How to Learn to Love What You Hate

Categories: Trends
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With the popularity of Yelp and other websites where everyone's a critic, it makes sense that we're all walking the walk by trying to bludgeon our food phobias.

Inspired by the master, people are chronicling their food hates and how they'll overcome them. This practice was made de rigueur with Jeffrey Steingarten, The Man Who Ate Everything, and his must-read food lit of the same name.

Upon inheriting the helm at Vogue in 1989, he had an epiphany. "Suddenly, intense food preferences, whether phobias or cravings, struck me as the most serious of all personal limitations."

He decided to moderate his extremes, starting with phobias. First, he articulated them. Kimchi. Blue food. Lard. Greek food. Clams. Desserts in Indian restaurants. Then he decided how to surpass them. Brain surgery. Bon bons. Starvation. Drug dependence.

Finally, he settled with repeat exposure in small doses to foods he doesn't like in an effort to convert himself.

"Scientists tell us that aversions fade away when we eat moderate doses of the hated foods at moderate intervals, especially if the food is complex and new to us. (Don't try this with allergies, but don't cheat either: few of us have genuine food allergies.) Exposure works by overcoming our innate neophobia, the omnivore's fear of new foods that balances the biological urge to explore for them."

Exposure works. And we've been following suit since.

Two especially good exposure-cures-hate essays debuted this month: a beauty on cilantro and a compelling quest to learn to love coffee. 

In "I Feared You, Cilantro, and Now I Love You Too Much," Mei Chin writes a lyrical piece on growing up Chinese and her childhood hatred of cilantro. After years of gagging and cursing parents who wouldn't accommodate her, she undergoes transformation. Inspired by an Italo Calvino passage, she is riveted by a "sensuous," "grim," and "gustatory" passage on cilantro as a metaphor for rekindling passion.

"Cilantro, in other words, was puberty of the palate," an herb she eventually grows to love too much, "longing to cram fistfuls of the stuff, fresh," into her mouth.

In more straightforward prose, Rachel Tepper chronicles her coffee hate by drinking stuff that doesn't suck for the Washington Post.

"Roasting a coffee really dark is like getting a well-done steak," a chef tells her. "But if you get something rare, it's going to taste very different from something that's medium, where you're getting some of the nice mix."

After a tasting journey with her coffee sherpa, she decides: "I am content with my newfound status as a middle of the road coffee person. I prefer mild roasts. I prefer mild flavors. But with coffee, sometimes it's all about striking an even balance."

Perhaps these essays serve as reminders to go back out and try things we hate. Or at the very least, never stop seeking inspiration to find love, whether our awakening is delivered in the form of a passage or a person.


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