Vanilla is NOT “Vanilla”

Negligence and duty of care are not matters that should concern the average reader of a food blog. After all, we’re here to talk about food right? At least we pretend to. Although, I’ll concede, bunny sock puppets making cupcakes adds little to the discourse.

But I digress.

Today, during our BarBri Torts lecture, the professor—a very funny guy who everyone loved—used a phrase to describe the average duty of care owed to the average person. He said (and I quote) (hence the quotation marks): “He is owed the plain old vanilla prudent person standard of care.”

The law itself does not concern us: please drop your textbooks. What does concern us, though, is this hateful use of the word “vanilla.” When did vanilla become a pejorative? Or at least a minimizer? Why does “‘vanilla” automatically mean “plain”?

For anyone who has experienced the pleasure of a vanilla bean, you are well aware that vanilla is anything but plain. Its flavor is intense and comforting and yet broader, too; timeless—to quote the Bangles, an “eternal flame.”

This picture may not seem like much…


…but to me it represents one of the greatest smells that’s ever perfumed my kitchen. It comes from my homemade vanilla bean ice cream, so much more delicious than the chocolate gunk I made to appease Lauren’s sophomoric tastes:


Oh you chocolate people are probably scratching your screens right now hoping for a whiff. How pathetic you are!

Vanilla people are a closeted bunch, ashamed of their apparently “conventional” “plain” and “ordinary” tastes. I contend that vanilla people are nothing near ordinary. We are a select breed, more finely attuned to the subleties in life. We spot ALL the differences in the back of Highlights magazine. We’re that sharp.

But there’s no need for binaries when it comes to chocolate and vanilla. They both have their merits. Chocolate is good to lure children into your oven and to hide razors in at Halloween. Vanilla can accomplish that too, but vanilla is sexier, vanilla is sultrier, vanilla is Laura Linney and chocolate is Catherine Zeta Jones. Sure, CZJ was in “Chicago” but at least Laura Linney doesn’t do cell phone commercials. [Although Laura Linney DID do “The Mothman Prophecies.”]

Vanilla is always a pleasant surprise, even in savory dishes. I’ll never forget the vanilla that accompanied the crab cake I stole from my mom at Bacchanalia. Or check out this line from Frank Bruni’s Bouley review: “I had black sea bass that had been slow-roasted to moist perfection and served in a bouillabaisse that was seasoned, surprisingly and deliciously, with vanilla.” See that? Vanilla can be surprising and delicious. Suck on that, chocolate.

In conclusion, recall the tag-line of the 199? Oscar-winning-scared-my-grandparents-movie, “American Beauty”: “Look closer.”

Sure, from a distance vanilla seems plain Jane, but up close it has more pizazz than Esther on a party night. To think otherwise is foodie negligence.

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