You know Come Dine With Me, don’t you? Everyone watches it nowadays, probably because it seems to be on 24 x 7 on one channel or another. Anyway, the objective of this programme is not to showcase perfect food but to match together people who will rub each other up the wrong way, and deliberately so. At the beginning of each set of episodes, the contestants are invited to talk about themselves and their personal prejudices, of which there are generally many. And on each series of dinner parties there is almost always at least one candidate who is impossibly fussy about their food and what they will eat, and at least one more who is very uptight about people who won’t even try food before deciding they don’t like it.
Not that I’m ever going to appear on said programme, but if I did I would undoubtedly fall into the latter camp: me no like faddiness. Yes, I accept some people have allergies while others will try foodstuffs and not like them, and if we were all identical life would indeed be very boring. I’m borderline on people who insist on steaks served any more well done than medium, but accept that there are some with an aversion to the sight of blood.
In general I am a tolerant chap, open-minded but possessed of some strong opinions. I’m not remotely religious, for example, but my best friend and his wife are born-again Christians. But on food I take a hard line, be it kids, pets or adults – fussy eaters are not welcome. People who will have a bash at anything are most welcome!
If I cook, I like people to try whatever, and if they leave some fair enough. I have a friend who does not like pasta, which to my sensibilities seems most odd, given that pasta is inert and harmless, though said friend does not get on with the texture. In general, taste is a bigger issue, though I’ve said before we should be used to more robust flavours – in some cases, people just prefer food to be flavour-free – a great shame indeed, but no reason not to try stronger stuff.
But my wrath is reserved for those whose instinctive response is to reject food without having tried it. Such people don’t get as far as objecting to the flavour or texture of foods, so presumably it’s appearance or even the thought of a foodstuff that puts these people off. I doubt their tastebuds are greatly more sensitive, and in some cases it’s comparatively bland foods that get the elbow, but it’s the prejudice that really gets my goat.
An example: if I believed in hell, one corner would be reserved especially those who claim to like only “traditional English food” and reject anything that looks or sounds to them remotely “foreign”. This is sheer wanton prejudice, since the probability is that all the ingredients would probably be eaten in other dishes, but not in the name of a Chinese or an Indian dish.
Note, this is not the same as liking your food plain and unadorned with sauces, which if the raw materials are good is a fair and reasonable response – and can be a taste accommodated within any national variation. But to say you will eat shepherd’s pie but not bolognaise or tikka masala sauce on principle is daft, not least because both are much more British than either Italian or Indian, respectively.
In my case, it took me some years to get to enjoy cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts and big mushrooms, but that was because of how they were cooked by my mother. I will admit that strong fishy flavours and liver are still not to my taste, though I will and have eaten both. My friend Nigel (referred to above) was a nightmare as a youth, and isn’t that much more advanced even now – though the occasional dish on Indian and Chinese takeaway menus will pass muster. As a teen, he would not eat any veg, other than potatoes, no salads and very little dairy (other than Dairylea processed cheese triangles, believe it or not!) My mother hated it when he came to dinner, since she never knew what to feed him (often just a piece of meat, mashed spuds and gravy.)
You can only suppose this situation arises because parents allow their kids to get away with refusing food, and provide them with things they will eat. As far as I’m concerned, if I’ve cooked a good dinner from scratch, then my kids are expected to eat it, or at least try everything and leave what they don’t want afterwards, but if they can’t be bothered then I won’t provide them with any different foods to compensate. It is after all a learning process, and the older we get, the more sophisticated our palates should become and the less prone to childish whims like not liking green veg or white fish or anything on the bone or anything with a robust flavour, or whatever else it happens to be.