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Beaumont's Journal
A Philosophy of Food and Drink
Some people keep a booklet of daily “affirmations” at their desk for inspiration, while others prefer something more along the lines of a “Dog-a-Day” calendar or the collected thoughts of Jack Handy. Me, I like comic strips.

Near my desk, I keep two cartoon panels, each symbolic of what I see as my approach to life. In the first, the characters Betty and Alex are discussing nutritional needs when Betty points out that modern food guidelines don't actually require us to eat that much over the course of the day. Noting first that her breakfast has already almost met her daily needs, Alex delivers the punch line by exclaiming: "That means for the rest of the day I get to eat for pleasure!"

The second is even more succinct. In defending his eclectic choice of foods, young Curtis neatly sums up his dining philosophy in one sentence: "If it don't make me bleed from th' eyes or foam at th' mouth, I can eat it!"

You've got to love attitudes like these!

To me, eating and drinking are all about pleasure and experimentation.

Up to this point in my adult life, I can honestly say that I've never met a food I haven't been willing to try or a drink I've failed to sample. Insects, horse meat, odd-looking creatures of the sea, borderline fungi, the occasional rodent; I've tasted them all. And where drinks are concerned, I've been just as cavalier, having willingly consumed all sorts of iffy concoctions from truly bad beers to hideously sweet and sugary cocktails. Hell, I even once tried Bacardi Silver!

And before you ask, yes, I have been poisoned by my food. More than a few times. But I've recovered fully from each such bout of illness, and if some scientists are to be believed, I've even emerged stronger from the experience. (There is a school of thought that maintains that every time people are exposed to harmful bacteria, their immunity against that bug and others like it is boosted. In this fashion, Rasputin is said to have withstood persistent attempts to poison him.)

But I don't take gastronomic gambles because I'm trying to become some sort of gourmandizing superman. I take them because I never know whether the next bite of food or sip of a drink will yield a new and profound taste experience, regardless of how unattractive it might look or how unappetizing it might sound. Simply, to me, eating and drinking are all about pleasure and experimentation.

At the start of 2003, I find myself approaching my 39th birthday. Given the current projected life expectancy for a North American male, this means I have roughly 33 years ahead of me, during which I will be able to consume a few more than 24,000 meals, not counting my “breakfasts,” which normally consist of coffee and perhaps a piece of toast or fruit.

Now that may seem like a lot of eating, but you've got to remember that the human taste buds degrade as the body ages, so the last five to 10 years of my life will likely feature fewer extravagant flavours and more salt. That cuts out about 5,500 potential taste experiences right there. Then you discount the pizzas and take-aways because, as every pizza eater knows, nothing eaten out of a box counts as a real meal. Combined with the few meals that out of necessity I will end up eating on the run, that eliminates another 1,000 or so lunches and dinners.

Then there are the “utility meals,” which are, for one reason or another, eaten more for fuel than for food: the wasted meals eaten while in a bad mood; sustenance taken during an illness; and the times when hunger strikes hard but there's just not a decent restaurant or bar about. There go another 500.

Now I'm down to 17,000 opportunities for enjoying my food and sampling new cuisine. Considering that the majority of those meals will be eaten at home, where even the most dedicated and fearless chef-gourmand is necessarily limited as to what he or she is able to put on the table, my real window for culinary exploration is much, much smaller.

So I jealously guard these meals and am easily annoyed by bad food. My position is simple: Every day I have two meals during which I may enjoy myself and broaden my gustatory horizons. Cause me to waste one of those opportunities, and you're going to piss me off.

With drink I'm more flexible, although I do apply the same general rules. I hardly ever, for example, drink the same beer or spirit twice in a row. (I make exceptions for wine because often the most interesting selections are available only by the bottle.) And when the opportunity presents itself, I will almost always try something new, secure in the knowledge that I can dump it if it is lacking. (This is less practical where food is concerned, as restaurant bills really start to add up by the time the third or fourth main course is added.)

While I do know full well that not everyone shares my dining philosophy, I can't help but think that the world would be a better place if more people did. For one, we'd suffer less obesity, as studies have shown that our most familiar foods — fast-food burgers, fries and such — are prime culprits in weight gain. And we'd have less environmental devastation once we kayoed our mass consumption culture. Plus, and I admit that I have no scientific basis for this, I think we'd have a generally happier populace.

But the best reason for embracing food and drink as sources of pleasure and exploration is that voiced years ago by Robert Louis Stevenson: "Old and young, we are all on our last cruise."

To which he might have added: "So while you're on this earth, you might as well eat and drink well, so long as it doesn't make you bleed from th' eyes or foam at th' mouth."




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