Poor taste

Now that I’ve just tasted coffee, it tops my list of things that taste bad”
– Son, June 28, 2010

Many of the human treats are truly acquired tastes. Who really likes the taste of beer? Coffee? Wasabi? Any kind of alcohol? Blue cheese? I know I didn’t. On the other hand, some of my early favorites don’t taste that good anymore. Like, milk, and specifically breast milk.

I remember how Dad took this photo right after I had run 100 meters in 11 seconds.

According to a family legend, I learned to walk by chasing a piece of cheese that a family friend was dangling in front of me. (So, for me, the proverbial carrot was actually a piece of cheese). And once walking, I developed a bad habit of sneaking up to the coffee table every time we were visiting somebody, asking where my cup was.

Of course, back then – not too much unlike today – my “coffee” was one sixth coffee, and seven sixths of milk. But that wasn’t the point.

By the time I had turned four, I had stopped eating cheese and drinking coffee. All of a sudden, I just didn’t like them anymore. I found cheese again in my teens, thanks to pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches (which I found thanks to the Canadian Z-boy), and coffee in my late twenties at work, being too lazy to make my own tea when everybody else was drinking coffee on their breaks.

One thing I stopped eating as a kid, for good, was tomatoes, no matter how you pronounced them. And for that there is a reason. Apparently I had refused to eat my tomatoes one time, and my father had made me sit at the table until I ate them. So I tried. Until I threw up.

Within the family, I was – and am – famous for not eating tomatoes. I eat ketchup, I love the tomato sauce on a pizza, and these days I can – and do – enjoy a well-made bruschetta (and a cappuccino, and gorgonzola), but I still can’t make myself a sandwich with just a slice of tomato on it. I used to taste even the leftover juice on a sandwich after the tomato had been carefully removed from it.

I may or may not remember the actual incident with Dad. I do have a visual of it, but I may have reconstructed it afterwards. That’s what people do. We think we remember things, but we really don’t.

On my first day of school, after I had stopped crying when my father left me there all alone, but before I realized it was going to be a lot of fun, we had lunch. The whole class walked from our classroom across the big yard to the main building where the cafeteria was when I heard a boy say, “I hope they don’t have fishballs, I hate them.”

I had never had fishballs, and didn’t even know what they were. So I asked him.

“What’s that?”

“It’s like meatballs but made out of fish. And they’re disgusting!”

“Oh,” I said, now hoping that my first school meal wouldn’t include those disgusting fishballs, and trusting that nobody would want to make our lives so miserable on our first day of school?

We walked in, I was second in line, being the second shortest person in class. I got a plate with some carrots, potatoes – and fishballs. And an order to eat it all. Nobody would leave the cafeteria with food left on the plate, I was told.

That was the day I realized that sometimes, when you happen to glance at the clock at just the right time, one second can be an awfully long time.

I’ve never eaten fishballs since.

Slate magazine ran an experiment in which people were asked to look at photos and if they remembered the events. And people did remember, even the events that had never taken place, but of which there was a photoshopped photo.

According to professor Elizabeth Loftus from University of California, Irvine, who’s been studying memory for decades, false memories could also be used for something good. For example, what if I could fool my brain to remember how I used to love fishballs, or always hated black liquorice. Enough to make me stop eating it by the truckload, maybe?

Or at least maybe I can have Daughter remember her gymnastics recital as a wonderful event because she was so good and had a huge crowd cheering for her – instead of the memory that Wife has of it, as chaotic, uninspiring, and too long.

“So, now that coffee is number one, what’s number two? Who’s the former champion?” I asked Son.

“Onion,” he said.

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