Daily Archives: July 28, 2013

Erica Vitkin: Is Ignorance Bliss?

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

This is the seventh installment in my guest blogger series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. For this post, I asked the lovely and talented (gave that right back!) Erica Vitkin to contribute something. I had to make a trade with her (yes, she is that kind of a person), so the bread rant I wrote in June was directly attributable to her. Erica’s blog, Now Entering Flavor Country, is an awesome resource for interesting recipes, often with a twist (she published a recipe for zucchini jam the other day!), and general tomfoolery. I love her writing style, which is easy to read, entertaining and doesn’t shy away from making fun of herself. But most of all, I am super glad that I have had the chance to meet Erica and spend time with her in person. She is as awesome as her blog. Thank you, Erica!

Is Ignorance Bliss?

I have a high opinion of myself when it comes to the indulgent arts of food and beer. I have a lot of knowledge, and I have a lot of enjoyment. However, does this knowledge hinder me from other enjoyments? Let me back up…

I was talking with a friend and fellow blogger, Lindsay from The Daily Sampler, and the topic of Sommeliers came up. Obviously if you’ve achieved the title of Sommelier you have spent lots of time (years!) studying and learning about the intricacies, subtleties, ins and outs, and culture of wine. She said “I wonder if all that knowledge would make you enjoy wine less” and that statement has been haunting me ever since. Even the other night, my boyfriend and I were sharing a bottle of red wine, and upon my first few sips I affirmed my enjoyment of our selection. He just replied “yeah, I like this too, but I don’t know if this is ‘good’ wine”, which of course just took me right back to Lindsay’s comment.

I began my study of the alcoholic arts as a wine gal. The more I learned about the fermented grape juice, the more excited I got. Oak aged? Buttery notes emerge. Hard frost? Wonderful ice wines. Swirl the glass? Awake the esters and take in the aromatics! Even the pageantry of wine service at a restaurant: I. Loved. It. All.

A similar thing happened to me a few years ago with beer, and now I (unfortunately) cannot deny I am a total beer snob. Just the other day I bailed on friends I had plans with because the bar they were at had a crappy tap line up and I didn’t want to drink swill (ughhh do you hate me yet? That statement just made me hate myself).

So what does all this mean?

Many people take on knowledge of food, beer, wine, whiskey, cheese, or any other foodie-esque topic much like a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, does this wealth of knowledge tip the scales too far to allow oneself to just “let go” and enjoy what’s in front of you.

Years ago there was a delightful show called Penn & Teller: Bullshit where they would devote an entire episode looking into modern-day “bullshit topics” such as lie detectors, circumcision or astrology. One of my all-time favorite episodes featured organic food. There is a segment where they do a blind taste test at a Farmer’s Market to see if people could taste the difference between organic and non-organic produce. Check out the clip here and fast forward to 11:20 (or feel free to watch the whole thing, it’s super entertaining).

Notice how disgusted the guinea pigs are when they find out they chose the non-organic tomato as the tastier option. Why, their palates have been trained and tweaked to the utmost superiority to know the difference between a pure virgin tomato and a filthy pesticide-pumped harlot (sidenote: I always thought it was spelled “harlett”…who knew).

If we all think back to the first time we tried beer or wine or coffee or even cigarettes (c’mon, it’s a college right of passage), they were T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. So total ignorance isn’t the answer.

What I love about all this food/drink culture is the knowledge, the history, the traditions, and the science behind it. All those little tricks to keep your produce lasting longer (always take your tomatoes out of plastic bags immediately!) I truly enjoy learning about. However, I can’t help but cringe when I’m eating a sandwich topped with sliced tomatoes purchased at Kroger in August, when I know a much MUCH superior product was waiting for me in the aisles of the Farmer’s Market. The truth? They might taste just the same—the Kroger tomato may even be better—but I’ve been trained in such a way that I’ll always have those thoughts.

I know that you should never drink beer from a “chilled” glass because micro ice crystals form on the sides, and they create extra friction when the beer is poured, yielding a too-frothy head. It also chills the brew down so much that you can’t really taste anything (but I suppose if you’re drinking Labatt or Coors there’s not much to taste to begin with, ba-zing). When I see a bartender grabbing a glass out of a freezer, I practically jump over the bar to say “no please! Just a normal glass or the bottle will do!” I then proceed to judge the establishment for the remainder of my stay, and everyone around me who is sipping their sub-zero sauce. Damn you brain, why must you ruin another evening out!

So what is the answer? Does a magical equilibrium of just enough knowledge actually exist to allow for the utmost enjoyment of your culinary/boozy bounty? Maybe it’s rooted in the person, and not the knowledge. Perhaps if I didn’t start off as such a blowhard I wouldn’t be as inclined to judge the lesser products so harshly.

But then again, we’re all hypocrites, aren’t we? If I could afford to shop at the Farmer’s Market for everything I would, but I’m at least 1 more educational degree away from that reality. No matter what, I love a glass of Ben Marco Malbec or a pint of Brewery Vivant Zaison, but nothing beats an ice-cold can of Bud Light Lime when you’re drinkin’ outside…

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