I believe that my life is much richer because I am willing to take just one taste.
When I was a child, my parents’ mealtime rule was simple: you had to take at least one taste of every food offered at the meal. You didn’t have to like it, you didn’t have to eat a whole plate full, but you absolutely had to take one taste.
Over time, I accepted the underlying concept that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone was a good thing. I learned there was a chance to discover unexpected pleasures if I would just take one taste. Although the lesson started at the supper table, it grew far beyond. I saw my mother start casual conversations with strangers on the street. Her attitude always seemed to be: I don’t have to like these people, I don’t have to be their friend for life, but I want to take just one taste to learn something about them.
Sometimes, the metaphorical taste by way of conversation became a real taste of food. On a trip to Veracruz, Mexico in the 1960s , one of my mother’s casual conversations lead to an invitation for lunch. We sat down to a meal of things I had never seen or imagined in my small-town Iowa childhood. However, all of us were well trained to take one taste of everything. I learned that day that sometimes, strange food is very delicious. Even more important, I learned that enjoying and praising someone’s gift of food shows them you are open and willing to engage them without fear or prejudice.
Decades later, I met a wonderful Hungarian woman when I was a postdoctoral researcher in Budapest. Her family did not seem too keen on Americans in general, and were suspicious of me in particular, since I might take their daughter away from them. However, after I devoured fried carp and fatback at Grandma’s house, and let her know how much I liked it, I had a foot in the door and an ally in the family. I truly believe that appreciation of Mama’s gourd stew sealed the deal.
Now that Judit and I are parents, too, we keep the same rule at our dinner table. We want our children to be open to all of life’s possibilities. Our experience shows that there is no better place to start the lesson than with the most fundamental human need for food.
I believe that my life is fuller and richer and better connected to other people because I’m willing to take just one taste of food, or culture, or ideas of any kind. If I don’t like it, that’s OK, because I don’t have to take another taste if I don’t want. But more often than not, I’ll be back for another helping.
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