What is food like?

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Practical
Personal Blog

I have an Anki1 deck of things I feel like a failure regarding. Instead of each card having a question that I see if I can remember the answer to, it has a potentially shameful thing that I see if I still feel bad about. Each time I look at one, as well as marking it correct to the extent that I no longer feel bad about it, I briefly do a little bit to make it better. (Learn about the thing I’m embarrassed to not know about, practice the skill that I don’t have, think about whether it’s a real problem, etc). My sense is that one can often feel bad about something for a long time which one could alternatively make marked progress on in a very short time.

This time I drew a card marked, ‘can’t critique food’. Admittedly not the most horrifying of failures, and I don’t currently feel too bad about it, or remember writing it down. But I suppose that what I had in mind is that when people discuss the merits or subtleties of different foods and food establishments, I often feel like the topic is outside my domain, and furthermore suspect that if my strongest views of the moment were revealed—e.g. “good fries > bad fries » not fries”, or “I want to eat something cool and wet and I prefer it involve parsley”, or “pea protein is the worst”—I would seem childish.

So I read online briefly and found that Jonathan Gold is a famous food critic, then read a very small amount of his writing. Now I will have a go at critiquing food at all, which I expect is a decent step toward being passable at it (while also fulfilling my intention to occasionally do things I haven’t done).

*

On an almost empty teacup of Mary’s Gone crackers I found in my bedroom while cleaning up recently.

Food that you know has been sitting open on your desk for a week can be tainted by a foul flavor of unease. But my expectations for these crackers were cleansed with the fresh-toasted snap and delicate flavor of my first nibble of one.

Crispy things are often light and insubstantial—crunch and heft seem to often overlap in coarse, unyielding foods. Yet this Mary’s Gone cracker had both a pleasing, easy crackle and a real density. And while in no way chewy, it was good to chew: coming apart not into a wheat slurry, but into a textured rubble of seed meal, satisfying and nutty. I wanted to find the fragments lost in the corners of my mouth. I wanted to crush the last seeds with my teeth. All the while the bright taste of toasted herbs lingered, sometimes veering into a burning. Not of chili, but of flavor.

Then my boyfriend became available for chatting, and I chatted with him, ceasing to resist the temptation to eat virtually all of the crackers. I bit them thoughtfully as we spoke, knowing I was eating up the opportunity to critique them, but only sparing enough attention from the conversation to favor this end, on grounds that they were presently delicious.

In sum, Mary’s Gone Crackers are very good crackers, and survive surprisingly well in an uncovered teacup. If you keep a stack of them in a teacup with a somewhat but not much larger diameter, this can also be spatially pleasing.

  1. A spaced repetition flashcard system 

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If you really cared about this I would suggest watching cooking shows (but like, not the trashy kind). I learned a lot about baking – and what makes it good or bad – from watching Bake Off, to the point where it was kind of a problem. Like, I made a cake for Christmas last year, and people were like "wow this is really good, thanks," and I was like "PAUL HOLLYWOOD WOULDN'T THINK SO"...... and I bake less now.

Perhaps this could be turned into an exercise in mindful eating. I remember reading a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn years ago about mindfulness, which had a section on mindful eating, which I did find makes me enjoy food more and be more satisfied after eating, but it's rather hard to maintain the habit and to be mindful enough. Striving to pay enough attention to the experience of eating that you can write something like this, though, every time you eat anything, could be a good mindfulness practice - and enable you to act like a pretentious food blogger, which for some people is a plus.