Food is an important part of our lives. Consuming food is of course essential for survival, but to humans, food can mean so much more. To some, food is a way to connect with people, a way to share an experience with others. To others, food is a passion and an art form, a way of expressing one’s vision to someone’s tongue. Sometimes food is something to take comfort in, a calming friend to fill in the holes when we feel empty (literally and metaphorically). To me, food is a reminder of our mortality and of our insatiable appetite to consume.
Food is important to all of us, regardless of the reasons why. We should never take food lightly, but we shouldn’t take it too seriously either. Food is both an art and a pleasure. There is a craft to making food that demands to be appreciated, but you should never be too hasty to turn away good food: you might miss out on something unexpected and delicious. In the pursuit of both art and pleasure in my food, I’ve come up with a few rules.
1. Food that tastes good is good food.
I love my fancy meals. I love seeing great presentation and fresh and exotic ingredients. There’s nothing like the tantalizing juices of a perfectly medium-rare porter house, or the fragrance and suppleness of a well baked bread. But food is more than fine dining. Food is about taste. My appreciation of food doesn’t end when the foie gras and the gnocchi run out. I love the simple things. I love the bad-for-you-meals. There’s nothing like going to Papaya Dog and grabbing 2 hot dogs with everything on top and a 16 oz papaya drink, or chowing down on a gigantic burrito from my local hole in the wall. I love gummy worms and sour patch kids, even plain carrot sticks. The point is this: there is simple food and there is fancy food, but food is food, and good is good.
2. Ingredients are just ingredients. Every dish has it’s own taste
I’ve met quite a few people who don’t like very specific ingredients, so much so that they aren’t willing to try dishes which include the ingredient. Of course this is understandable: certain foods just don’t jive with a persons taste buds. Yet a dish’s taste is so much more than any individual ingredient. No ingredient flies solo in a good dish: every ingredient has an effect to the taste of the whole. So two dishes might include the same fish, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to taste the same, or even necessarily have the same texture. Cooking is chemistry. Ingredients are composed of proteins, fats, acids, etc. Time, temperature, and the interaction of ingredients at a molecular level have drastic effects on the final product. Texture, taste, smell: all of these things are heavily dependent not only on the ingredients, but on the manner in which the dish is cooked. Don’t limit your palette just because you don’t like one thing: keep tasting and trying and you might one day find yourself pleasantly surprised.
3. There’s a lot to eat in the world. Go eat it!
There are so many types of foods and tastes in the world just waiting to be discovered by your tongue. The sense of taste is developed like any other sense: by exposing it to many experiences. By varying what we eat, we develop a sense of personal taste, as well as a deeper understanding of food itself. For a cook, such experience is invaluable, but even for those of us who aren’t in the culinary arts, such experience enhances our normal, everyday eating experience.
4. Good food will always satisfy more than bountiful food.
Gorging oneself with food is certainly an appealing idea to many (including me), but eating a lot is not always as satisfying as it is coma inducing (for some people these are one in the same). Food that tastes good and satisfies the palette is always more worth it than food that just fills the hole. We’re no longer primitive humans who need to devour absurd amounts of calories just to have the energy to survive in a hostile environment; we just need enough energy to walk to our cars and get up to go to the refrigerator. So I think it’s about time we stop just filling the hole in our stomachs and started giving our tongues something to be happy about.
5. Learn to cook!
Cooking is not just following recipes: it’s knowing about the effects of temperature, the quality of ingredients, and the individual tastes of those ingredients. Knowing how to cook is extremely enlightening when it comes to eating. Cooking shows us not just what makes food taste good, but how food tastes good. You don’t even have to be good at cooking, just knowing how all the factors come into play in the crafting of a single dish can help you really appreciate taste on a much higher level.
6. Just eat it.
If it isn’t so totally unappetizing as to be inedible, just eat it. This isn’t really a rule about good food, but more about food in general. I grew up in a house where throwing out food was (and still is) sacrilege. Not only is it an offense to the person who made the food, but it is an offense to the idea of hunger. It’s not that the starving child in Somalia would have gotten your food if you hadn’t eaten it, but knowing that there is a child in Somalia who is starving while you throw away your food. I’m not saying you have to pretend like a bad dish is good, I’m just saying, for the sake of others, just eat it.