I had a friend who was afraid to eat at Asian restaurants. “They don’t use chicken, they use cat,” he would say, pretending authority. He had no idea that his closely held belief was actually a bad, old, racist joke – the guy was utterly serious.
The worst thing is that he should have known better. He was in the restaurant industry and had Asian clients. He’d sell to them, consult with them, and make part of his living from them. Still, he would never go to an Asian restaurant for his abject fear of unknown cuisine matched with his unflappable Xenophobia.
It wasn’t like this behavior occurred in a vacuum. He also refused to listen to music that wasn’t from the 1970’s, and never traveled anywhere but to places he had been before. It was like the man had stopped learning and growing in 1980 and chose to continue living the same day, over and over again, ever since. He became the most boring person I knew, and other than his detestable racial politics, also became the most boring man I knew. I’ve long since stopped bringing him around my family when I imagine if my Asian daughter got the impression that I gave any sway to his racism. I hope she never has to encounter anyone like him.
Life is an adventure. It’s huge buffet of options and wonderful surprises and not just chicken every time you dine out. The cultures of the people that we meet, especially the ones that come from other places, add spice, real spice, to our lives through their shared ideas and most certainly their foods. I’ve explored a tiny part of the world though travel, but I’ve been through many more places through the wonderful diversity of restaurants. If you break bread with someone, it’s hard to be their enemy.
There’s an amazing Persian restaurant in the suburbs of Philly that rocks me. There are Korean restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants that make me swoon. German food, Russian food, and Japanese food – all from places that someone could say, in recent history – were our mortal enemies. I truly feel I understand the people of these places better by appreciating their cuisine. Like me, they love food enough to create their own cuisine. And they love the rest of the world enough to share it.
Life is indeed a big buffet. Don’t limit yourself to chicken nuggets and ketchup.