It's All Good.

April 24, 2005

I have always thought that people who keep a long list of certifiably delicious foods that they avoid are at least as troubled as people who avoid sex, except that the latter will probably seek psychiatric help, while food phobics rationalize their problem in the name of genetic inheritance, allergy, vegetarianism, matters of taste, nutrition, food safety, obesity, or a sensitive nature. (True food allergies can be extremely dangerous, but no more than 1 percent or 2 percent of adults suffer from them.) The examples of neurotic food avoidance could take several volumes to fill, but milk is a good one.

Suddenly, everybody has become lactose-intolerant. But the truth is that very, very few of us are so seriously afflicted that we cannot drink even a glass of milk a day without trouble. 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.

I cannot figure out why, but the atmosphere in America today rewards this sort of self-deception. Fear and suspicion of food have nearly become the norm. Civil dinners have become impossible, and with them, the sense of festivity and exchange. We are as pitiable as the poor bushmen of the Kalahari who perish in large numbers during the droughts that afflict them every two or three years because they consider only about a quarter of the 223 animal species that inhabit their world to be edible.

I absolutely like trying new foods, but it was something I didn’t start until I was a little early in my 20’s. It started early there, with an occasional food here or there, then it drifted to sushi and other asian foods. I’m only hindered by my allergy to shellfish. I’ve had shrimp until I was 24 or 25 and only had lobster and crab once or twice before the full effects of the allergy set in. I don’t understand perfectly healthy people being afraid of food.