Diary of a 'Food Racist'

By Andrea Scotting
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Whenever I get in a taxi with an Indian driver, it kicks in: almost immediately, I start craving a plateful of creamy, tomato-y tikka masala. Pillowy naan. Saag with cubes of spongy paneer. Chut. Ney. Yes. Please.

When the Korean mailman says "good morning," I smile back and daydream of tender bulgogi wrapped in crisp lettuce. A steaming bowl of bibimbap topped with oozy egg yolk. Lacy kimchi pancakes.

And when our kindly Trinidadian office security guard greets me, it's all I can do not to turn around and race right out for a bowl of callaloo.

Does this make me some sort of food racist? Am I a foodist?

Either way, it's reached the point where I can't even scan the international headlines before lunch; I become paralyzed with indecision. Google is having all those issues in China, so juicy, porky soup dumplings sound nice. But look at what's happening with Israel, so maybe some crispy falafel is in order. And Afghanistan! Horrific! Kebabs!

This is not to say that I reduce the world's ills to a toss-up between takeout. I made a hefty donation to the Red Cross right after the earthquake in Haiti. And right before I hightailed it to Wikipedia to learn that Haitian food is a delightful cross-pollination of Caribbean, African, and French. Who wouldn't crave pumpkin soup? Deep fried pork? Red snapper in Creole sauce with peppers, onions, and tomatoes? I can't be alone here.

Lest you think I'm some dubious character unsuitable for invitation to your beach house, here's my defense: this potential bigotry is equal-opportunity. And it's all-American. I get a yen for a lobster roll if there's a seersucker-clad New England blue blood with a double-barreled surname within a three-mile radius. The mere mention of Tennessee gives me a hankerin' (and, apparently, makes me drop my G's) for sloppy, saucy barbecue. Even my own beloved Jewish family isn't exempt: just writing this sentence has sent me into a reverie of noodle kugel, chopped liver, and gefilte fish.

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But part of me thinks the only real sin I've committed here is being truly, madly, deeply, head-over-stomach in love with food.

I'm an admitted food obsessive, a carnivorous locavore worshipping at the altar of Alice Waters and Thomas Keller and whoever invented the immersion blender. I've dragged my husband and friends to sketchy backwaters to sample dive-y new taco joints ("Their carnitas are supposed to be the best!") I mashed white beans with rosemary and olive oil for my nine-month olds (surprising hit). My bucket list includes eating at El Bulli and owning a smoker. But this unintentional food racism has got to be my weirdest and most random culinary quirk.

Maybe racism is the wrong word. It is loaded and ugly and not nice. I certainly don't have a blanket dislike for any group of people (I dislike most people equally). And I pride myself on my willingness to embrace other cultures and whatever they bring to the—literal—table. But I clearly have a nagging, deep-seated case of something that makes me frame everything in life through food.

Frankly, blaming my mother is probably the safest bet. She'd agree, no doubt. When I was small, she went out of her way to make sure I wasn't a picky eater by pounding her motto into my impressionable brain: "You don't have to like it, but you have to try it." So I'd try new things and inevitably like them. Which led to an inevitable life of trying and inevitable liking. Maybe I just like too much?

But wherever it began, its only getting worse. I called my bank the other day, was transferred to an associate in India, and wound up with a dal recipe (Turns out the ingredient mine had been missing was asafoetida. Who knew? Thank goodness for Kalustyan's.)

And the new Australian creative director at my office sent me into a tailspin. "Barramundi," I demanded. "Where can I find some good barramundi around here? Or at least a meat pie. Please. I'm begging." It got worse when he mentioned his French wife. Great. Now I need a barramundi place that also serves a respectable cassoulet.

This food racism thing can't possibly be unique to me. I can't be the only one who left Slumdog Millionaire jonesing for a biryani. So tell me, am I alone? What random things send you off on a tagine-seeking tangent or a dim-sum driven diversion?

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Greek economy is on the verge of collapse. Which means I simply must get my hands on some spanakopita.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/04/diary-of-a-food-racist/38882/