“Why do we eat the food that we eat?”
I used to know a couple that thought they were a bit flash. They had the big house, the gated driveway and the posh car. They also liked to throw dinner parties, but me on the other hand, I’m common as muck. I eat my dinner in front of the television where I watch re-runs of Dallas and Dynasty. I don’t even own a table big enough to throw a dinner party for more than three people.
It was during one of these dinner parties that I first tasted an oyster. But despite my oyster hymen being intact, I did have a view of what one would taste like. This view had manifested through my experiences with the bivalve – experiences borne out of discussion, marketing and other forms of sensory perception. I can narrow down my view of the oyster to decadent and sexy. They are expensive, consumed by posh people and supposed to make you horny. When you put it like that I will assume they taste pretty damn good as well?
My host shucked my oyster and told me to swallow. The shucker didn’t do a very good job because I remember the slime being mixed in with a little bit of shell. Think broken eggshell and runny eggs. Not enough to cut me, but enough to turn the whole event into a mouthful of Blackpool Pleasure beach. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to chew, but didn’t want to make a scene. I was the scum of the party but didn’t want anyone to know that. So I smiled, said they were lovely and carried on with my evening. More shucking followed and luckily for me I was so pissed there was no chance of my pecker getting anywhere near as amorous as the oyster would have liked.
She walked into the house wearing a short, backless, black dress and tall high heels. There were six of us all laughing and joking at the bar when she wiggled her hips. Silence was golden. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone just stared. Luckily for me, she was my date. The venue was the Seablue restaurant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and I was a very happy man.
The lights were dim and the beautiful woman (who is now my girlfriend) suggested that we order oysters. I was so smitten with her beauty I would have eaten dog meat, so eagerly agreed. She asked me what types I would like; I suggested that she chose. It’s easier that way. Especially when you think an oyster is an oyster is an oyster. Two shakes of a lambs tail later and I am staring at a huge circle of oysters seated on a bed of ice. My girlfriend tucks in. She places horseradish and cocktail sauce on one of them and slips it between her luscious lips.
“Do you swallow?” I ask.
I realise the question is a little advanced on our first date, but nevertheless she replied. I was onto a good thing here.
“No…that’s just a waste. You have to chew them. Otherwise how do you taste?” She replied.
So remembering my shell-infested virgin oyster experience I mimicked my good lady. Seconds later I was delving into the ice for more. This was delicious. Where had these little love puffs been all of my life? I was also getting horny as hell, but assume it was the low cut of her dress and not the fabled aphrodisiac properties of the $50 worth of oysters I was thrusting down my throat?
Fast forward a few months and I have switched the Seablue of Vegas for the blue sea of Cannes, France. I was working at the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) and I was starving. I made my way to my hotel room where my girlfriend had told me she had prepared lunch. I walked into the room and there to greet me was a dustbin lid full of oysters; ice glittering like diamonds.
“You are the best.” I said.
“No cocktail sauce? No horseradish? No Tabasco?” I asked.
“They only had lemon with the take away.” She said.
Undeterred I dived into my new favourite food. But something wasn’t right? I wasn’t enjoying them – one little bit. I hated the taste but felt awful because she had gone to great lengths to find them, pay for them and present them. But women are so intuitive. She knew I wasn’t enjoying them and after forcing several down my neck she told me to stop eating them.
Thank God for that
If you have an open mind then it is quite easy to see what is at work here. I don’t like the taste of oysters and I never have. Yet, ever since my first date, I have eaten them at every restaurant I have been too that has them on the menu. Even after my experience in Cannes I have still ordered them. But what I have never done is eaten them raw and unaccompanied by sauce. Oysters only enter my mouth after being coated in something else. This is because I don’t like the taste of oysters. Never did and never will.
If you are raised in the North of England then you are conditioned to believe that oysters are for the upper class. Posh people eat them and they make you horny. When I ate my first oyster (more accurately swallowed it) I didn’t like it. But I told my guests I did because I wanted to fit in. I had difficulty understanding how rich people would pay good money for something that tasted like seawater? I started to convince myself that it must have been me?
I next eat them in a beautiful restaurant facing a beautiful woman. She is devouring them and obviously loving them. I too enjoy them. But how much impact is the setting having on me? I would say that my surroundings have a big say on whether or not I am going to enjoy my oysters. Even the way they are presented on the menu as the piece de resistance will help persuade me that they taste nice. Add a little cocktail sauce, horseradish and lemon and now you are talking. But lets not fool ourselves here. It is the accompaniments I am enjoying, not the oyster. It’s no good trying to say that horseradish makes an oyster taste good because an oyster just tastes like an oyster, a point proven when I was eating them with nothing but lemon juice in my hotel room in Cannes.
Opening your mind, and learning that society pays a huge part in how you define taste, is a great help when you are faced with an eating problem such as overeating. Can you honestly say that you enjoy everything you eat? If you have an open mind and are authentic to yourself then you know the answer is the negative.
Now I am going to make a cup of tea and yes you’ve guessed it, I don’t even like the taste!
Photo courtesy of Sam Howzit (CC $ Flickr)