Midwesterners sure do have an interesting idea of what food is.
I mean, perhaps I shouldn’t criticise anyone’s cuisine choices, being the person who, for no reason other than to frustrate nice people who invite me to dinners at their homes, has refused to eat meat for the past 11 (12?) years of my life. Still, this choice of diet is easier to justify than the Midwestern tendency to eat nothing if it is not white or brown in hue.
If you have ever heard the saying “More ornery than a Michiganite in a bathtub full of salsa,” than you know that it is because people from Michigan are allergic to flavor. If you have not heard this saying, it is because I made it up.
I’ve made a lot of friends from the Midwest over the past couple years, and I will probably get all kinds of vitriolic text messages from them on account of this opinion of mine.
It stems mostly, I think, from my boyfriend. He is from Nebraska. He is a sweetheart and we like to hold hands and stuff, but there has been a dark shadow hanging over our relationship from the very start, on account of he won’t eat anything if it’s not mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, or covered in a mountain of cheese. Even worse, he doesn’t drink. Not for any personal belief or health reason, mind you. Because he doesn’t like the taste of alcohol.
This means, for one thing, that I have to drink for both of us whenever we go out anywhere, which causes all sorts of problems. It also means that I have eaten more mashed potatoes in the past four months than I have in the rest of my lifetime combined.
My tastebuds have been in remission for so long that my first bowl of green curry upon coming back to Texas brought tears of joy to my eyes. Growing up in Houston means that I was surrounded by a plethora of world-class restaurants, and that I got used to meals being intensely interpersonal and meaningful experiences. I got used to taking out-of-towners to my favorite banh-mi place, and to the Mexican restaurant where they make their own tortillas and they’re so thick and chewy that they’re meals in and of themselves. Even with barbecue, the pride and joy of my carnivorous Texan compatriots, off my menu, there has always been such a wealth of spice and intense flavor in the food that I grew up with.
Which is why I have come up with a brilliant solution to this dearth of flavor that the Midwest suffers. It’s something like the Amish rumspringa, during which the teenagers of the community spend a year amidst us heathen folk with our iPhones and our indoor plumbing, just to see what it’s like. Except in this new tradition, the teenagers of Michigan and Nebraska and Wisconsin and all the other flavor-deprived parts of our great nation make a trip down to the god-fearing South, where they will be introduced to jalapeños and bourbon. Southern grandmas will provide them with apple pies and chicken-fried things, and the tex-mex contingent will let the salsa and the móle flow generously.
During this time, if the pubescent Midwesterners decide, while standing in front of a barbecue pit and salivating uncontrollably, that they would rather remain in the flavorful land of the South, they can. No, we won’t make them cut off all contact with their family or anything. Come on, that would make us real jerks. Instead we will give them those cute bumper stickers that say “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could,” and send them off with a plate of leftovers covered in tinfoil.
It may be too late in his life for my boyfriend to develop a taste for flavor. He will never taste chipotle tofu tacos, and he will never know the bliss of Star Pizza’s “Salsa Verde.” But I hope, for all the other Southern men and women with Midwestern significant others, that this new tradition could save them from a lifetime of mashed potatoes.