals as mobile seed planters/fertilizer dispensers, so they pack in sugar.
But vegetables are different. Those are basically soft, fast-growing shrubs. They don't want to be eaten.
They resist it by producing a variety of sub-ances that make them unappetizing. Bitter or burning hot, if not downright toxic.
We've bred out some of the bitterness, but it lingers in all those leafy greens that have so many vitamins.
Our parents made sure we ate enough veggies. They did this because they loved us and wanted us to thrive. Or because having the only kid on the block with pellagra and beriberi is embarrassing.
So with every grudgingly swallowed spoonful, they told us, "You'll learn to like it."
You can learn to like anything. From green vegetables, we learn to like - or at least tolerate - a lot of other things.
Think about the first time you had a sip of beer, wine, or coffee. You were probably a kid, and you probably didn't like it much.
Again, you're not wrong. Coffee and tea smell wonderful, but they're very bitter.
Alcohol is the most widely available poison in the world.
We continue to consume these things because they provide ready hits of wake-up juice and comfortable numbness. Alcohol is particularly useful because, before refrigeration and indoor plumbing, it kept us from getting really disgusting diseases like dysentery and cholera. People didn't drink beer because they preferred it to water, they drank it because water was contaminated sludge that would rapidly cause everything inside your alimentary tract to be outside of it. This was often fatal.
But booze and caffeine have wormed their way into our culture, and we now pretend/ learn to like them, to savour their subtle differences - although studies show that few can tell the difference between cheap plonk and the finest vintages in blind taste tests.
Maybe we do have refined palates as adults, maybe we really are appreciating things children can't. I know I swill plenty of tea and eat broccoli with gusto.
But sometimes, I get the feeling that I've just brainwashed myself. To hell with Brussels sprouts, give me cake!
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