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"We were Vim, Persil Fairy Liquid and RAC, other families were Ajax, Omo, Squeezee and AA and one pitied them and felt slightly repelled: didn't they realize they had got it all wrong? Fierce pride in one's parents' choice of bathroom scourers, withering contempt for their opinions on anything concerning life, the world, and oneself."
—Stephen Fry, Moab is my Washpot
I've always loved this comment from the British comedian Stephen Fry's autobiography. As soon as I left home and lived in the real world I abandoned my mother's love of Whisk laundry detergent and Palmolive dish soap, and chose what is now my favorite brand: Whatever Is On Sale. But food habits took far longer to change, because they were so unconscious.
I came from a Red Delicious apple family. As a teen, I suggested buying Granny Smiths one week. My mother contemplated the decision like it was an exciting and exotic, but slightly risky venture. For 16 years, "apples" were red, waxy and slightly oblong—nothing else.
My family never ate Burger King, only McDonald's. Heinz not Hunt's on hamburgers. Ragu and Ronzoni spaghetti, not Prego sauce or Kraft Mac n' Cheese. Grossinger's rye bread, never Wonder Bread. Miracle Whip, not Hellmann's. Country Time Lemonade, never Kool-Aid. And always golden cake mix and chocolate cans of icing—never chocolate cake mix and vanilla icing.
It didn't occur to me that my family could buy anything else. Those who chose otherwise seemed foreign.
At a very young age, I fancied myself an amateur food anthropologist. I viewed people who made other brand choices of inconsequential items as signs they belonged to a foreign tribe. When my friends and I went to McDonald's, I'd watch with fascination as some of them ordered sweet and sour sauce with their Chicken McNuggets or ate the processed chicken discs plain. (I preferred barbecue or mustard sauce.)
I considered my choices more "correct." Like the little bear's porridge was for Goldilocks, my way of eating was "just right."
The girls who ordered strawberry sundaes and ate plain hot dogs and hamburgers must be a bit more juvenile in their tastes versus my cultured palate. (I loved hot fudge on vanilla soft serve and dabbed by hamburger patties with ketchup and mustard.) Well, sometimes I wondered if the caramel and (gasp) nut sundae eaters of the world and the cheeseburger fanciers were perhaps a bit more sophisticated.
"My people" never ate mayo on anything but egg and tuna salad. (No mayo on burgers.) Never ate grated Romano cheese, only Parmesan. And we never bought pears—it was a long time before I thought about buying pears.
The level of significance I gave to insignificant choices about notverygoodfood now seems silly. Yet I realized recently that I had kind of been in a summer fruit rut, falling into old, bad tendencies of shopping on autopilot with blinders, albeit for peaches, plums, and blueberries.
Sometimes even small changes are helpful to get you into a new, better food headspace. I recently found out that Bartlett pears are coming into season, even though pears are often thought of as a winter fruit. I enjoyed having this pear salad with string beans, honey-roasted pecans, white (rather than my usual red) balsamic vinegar and a dash of black pepper. It's light enough that I can dare to have a bit of chocolate cake after with vanilla frosting. From a good bakery or even from scratch.