This is about as close to a manifesto as I think I’ll ever write.
I do not have any ground-breaking political insights. I am not a philosopher of note. Nothing I believe in is so well-reasoned or well-defined to be of any use to anybody but me. And even that is fairly questionable.
All I’ve got for you in terms of “wisdom” is this: Stop worrying about what other people think and just eat what you like.
“Okay, I’m so embarrassed about this, but sometimes I eat [insert food].”
If I had a nickel for every time I heard people say they’re sorry for eating some “shameful” food, I would have a dollar. Maybe $1.50. Not a lot, really.
But I assume that anything someone would say to me, a complete rando who does nothing but talk about food all day long, is something they say to their actual friends a lot.
“Ugh, I’m so gross. I still eat at Taco Bell.”
“Completely ashamed to admit this, but I love Cheez Whiz.”
“Come into my castle. I’ve just been shame-eating the blood of the innocents.”
Hey. Snap out of it, fellow flawed human beings. I do not expect any of us to be perfect, if for no other reason than I don’t even want to have to try to be perfect, much less get all the way there.
Do you think that I eat good food all the time? I wish! But the truth is, I eat about the same ratio of good food as the rest of you, I just eat a lot more food in general.
We joke around about the “Worst-to-Best” Taco Bell menu stories, but there isn’t a single man among myself, Brian and Spencer who is not gladly shoveling fast food tacos down our gullets. Are they the best tacos around? Absolutely not. But they’re comforting. They’re what we’ve grown up eating. And they are cheap as hell.
Here’s an anecdote for you: Upon the cessation of my honeymoon cruise, my new bride and I disembarked the boat, got in our car and began driving back to Oklahoma.
“I feel bad for saying this, but I kind of want some fast food,” I said.
After a week on a boat being fed all manner of decadent dishes, I was ready for something kind of bland, filled with salt and only moderately meant for human consumption. And it was great!
Do you like fried chicken? Chain restaurants? Convenience foods that are more convenient than food?
Say it with me: THAT’S OK!
Did you know that to some people, cilantro tastes like soap? It’s true!
How about this: Did you know I do not have an especially refined palate? Also true!
I have spent a lot of time eating a lot of food and while I might be able to correctly identify a secret ingredient now and again, most of what I know about food I learn from interviewing chefs and reading cookbooks.
What I’d really trained myself to do, more than anything else, is ask myself: Why?
Why do I like this? Why don’t I want another bite? Why is it important how the fish is prepared, how the pasta is extruded or how the butter is made?
You and I can disagree on any number of things, but those opinions are best when based in fact.
You like Olive Garden? Awesome. Tell me why. And if I want you to try some other Italian places around town, like Rococo or Patrono, I’d like you to give it a shot. You don’t have to love everyplace you go, but ask yourself the question: Why?
There are so many sad, serious things we can disagree on, it’s nice to have a subject we can fight about without hating each other. For me, that’s food.
I am the restaurant critic who really loves a McDonald’s cheeseburger. That doesn’t preclude me from loving the burger at Nic’s Grill or Irma’s Burger Shack or the Cow Calf-Hay. I am a fan of all of them and more, and each for different reasons.
My parents love a place called Pickles. It’s not my jam, but I’m happy they’ve found a spot they like to go. And, after working my way through the menu, I’ve found a few dishes I can enjoy, too. Pickles isn’t likely to shoot to the top of my must-eat list, but it doesn’t have to.
Honest to god, I do not care if you like a bowl of rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner or if you won’t eat a Whopper because you watched “Fast Food Nation” and figured out that “flame-broiling” is code for “chemical compound x.”
All I ask you to do is the same thing I ask of my kids — try it.
When Michelle “The Restaurant Kid” Nihn took me to Golden Phoenix to try a dish called “beef and bitter melon,” I was intrigued if not hopeful. We ordered something made with pig intestines, too. I ate it. I ate the bitter melon, too. And I didn’t particularly like either of them.
But even when I knew I didn’t like the beef and bitter melon, I kept trying. Not even to convince myself that I liked it, but to understand WHY I didn’t like it.
That, as much as the writing and the photography, is why I’m a food writer. I want to understand what makes a food good to me and what makes it good to you. I want to know how to appreciate dishes that I don’t love, because it’s always better to like what you’re eating than to hate it. And I want to be good at my job, which is telling you places to go and dishes to try that you’ll love, too.
The only thing I find utterly intolerable are people who are closed off to trying something new. Not because I demand that everyone have the same opinions about food that I have, but because they are closing themselves off to even the possibility of expanding their horizons and finding something new that makes them happy.
So that’s it. Eat what you like. Don’t be ashamed of the things you love. Don’t loathe yourself for some perceived flaw in your tastes and don’t pick on people who like foods you don’t. Just be open to the idea that there might be something better or different or fun and give it a try. If you don’t like it, fine, at least you tried.