Thursday, May 5, 2011

What a carrot can never be

It may appear rather anachronistic in this day and age, but I like to cook. No, really, I enjoy the entire process and view it as a creative endeavor which mixes the science of cooking with the almost infinite variability of food mixtures. Baking is, in my opinion, the only effective alchemy humans can ever hope to achieve. You take disparate parts, mix them in the proper proportions, and the result in no way resembles the structure of the components, and in some cases doesn't even strongly resemble the tastes of the component parts.

Enjoying cooking is extremely helpful if you're trying to eat differently. I recently went to a chain restaurant that is famous in the U.S. for its tacky decor and often overly friendly staff. I hadn't been to this sort of place in decades, literally. The food, which I assume must be popular among some patrons or there wouldn't be branches of this place worldwide, was horrible. It was too greasy and salty and the nutritional balance of dishes was very poor. I guess that it'd be great for kids, who actively dislike fruit and vegetables, and college kids who are trying to eat away a hangover, but all I could think was how I was paying for someone else to serve me an inferior meal. It's not that I'm the greatest cook in the world, mind you, but I can do better than what was offered to me by leaps and bounds.

One thing many people say about the (dreadfully named) "lifestyle change" is that your tastes change after you start eating certain foods. You grow accustomed to whatever it is that you have been eating through time and lose your taste for things you once adored. This is why people from different cultures love certain foods that people from other cultures find disgusting. Generally speaking, this is true, and I'm sure accounts for my distaste about the taste of the type of food I was served at that restaurant. However, many people who become utterly absorbed in restricting their intake try to sell you the notion that one day you'll find a carrot as desirable as a bowl of ice cream. Scratch that... they try to sell you on the idea that you'll prefer the carrot over the ice cream. The only way that will happen if you're so lactose intolerant that you'll become violently ill with one nibble of cold, creamy heaven.

Much as I'd like to embrace the idea that one day I'll look at a piece of chocolate and say, "nah, I don't like it anymore", I know better. I may not want that chocolate to soothe my emotions anymore, but my mouth still knows heavenly sensory pleasures. You can lie to yourself, but you can't lie to your taste buds. They've developed desires and your desire to play head games to convince yourself not to like something aren't going to overwrite the results of evolution.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good carrot. In fact, a really fresh moist raw carrot is sweet and tasty and can't be beat when you're in the mood for a crunchy vegetable fix, but it's not the same as a well-made chocolate truffle or a homemade snickerdoodle cookie. It really is "apples and oranges".

You do lose your taste for certain kinds of food when you change your eating habits. You just don't lose your taste for giant categories of dish types. That is, you may not enjoy the easy to make frozen vegetables swimming in fake butter anymore, but you may enjoy perfectly al dente steamed vegetables with a light coating of real butter. You may not desire Chee-tos like you used to, but you may really savor gourmet parmesan crisps. Tastes change, but they don't tend to put you in a place where you want to abandon all desserts, salty treats, or good fats.

For me, I've lost my taste for almost all convenience foods now - frozen and canned prepared food is just disgusting to me now. I can't eat powdered or canned soup after having spent two years developing recipes for homemade versions. I used to like them, but not anymore. Once you've immersed yourself in eating food which lacks the preservatives, excess salt, and fake ingredients, you find it hard to go back. This is generally a good thing for your health, but not so for your free time, and possibly not for your wallet considering you can get a can of tomato soup for a quarter in some places, but it's going to cost you more than that to buy all of the vegetables to do it yourself.

So, I have found that my food tastes have changed through time, but not in the way food zealots often say. I still love desserts and salty snacks. I still love well-made baked goods and crispy skin on a well-cooked piece of chicken (oh, love that skin, but don't eat it). Mainly, I've just become fussier about these things such that I've just got to do all of the work myself. It makes me wish I had a bigger freezer.