First things first

All You Can Eat

Ever since childhood, I have loved to eat. My father described me as “having a hollow leg,” which always struck me as a little morose. But the point is that I could eat my weight in lasagna and was always looking forward to the next meal. I would sit atop our kitchen counter watching my mother cook, hoping for a handout. Over the years, I inadvertently absorbed all of my mother’s tricks and skills and started cooking with her, then by myself, and then socially for others. Cooking became a way for me to connect with others.

In awkward situations, I’ve found that talking about food can always elicit a response. It’s not always the response I want. I commonly end up expressing my distaste for veganism to somebody I didn’t know was a vegan. Not wanting to put everything in your mouth is beyond me. But in the end I don’t care what people do – as long as I don’t have to accommodate them.

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illustration / Jake Flores James Bickham: All You Can Eat 

So many of us are closed-minded when it comes to food, especially in the US. The most we usually see of meat is in shrink-wrapped units. All we know is filet, ribeye, T-bone, and sirloin. There’s so much out there, not only in other cultures, but in our own gastronomic heritage beyond hamburgers and hot dogs (I still love these, though).

Not only are we ignorant of some basic food ingredients and processes, but some, like myself, were raised without ever eating ethnic foods like Indian or Chinese. This is a tragedy: They have amazing food. Dismissing a culture’s food can lead down a slippery road of ignorance and prejudice – and a life with less tasty food.

It’s sad, but food is the way most Americans know of other cultures. And in accordance with the way we handle most cultures in this melting pot of a country, we water it down and Americanize it. Americans took Mexican food and made Tex-Mex. (Don’t get me wrong, Tex-Mex is downright tasty, but so is interior Mexican food.) Chinese food has been reduced to shrimp fried rice, egg rolls, and hot and sour soup.

And I don’t really blame someone for not liking these “ethnic” foods. They seem so thin in comparison to some American cuisine. But that’s just because we aren’t seeing the whole picture. These cuisines are just as varied and rich as ours – and sometimes more so. This doesn’t just happen with foreign cuisines. We make our own regional cuisines foreign to ourselves. The Black-Eyed Pea may be the most someone knows of southern food. I don’t know if this is simply ignorance or some twisted form of snobbishness.

Speaking of snobbery, I detest it. By most accounts, I am a foodie. All I talk about is what I ate, am eating, will eat, or want to eat. I spend most of my paycheck at restaurants or grocery stores. But I detest the term “foodie.” It summons visions of people who spend their days talking about what the chef of the moment is doing with their new restaurant; of people who think that the best food – and the only food worth eating – is at the latest and greatest downtown bistro and costs $70. While I appreciate expensive food (my favorite place in Austin is fairly expensive: Chez Nous), most of my favorite places to eat are on wheels and serve up something more than tasty food: They serve up culture, adventure, and a sense of community – a meal.

If foodie won’t do, I guess I need some sort of title. I need something adventurous, something with flare. Food adventurer? Lame. Cuisine Samurai? That’s just stupid. Something involving gastronomy but not too pretentious. Gastronomad. That’s good, but not good enough. Gastro. Gastro… Gastronaut. Perfect. That works. And I promise that I won’t ever use it in an astronaut metaphor – that is, unless I write an column on astronaut food.

More from James Bickham

Comments

Anonymous's picture

For the Gastronaut Squad! Looking forward to this column.