Monday, March 23, 2009

In which people are ridiculous

When not long ago I mentioned that I had tried to like kale but that alas, it's not a food I would ever seek out, a commenter would not have it, providing both a recipe for a dish involving kale and a scientific article urging kale consumption. (I don't hate kale, I just don't want it. If a dish I was served that was otherwise pleasant contained kale, I'd probably eat it, whereas unless they're very shredded and in fried vegetable dumplings, mushrooms go straight to the side of the plate.)

Unsurprisingly, our president is now getting the same treatment for making it known that he does not like beets. Come on people. You're allowed to not like a vegetable! I mean, I get that if you've only eaten the most canned-and-bland version of a vegetable, you might think you don't like it, only to discover upon trying the Alice Waters version that it's fabulous. But what if you've had the food in question fresh and sauteed in garlic and olive oil and it still made you gag? Given that all we seem to know for sure, nutrition-wise, is that it's best not to eat too much, and environment-wise, that it's best not to eat too much meat and to not have all your food flown in from halfway across the world, what are the sanctimonious masses basing this particular grievance on? Because let's face it, beets are kind of disgusting.

19 comments:

PG said...

But has the president had beets with goat cheese?

I'll eat almost any vegetable, but I have yet to find tasty collard greens.

Dana said...

I don't like a lot of vegetables and don't go out of my way to eat them. (I do like mushrooms, corn, arugula though). I would never eat a beet. Fruit I love. The NYT should interview me and get to the bottom of my bizarre discrimination against vegetables.

Matt said...

Well, I like beets, at least done in quite a few ways. But you're right in general- it's weird and crazy to try and insist that people eat a food they've tried and just don't like, especially if they are not overly picky in general. (I don't like grapes or most fresh tomatoes. Tomatoes are fine cooked and I even don't mind them if they are cut up very small and all the gross slime stuff taken out, but fresh or in big pieces? Yuck.)

PG said...

Matt,

No tomato-basil-mozzarella splashed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar? No summer tomatoes sliced and lightly salted?

Sadness.

I agree it's crazy to try to get people to eat something they've tried in that form and not liked (I've given up trying to get my husband to eat yogurt, for example -- he's had Yoplait, Ronnybrook, Red Mango, a bizarre hyper-girly place in either Kyoto or Tokyo -- it's just not happening).

But sometimes people really do find that they like something made one way and not another. I assumed I hated tofu based on how it was served in the college cafeteria, but I loved the tofu pie that my vegetarian roommates made.

Phoebe said...

PG,

"But sometimes people really do find that they like something made one way and not another."

This I acknowledge. But I guess what I'm not getting is why we as a society put so much emphasis on an ideal of everyone enjoying every possible food, as though it's some great flaw, symbolic of a broader fearfulness about life, if someone finds a certain food disgusting. In my experience, pickiness about food does not coincide with general timidity, nor does adventurousness regarding food carry over to other areas.

If the point is for people to be polite guests when at a dinner party, then what good is it to know that, if prepared just so, you like Food X, when chances are a food you mostly dislike will be in one of its many repulsive forms when you encounter it randomly? (What are the chances someone will serve tofu pie?) Once you're an adult, pickiness is easy enough to accommodate. In a restaurant, different dishes can be ordered. At home, offending ingredients can be left out of one portion. Once you're buying your own food, it seems insane to buy foods you don't actually enjoy, just to expand your horizons.

As for college cafeterias, those are never a good place to try something new, or even something at all, although what option do you have when you're there? UChicago's spinach lasagne put me off an otherwise appealing food, as did their inexplicably-American-cheese-filled calzones.

Anonymous said...

I think the beet parts of Terra Chips are edible, but they might just be potatoes with red food coloring.

Beets taste metallic unless they are prepared unusually well. They are, however, useful for impromptu rouge.

PG said...

Phoebe,

Once you're buying your own food, it seems insane to buy foods you don't actually enjoy, just to expand your horizons.

1) Would you take this view of expending resources (even if it's just time) on anything else new? (e.g. trying authors, filmmakers, etc. whose work you didn't like when you tried it before but your friends say you might like the new thing)

2) Being very open particularly about fruits and vegetables helps one eat more healthfully and locally. This isn't important to everyone, but I think it's one motive driving the encouragement of horizon expansion. (One doesn't seem to see so much of a push for people to develop a taste for sweetbreads, to take an example of something I tried once and will never have again.)

Phoebe said...

Trying new things and trying new foods... there's a difference, I think. Aversion to a certain food is much, much stronger than aversion to, say, Philip Roth.

Re: local/seasonal, it's true, if you're a picky eater in a cold climate, you will not find much at the farmers' market. But you can do your part by, say, not eating much meat and not driving a car. It's not a zero-sum choice between kale and indifference.

As for openness to vegetables and health... I'm not entirely convinced that eating a lot of vegetables is terribly important for health, except insofar as people who eat lots of them tend not to also eat huge plates of cheese fries at every meal. I'm not suggesting an all-pasta-with-no-sauce diet (although pasta-with-no-sauce is quite good) or anything that leads to vitamin deficiency, but my understanding is that a thin-to-normal-weight person who eats a mix of 'real' and processed food is probably in better health than someone quite overweight who got that way from too-large portions of local, seasonal, Mediterranean, or otherwise health-section-approved items. And yes, people like this exist. My sense (clearly, Science remains less clear-cut on this issue than on, say, heroin, unprotected casual sex, or sketchy tattoo parlors) is that it's not so much that a bowl of ice cream is worse for you than one of kale as that it's easier, given caloric density and tastiness, to eat too much of the former. But this is, to put it mildly, not my field of expertise.

