They say that to enjoy a thousand-dollar meal, you need a thousand-dollar palate.
A few years back, I remember my sister coming home from a vacation, and telling me she’d had occasion to try some incredibly expensive wine while there. Half-jokingly, she’d commented about obviously having an innate lack of class, since she hadn’t been able to tell the difference between said costly wine, and cheaper vintages, and coming from an Italian family, we’ve probably sampled more vintages than the layman. More recently, as a retirement gift for my father, some colleagues of his gave him a subscription to a monthly wine and cheese service, so I’ve managed to sample even more of these strange brews, and I have to say, I sort of feel the same way as my sister.
Being at least partially Italian, I like my wine. I’m also fond if different varieties of cheeses. But I tend to find little distinction between $20 dollar LCBO bottles and grocery store block cheeses, and the premium stuff we’re getting in the mail. I mean, they taste different, sometimes better, sometimes not, but not always objectively better.
Some years ago, friends and I attended a wine and cheese show, and, when I think back on it, had largely the same experience. But, interestingly enough, we didn’t seem to think that at the time.
Looking back, maybe it was never about the food and drink. Maybe it was about appearances and aesthetics, about being there, about seeming fancy and refined. I mean, the phrase “wine and cheese show” on its own already sounds classy, and certainly, when we went, we put more effort into dressing and appearing sophisticated than we usually do when we attend a convention. I even sampled Kobe Beef while I was there, and while it was certainly a cut above regular beef, wasn’t anywhere near hundreds of dollars in value. As an aside, there’s other reasons why that may have been the case (scroll to #2).
Were we deluding ourselves? Certainly, I feel like I was. If you’re paying to sample fancy food and drink, and you’re dressing nicely to even go there, then surely the things you sample must be superior to average fare.
Do you ever wonder if the entire wine-tasting foodie community thinks like that, and that it’s really one grand delusion? In my mind, I imagine a scenario where you have this entire network of people, of critics, of fine diners, of sommeliers, of the wealthy, where each member of that circle is thinking “according to everyone else, I should be tasting something here. I’ll just go along with it. A thousand other people can’t be wrong.” But in reality, each of those other thousand people are thinking the same thing, and all it’ll take is one person to unravel it all. Sometimes I wonder. Certainly, there’s been studies that suggest, if not outright prove, that wine tasting is at least partially subjective, if not outright B.S. Maybe we’re all lying, and no one wants to admit it.
There’s an upshot here, too. If it is a delusion, then what about “low food?” It’d be okay to sing the praises of that stuff you’re supposed to thumb your nose at. As Cracked put it once, “Sometimes you want the shit you used to get at the Quik-Stop and eat in your car on the way to Steve’s house.” I certainly feel that. I know that sometimes, I just want some of that cheap dried ramen in a pot to eat, and I never even really went through the whole “poor college student” phase. While I wouldn’t eat it all the time due to the desert-esque levels of salt in it, that stuff’s good, and it comforts me. There has to be a reason thing like that and mac and cheese still survive, aside from costing basically nothing. Forget thousand-dollar palate, what about the one-dollar palate? What if your palate was trained by that stuff instead of the finest foods? What if you have an appreciation for that? Certainly, I do.
I think, really, what we need is a re-evaluation of what we eat. I wouldn’t advocate a complete leveling of our standards (home cooked Italian will always knock Delicio out of the park), but rather turn the incline into a gentle slope, and accept that there’s equal appeal to be found in Peking Duck, and those Shanghai noodles I used to get from the Chinese place at UTSC, which were the bomb, by the way.
“See, that’s the other thing,” Martin said, idly nudging coins over the surface of his bill, figuring out a tip. “I really felt like I was being herded. Like if I happened to do anything even remotely impolite, they were going to tackle me and kick me to the curb.”
Caroline chuckled at this. “Yeah, I got the impression on my end they were bending over backwards to make us feel safe.”
“Hm.” Finishing up his mental calculations, Martin stuffed his wallet back into his pocket. “The worst part is I can’t say I disagree with it. If I was in the shoes of the people organizing the thing, I’d have put extra care into making sure the women felt secure, too. Just because I resented it doesn’t mean it’s not a necessary evil, or something.”
