Didactic is one of those words that, when people use it, they sound incredibly smart and you feel stupid because even though you’ve looked it up in the dictionary a thousand times you still don’t really know what it means. What does it mean? Let’s look it up now. Didactic: “meant or meaning to instruct.”
I would say didactic is usually used in the pejorative sense, but then you’ll scratch your head and say “pejorative”–that’s another one of those words that you feel stupid for constantly forgetting–so let’s look that up too. Pejorative: “expressing disapproval.”
Is defining pejorative too didactic?
Forgive me. That’s my point here, you see. This site has become too didactic in the pejorative sense.
I have a lot of nerve telling you how to eat. You should eat whatever you want. Seriously. There was a great scene on one of my Freaks and Geeks DVDs where Lindsay’s mom tries to spice up her marriage by cooking game hen instead of meatloaf. Lindsay’s dad could not be more unhappy: “Where’s my meatloaf?” he demands. What an insensitive brute! But then he gives a really great speech where he says that he wants meatloaf because he likes meatloaf and he knows he likes it. What’s wrong with that?
Well nothing really. That’s the loophole with all diversity campaigns: if we are going to accept diversity, we have to accept those who do not accept diversity too. Same with food. If we’re going to encourage diversity in our eating, we have to acknowledge that some people just really don’t want to try game hen. It’s just who they are.
Let’s call this group the Archie Bunkers. They are stuck in their ways and, in a way, that makes them endearing. They are very much who they are and they’re not budging.
I have friends like this. My friend Lisa–who you’ve met several times–hates olives. (See The Great Olive Campaign). Honestly, no matter what you do, she will always hate olives. Lisa is a charming person but when it comes to eating she’s an Archie Bunker. You won’t change her.
My dad is an Archie Bunker eater. My brother too. My grandmother especially—she inspects her food with a microscope to make sure it is in conformity with her wishes. There will be no game hen for grandma.
Grandpa, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of an Archie Bunker eater. He’s a–let’s see, who’s the opposite of an Archie Bunker? Heidi Fleiss! Grandpa is a Heidi Fleiss eater. He’ll eat anything.
Grandma chastises grandpa all the time for what he orders. He’ll order escargot or some weird stuffed pork dish or a cheesy eggplant parmesan and grandma will yell: “Roy! Stop being a Heidi Fleiss eater! You order the strangest food!”
I’m not quite a Heidi Fleiss eater yet. I’m getting there. I horrified my family on our annual Christmas cruise this year when I ordered frogs legs.
“Don’t eat it Adam,” they begged.
I took great pleasure when I, like the Triplets of Bellville, slurped a kicking frog leg down my gullet.
My grandma passed out.
Now then, the title of this post is “Let Yourself Go” and that’s because I guestimate that the majority of you are somewhere in-between the Heidi Fleisses and the Archie Bunkers.
[Incidentally, here’s my brother and I with Archie Bunker oh so many years ago:
Any my mom with Heidi Fleiss not so many months ago:
If you ask which one’s my mom I’ll punch you!
Though, interestingly, my mom’s name is Heidi…]
Anyway, something is holding you back on your journey from food bigot to food whore. Without wanting to be didactic (in the pejorative sense) I would now like to list the elements that I–over several days–have decided are the most prevalent factors that block you on your way to food nirvana.
(1) Money. This one’s hard to defeat. If you don’t have the money to eat daringly, then you can’t eat daringly. And especially when you’re feeding a family of four or six or 5.3 (see Entitlement posts) buying game hen over meatloaf isn’t practical.
For those not in the lowest economic bracket, however, there may be some disposable income. Did you know 90% of American’s define themselves as middle class? That doesn’t really make sense–only so many people can be in the middle–but maybe they do so because they have a little money to spare. If that’s the case, money shouldn’t block the way.
I’m no expert (see website name), but I can imagine there are many ways to eat bravely on a tight budget. I would point you to Eric Asimov’s $25 and Under column in the NYT, but that’s still a bit pricey even for the middle class.
Ethnic food is probably the best place to start. And Chowhound is probably your best resource. That leads to factor number two…
(2) Knowledge. Where do you go? Chowhound is like Willy Wonka opening the door to the chocolate room: “Come with me / and you’ll be / in a world of real bad indigestion…” Basically wherever you live in the US (and maybe even the world) Chowhound will provide you with a message board where people post hole-in-the-wall little nooks you would never think to eat at and that often prove delicious. This past summer in LA, Chowhound turned me on to what became my favorite places: the Sugarplum Bakery, Zankou Chicken, Loteria. If you live in L.A. or New York, especially, you have no excuse not going on to Chowhound. Go on there and now and see if there are any interesting places near where you work or live. Split pea soup! I’m being didactic again! In the pejorative sense!
(3) Health. Another roadblock on the path to delicousness are those nasty little life-defeating maggots we call “health concerns.” Of course, there are those of us with serious health concerns: like the diabetics or those with iritable bowel syndrome. To those of you, I grant you a free pass: you may eat as you like. The rest of you are facing a strict scrutiny standard.*** (OH NO! LAW TRIVIA IS INVADING MY BLOG! AHHHHH!)
Jeffrey Steingarten, for one, believes that lactose intolerance is a sham: “Overnight, everybody you meet has become lactose intolerant. It is the chic food fear of the moment. But the truth is that very, very few of us are so seriously afflicted that we cannot drink even a whole glass of milk a day without ill effects. I know several people who have given up cheese to avoid lactose. But fermented cheeses contain no lactose! Lactose is the sugar found in milk; 98 percent of it is drained off with the whey (cheese is made from the curds), and the other 2 percent is quickly consumed by lactic-acid bacteria in the act of fermentation.”
And don’t get Anthony Bourdain started on vegetarians: “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.”
If you limit your diet because of health concerns, you may want to rethink that. Do you really want to limit the enjoyment of your fine dining years so you can extend the duration of your baby food years? Let’s hope not.
(4)Time. “Oh but Adam,” you say, “this all sounds quite lovely, but I don’t have the time.” Yes you do. You’re being silly. If you’ve read this far, you have the time. Even Jeremy over at Frost Street who works thousand hour weeks at his law firm, has time to fry up a soft shell crab on his holiday weekend:
[image posted courtesy of and without the knowledge of Frost Street]
It looks delicious. That could be yours, so stop maing excuses.
And finally we come to the big daddy horse of Archie to Heidi barricades:
(5)Fear. This is the one that has most of us in its thrall. It’s the one that keeps us from ordering something we’ve never had; it stops us from attempting to cook anything in our kitchens. It’s what makes us wince at funny smells or makes us redden at the site of four hot peppers on the menu. And fear is what leads many of us to accept mundane forms of life: fear of leaving our jobs, fear of leaving our homes, fear of leaving our children tied to the sofa while we drive off to start a new life. Ok, maybe that’s a good fear.
But, anyway, from personal experience I can definitely say that fear is what kept me from getting on the foodie gravy train the many years I lived a mundane culinary life. I was genuinely afraid to even touch the stove, let alone turn it on. I got over that. You can too.
I’ll stop there because, yet again I’m being—you know. And I’m not telling you how to live your life. If you’re an Archie Bunker, be proud of it. Eat what you like. But if you’re on the fence, forgive me this one little nugget of advice: do as the title of this post suggests and let yourself go! Food whores have all the fun.