Anonymous said...

Where were you when GHW Bush needed stout defense because he admitted he didn't like broccoli? dave.s.

Phoebe said...

"Where were you when GHW Bush needed stout defense because he admitted he didn't like broccoli?"

I'm 25 now, so, busy being a small child. I wouldn't read partisanship into this.

PG said...

my understanding is that a thin-to-normal-weight person who eats a mix of 'real' and processed food is probably in better health than someone quite overweight who got that way from too-large portions of local, seasonal, Mediterranean, or otherwise health-section-approved items. And yes, people like this exist.

I think you're putting too much emphasis on weight. Someone who lives entirely on local, seasonal fruits and vegetables can be of a greater-than-media-approved weight while also having excellent cholesterol levels, blood pressure and other actual health indicators (which weight isn't except at the extremes). I have two friends who are vegetarians and who are what you'd probably consider overweight, but they're both in very good health, more so than some people I know who are thin and have neither strength nor endurance.

Matt said...

PG- I've tried that tomato mixture. It would be great, if it didn't have raw tomatoes in it. I've even tried quite a few varieties. I just don't like them most ways. Not being willing to try new things is something, but tomatoes are no longer "new" to me, as, I guess, kale is no longer "new" to Phoebe. Some of this is, I think, mostly physical- some people are more sensitive to different tastes than are others. But really, if someone is healthy and enjoys what they like and are not unreasonable in not trying things they've not tried before, it's a bit crazy and unpleasant for other to hound them.

Phoebe said...

"a greater-than-media-approved weight"

Gosh, that's not what I meant at all. Basically no one's a media-approved weight. I'm a size two at most stores (granted vanity sizing) and still visibly larger than any woman in a women's mag.

"I have two friends who are vegetarians and who are what you'd probably consider overweight, but they're both in very good health, more so than some people I know who are thin and have neither strength nor endurance."

I don't have a special conception of "overweight" that's more stringent than normal, and am not sure what in my remarks made it seem that way. By "overweight" I mean someone whose doctor, who's not a sadist or pro-anorexia (which, nevertheless, some doctors might be), has told them that for health reasons, they need to lose weight. I don't mean someone who, when she puts on a pair of too-tight jeans, has some flesh that pokes out in unfortunate ways. That would be nearly all women, and it's not the definition of a health problem.

As for the health of your friends, as their friend, you might be able to assess their energy levels, and you might know things about their lifestyle habits otherwise (the cliched model-who-chainsmokes), but that doesn't change the fact that excess weight, whether the result of too much sauteed kale or too many Doritos, means a certain risk to one's health. The idea that what you eat matters more than how much... I just doubt that.

PG said...

But even doctors have taken on cultural ideas about what constitutes being overweight that might not be medically relevant. For example, public health measures of BMI (which are done over large populations) have a category that they deem "overweight" into which lots of people who are quite healthy are put based on the ratio of their height to their weight. This is silly because a useful Body Mass Index would account for how much of the weight is muscle and bone mass, and how much is fat and in what parts of the body. "Excess weight" doesn't mean much medically. Being "overweight" doesn't lead to diabetes; carrying so much fat that it screws up the chemical signals to your insulin receptors does.

If what you're eating simply cannot be converted to bone and muscle mass, then either you excrete it (literally or through conversion to ATP) or it becomes fat. It's the body fat that poses the most common danger, not the weight. (There's a level of weight at which people are stressing their joints and possibly even their cardiopulmonary system, but that's getting toward morbid obesity.)

To bring this back to the food question, if you're eating a lot of food high in animal fats, you might have a normal BMI and still be much less healthy than a vegetarian with a BMI in the overweight range. I'm an example of the former: I'm small boned and drop muscle very quickly unless I'm actively working out, so my BMI is in the normal range regardless of whether my cholesterol level is under 180 (what happens when I avoid animal fats) or has shot up to 250 (the result of whole milk and cheesecake).

I think a social stigma toward dislikes of fruits and vegetables is a much healthier stigma than one toward being overweight.

Phoebe said...

"I think a social stigma toward dislikes of fruits and vegetables is a much healthier stigma than one toward being overweight."

I get why it sounds nicer, but I'm not convinced, health-wise, that adds up. It is possible to have health problems from being overweight (fine, having too much fat, with weight as a useful proxy) even if one is not visibly exceptional, morbidly obese, or anything like that. Really, it is, especially if certain diseases run in your family. It's unfair, just like it's unfair that working out after a cigarette doesn't 'cancel it out', or that following Jane Brody's every suggestion doesn't make you live forever.

This doesn't mean the answer is to tell anyone slightly heavy that they are going to die soon, because obviously weight is just one of many factors when it comes to health, BMI is an imperfect measure, and, most importantly, to be a pleasant person in society means not giving unsolicited judgments on health (or aesthetics) to everyone you meet.

Obviously 'here, try this kale' is a reasonable thing to tell someone at a dinner party, while 'gee, you look like you could stand to lose a few pounds' is not. But that doesn't mean the pro-kale suggestion is the one that would actually make the person sitting next to you live longer.

David Schraub said...

"In which Phoebe realizes this the fourth post with the 'in which' construction in 2009 alone"? :-p

Phoebe said...

When a blog's this old (coming up on five years, I think), the old blogger tends to run out of ideas.

David Schraub said...

I feel ya -- my blog's fifth birthday is in June. We are ancients of the blogosphere (PG's considerably older, but I distinctly remember her retiring over the summer, so I'll refer to her as being part of the blogger undead).

PG said...

LOL. I am a zombie blogger, HSM having come back strange and ghostly.