Great Reasons to Eat Something New

People who love to eat typically love to try new food—and for good reason! Exploring the world of flavor isn’t just a hobby. It’s a way of life. Are you a food adventurer?

Great Reason Number 1: It’s easy to start!

My six-year-old nephew won’t eat anything he hasn’t already tried. (He doesn’t have an allergy. He’s just picky.) If this is the rule that guides his choices for life, then when he is thirty he will only have eaten macaroni and cheese, toast with peanut butter, purple grapes, and milk.

Most adults aren’t this extreme, but we all know someone who regards food with suspicion. Someone who, when presented with an unfamiliar dish, interrogates about ingredients and tastes with extreme prejudice if at all.

These people don’t know how lucky they are. They are unwittingly poised on the brink of discovery—just like my nephew! At any time he could reinvent his reality by reaching into the fridge. Potential new experiences quiver, untested, all around him. Get cracking, son. No time like the present. You wouldn’t want to cling like an infant to the provincial familiar.

Great Reason 2: The challenge gets more thrilling every year.

I don’t understand the nephew’s deal because his father and my brother, Brian, is game to try anything. Mostly. For some reason, though, he’s always been creeped out by lobster. Maybe it's because you use rotting fish as bait, or because lobster is a huge, bottom-feeding underwater bug. Maybe it's because you sell lobster alive from a crowded tank, stab it to death on your kitchen countertop (or kill it in boiling water, which turns it screaming red), rip it limb from limb, dunk its steaming, coagulated flesh in dairy fat, and stuff it in your mouth.

What’s the big deal?

Well into his thirties, Brian recently ate his first lobster on a business trip to Maine and discovered (duh) that he liked it. He ate another. He expensed them. See? He rose to the challenge and had a thrilling triumph!

Most new food experiences aren’t magical breakthroughs like Brian had. But they are exciting nonetheless. The longer you live, the more chances you have to go to a new restaurant, try a new cuisine, buy an unfamiliar vegetable, or travel somewhere where they don’t eat like you do. That’s more and more food you will learn to greet as an acquaintance or love as a friend. So when an exotic stranger finally enters the room, the occurrence will be all the more fascinating for its increasing rarity.

Photo by Wendy Maeda, Boston GlobePhoto by Wendy Maeda, Boston GlobeGreat Reason Number 3: Your own cooking will get more interesting.

Sometimes when you try that new cuisine, it's compelling enough to create a sea change in the way you cook. Maybe an interesting ingredient takes hold of your imagination. Or maybe you appropriate the technique used to prepare a strange food and try it on staples. We have fusion cuisine thanks to deliberate crossbreeding of this sort. But you don’t need to be a showboat or a professional to innovate in the kitchen. Essentially, this is how the world’s cuisines emerged as their distinct and wonderful selves in the wake of the Age of Exploration. It’s an evolution of food that took place meal by meal, in the kitchens of rich people, poor people, and everyone in between. Cuisine is a living process, like language, with as many twining threads as the web of life. It’s evolving and changing right now in your kitchen, on your palate.

Great Reason Number 4: You will become a better citizen of the world.

Many parents introduce new foods to children with “It’s OK if you don’t like it. Just try it.” That’s a good axiom for success in life. Think about the corollaries: Suspend judgment. Explore and try to understand. Like and dislike are not absolutes. These are the basic building blocks of respect—the recognition that others are just as worthy as oneself.

When we approach other people’s cherished foods with respect for their terms, we extend that respect to the people themselves. And when people share food—and an appreciation of the creativity, passion, effort, and expertise that goes into cooking and eating it—we erode the line between Us and Them.

So, food adventurers, keep doing what you’re doing. You won’t just eat better. You’ll be a better human being.

Amy Boland is a Twin Cities writer and food enthusiast. Her last article for Simple, Good and Tasty was How Our Food Choices Affect the Weather. You can read more of her food musings on her blog Cook 'Em if You Got 'Em.