Caroline propped her chin up with her hand, regarding him very seriously. “I’m not sure,” she said, sternly, “but I think you didn’t enjoy yourself.”
Martin chuckled. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Call it a hunch.”
Martin sighed. “I guess I just don’t like the process, you know? You sell yourself, and if they buy it, you go through this… chain of rituals, trying desperately to make sure your true nature doesn’t stick out too much, and hope in a few months or a year or whatever, you’re close enough to the other person that they won’t jump ship when you run out of comic books and movies to talk about, and you have to drop the act.”
She raised an eyebrow. “We talking about the speed dating, or all relationships?”
He looked down. “Honestly, I don’t even know anymore.”
“So, how’d you do?” Martin said, leaning on the wall outside the hall’s doors.
“Ok, I think,” Caroline replied, clutching her sheet. It contained a lengthy list of names and numbers. “We’ll see how many of these people I actually have time to contact.”
Martin carefully unfolded his sheet of three names, not saying anything.
“Good,” Caroline said, not skipping a beat. “You have time to talk to them all.”
“If you didn’t enjoy the whole speed dating thing,” Caroline said, “and, if I catch your drift, you’re not too enamored with regular dating either, then why did you even come?”
She rested her elbow on the window of his car, idly watching the streets fly by as he drove them uptown. “And don’t say I needed someone to come with me, either. You know that’s not true.”
He stared out at the highway, checking the exit sign. Still a ways to go.
“Honestly, I’m not sure.”
There was silence between them for awhile. After a moment, he offered.
“I guess I felt like I kind of needed to.”
“I mean….” He considered for a moment. “One of the reasons I came with you was because I wasn’t doing anything today. I mean, I don’t work till Tuesday and everything.”
She didn’t follow him. “And?”
“Well, I mean, what are our friends doing today? Where’s Travis and Sylvia? Or Sasha? Or Franklyn and…whatshername…”
“Right. My point is. When was the last time we saw any of them?”
She looked out of the window. “Awhile, really. They’re all so busy lately.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “One’s getting married, the other’s moving out….The third one just spends all her time with her new guy.”
She looked at him, and a silent worry seemed to float out. He met her eyes before returning to the road.
“I know I wouldn’t vanish,” Martin said, answering it. “And I know you wouldn’t. But that’s the problem. I don’t think any of them wanted to vanish. It’s just something that happens. I mean, my parents hang around people they know from work. Nobody they went to school with or anything. It’s like, you find your companion, and you start a new circle of friends with them. Your life revolves around them now, one way or another.”
“Is that why you came?” She said. “You wanted to find that person?”
He paused again. “Even worse. It’s like a nuclear deterrent. I need my backup.”
“What? Please. The metaphors. They hurt,” she said, dryly.
“Sooner or later everyone we know is going to couple up,” he said, trying to keep the ice out of his voice. “And when they do, one way or another, they’re going to drift away into their own circles. So it’s like a race to find yours before everyone else does, or else you’ll be the last one. It’s like a cold war. Everyone needs to get theirs before the others do.”
“That’s not a good reason to be doing this,” she said, quietly. “I mean, that’s not why I was.”
“No,” he said. “It isn’t. And yet there I am.”
They drove in silence for some time.
“You know,” she said. “I don’t think you really wanted to.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You seemed determined from the get-go to sabotage yourself. You walked in in a bad mood, I could tell you were in a bad mood during the thing, and you left in a bad mood.”
“It’s like you didn’t want anyone to follow up.”
“Yeah,” he finally replied. “Yeah, I’m fine. Can I ask why you went?”
She shrugged. “I’m not seeing anyone right now. Seemed like the natural thing to do.”
“Yes, really. Nothing complicated.”
They’d pulled up to her driveway. No sooner had he put his car in park, she spoke again.
“Really. You ok?” She said, quietly.
He sighed, leaning back in his seat. “Yeah, no. I’ll be fine. Just….Let’s not do this again. It’s supposed to be fun, but it just leaves me in a bad mood.”
She smiled lightly. “Sounds like a good plan.”
“Did we learn anything from this?” he muttered, faintly.
She raised an eyebrow. “Learn anything? Whatcha mean?”
He shrugged. “You know. Pick up a moral.”
She chuckled, undid her seat belt, and threw the door open.
“Why does there have to be a moral? Maybe it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”