Sun, 13 Mar 2005


Food intolerance

Justine Hankins Guardian News Service/London ------- Big on brown sauce and not mad about muesli? We're often told you are what you eat, but what you don't eat says a lot about you, too. -------

Most of us, if we're honest, suffer from some sort of food intolerance, and I don't mean the kind that causes bloating and puffiness. Food conservatism, for instance, is (just about) forgivable in children, but an adult who refuses to try avocado can't possibly expect to be taken seriously -- not by me at any rate.

This is exactly the kind of culinary chauvinism that leads to snap judgments; incompatible approaches to dining have nipped blossoming relationships in the bud and caused friendships to fade. The plate, of course, is an inadequate mirror of the soul, yet we still leap to conclusions over dinner. Naturally, I'm of the muesli-eating persuasion and I have irreconcilable differences with instant coffee, ready meals and takeaway pizza.

My preferred cuisine is the exact opposite of the average teenager's, but my prejudices are no less sweeping for all that.

So, cards on the table, here's what I think of you: can't cook (incompetent); won't cook (lazy); steak and chips (conventional); anything in a "champagne" sauce (tacky); rose wine (indecisive); orange juice without the bits (dull); burgers and thick shakes (grow up -- you're not 12 any more); don't like smelly cheese, garlic, olives or spicy food (parochial, unadventurous and, quite possibly, xenophobic).

Faddish diets (self-absorbed) are also immensely irritating, as is giggling about the naughtiness of puddings (non-feminist female). Having a mocha-choca meringue pie is not an act of rebellion -- eat it or don't eat it, but just shut up about it.

The way we eat can provide clues as to attitudes and background; I leave my favorite bits till last, for example, which tells you instantly that I'm an only child with no experience of competitive feasting.

Punctuating meals of paella and falafel with white bread snacks, usually involving brown sauce, is a habit enjoyed by nostalgic first generation university graduates (I'm very much in favor of brown sauce, for what it's worth). But, mostly, the assumptions we make based on what people eat are little more than banal, superficial and often snobbish (sometimes inverted) observations.

Inevitably, my own eating habits get on other people's nerves. I'm a vegetarian for a start, which sends some carnivores into chaos. I try to be as undemanding as possible -- no really, just give me an old piece of bread to suck on, that'll be fine -- but still I get taunted with "Do you know that parsnips scream?"

I'm also embarrassingly rigid about what should go where -- beetroot has no business in ice cream, and raisins should be in cake, not rice -- which some people may interpret as evidence that I'm a hopeless Philistine, although most would probably agree that baked beans on pizza is very, very wrong.

My greatest food intolerance is reserved for those self-styled vegetarians who "only" eat fish, chicken and the occasional spit- roast puppy. I'm not militantly opposed to the consumption of flesh -- your conscience, your business; this is not about ethics, it's about menus.

Salmon tagliatelle has become vegetarian dish of the day in many venues, thanks to these evil faux-veggies, and they will languish in an infernal eternity at the mercy of fiendish bantams.