Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Dr Seuss Makes Me Think About Food Bullies

The PopCulteer
March 5, 2021

We are, as a society, becoming more mindful of discriminatory behavior. It may not seem that way, as a vocal minority has embraced racism, sexism and hate speech as their chosen means of political expression, but in general, we are, as human beings, trying to be kinder to one another.

Earlier this week Dr. Seuss Enterprises chose to remove six of the venerated cartoonist’s books from circulation because they contain hateful and hurtful images. While it may seem trivial and inconsequential to some angry folks who like to bitch about “cancel culture” (like shunning such works is not a justifiable reaction by civilized people to abhorrent symbols) most people, upon seeing the images in question, can understand that we shouldn’t be including such things in books that are designed to nurture and shape young minds.

It is not a good thing to ridicule or harrass someone because of their race, religion, orientation, size, hair (or lack thereof) or any other superficial reason. I hope we can all agree on that.

But this week the PopCulteer looks at one area where society turns a blind eye to mob mentality and bullying. I am not trying to say that this is anywhere near the same level as discrimination against people due to race, creed, class or the other recognized put-upon segments of society, but it would be nice if people could consider the feelings of others when criticizing that person’s personal food choices.

This is a particularly tame steak meme, and I still had to tone it down a bit.

In the last week on social media, I have seen a person called “sub-human scum” because they put ketchup on a hot dog. I have also seen a person declared to be “more evil than Hitler himself,” because they enjoy their steak well-done.

I realize that these comments were made jokingly (and before you ask, they were not directed at me…I’ll get to my personal story later), but jokes are not harmless. Ridicule is recognized as one of the most effective forms of political attack, and the risk you run with any joke is that somebody will think, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

Do we really need a world full of food bullies? Can’t you be funny without food-shaming someone else?

For some reason, it’s still considered okay to make merciless fun of somebody because of the way they eat. Nevermind that a person may have a physical limitation or medical reasons for eating (or not eating) a certain way. The fact is that we supposedly live in a free country, and how a person chooses to eat is really not any of your god-damned business.

I hardly ever eat steak. When I do, I like for it to be cooked enough so that it tastes good to me. You see, having your own sense of taste is perfectly okay. I don’t like to eat red or pink beef. It does not taste good to me. On those occasions when I do eat a steak, my preference is for it to be medium-well, or well done. You may eat your own steak any way you wish. I will eat mine the way I like it.

If this offends you, it does not make me a “monster.” It makes you someone who can’t tolerate somebody having different tastes than you have. And that makes you the asshole.

A lovely, plain hot dog, unbespoiled with condiments. A thing of beauty!

I happen to find cole slaw to be one of the most disgusting things on the planet. I would never, under any circumstance, consider putting something that dreadful in my mouth. Yet, I have been told that I can’t possibly be a “real West Virginian” because I won’t eat a hot dog with chili and slaw on it.

I’ve lived here my whole life. How I eat a hot dog has not one thing to do with that. I don’t tell other people that they don’t belong here because they don’t eat things the way I do. I have not tried to outlaw cole slaw as a food substance (not seriously, anyway). Why is it any concern of yours how I eat something?

There are foods that I can’t eat. Mushrooms could kill me, period. I am not going to tempt fate to see if a particular variety would only make me deathly ill instead. Strawberries, and many other berries, make me break out and itch, and if you’ve ever had a rash inside your mouth, you understand why I avoid such things.

Avocados and Guacamole, for some bizarre reason that apparently isn’t common, make my Myasthenia Gravis meds stop working. That is not fun, especially if I’m driving.

These are my personal quirks. If you accept me, you have to accept them. It’s one reason that I don’t often write about food in this blog. I know that I’m outside the mainstream.

And that should be okay.

In fact, whether I have medical reasons for avoiding certain foods or not, it should still be okay.

I don’t eat pork. I find the odor it emits when cooked to be nauseating. I don’t even like bacon. It’s not a religion or health thing. I just don’t like it. That stuff smells like burning human flesh to me. I can eat sausage, if it’s heavily spiced to cover up the taste, but even with that I prefer vegetarian sausage these days.

I hate mayonnaise. It disgusts me. It is incredibly repulsive to me. I don’t even like to hear the word. I won’t eat anything that’s touched it.

I don’t like cucumbers, croutons or dressing in my salad. If they can’t be left out, I’ll pass on the entire salad.

I don’t drink beer or any alcoholic beverages. I can’t stand the taste, and alcohol burns my mouth. I realize that this puts me in a minority, and my whole life I’ve felt like an outsider because of this. Social drinking is like a big, exclusive club that I’m not willing to hurt myself enough to join.

These are all matters of taste, and they shouldn’t make life hard for me. I don’t try to impose my tastes on you. It’s not okay for you to try to shame me, or anybody, for having different tastes than you.

In terms of persecution, I don’t check off many boxes. I’m white. I’m male. I’m straight and married. Please don’t think I’m trying to play the victim here. This column was really inspired by attacks I’ve seen on other people. I’m only sharing my own experience because that’s what I have handy to write about.

I have not eaten in a restaurant for a year now. I’m better off for it. I’ve lost weight. I’m cooking way more now, and cooking healthier things (and smaller portions) than what we’d get if we were eating out. Mel and I still get takeout once in a while, but maybe one-tenth as much as we used to.

“I’m pretty sure you asked for mushrooms in mayonnaise sauce, sir!”

When we did eat out way too much, I continually ran into trouble when it came time to make substitutions. Some waiters seem to have a “You’ll eat what we tell you and like it” attitude. I don’t miss that. I don’t miss clearly and concisely giving a waiter my order, and having them bring back something that could potentially kill me.

Some waiters or waitresses think that, when I order “water with light ice,” the funniest thing in the world is to say, “Water with lots of ice, coming up!” You know what? It’s not funny. It’s as unfunny as me cutting my usual 35%-plus tip down to exactly 15%. I don’t know where people got the idea that telling somebody you were going to bring them the opposite of what they asked for is funny, but it isn’t. It stopped being funny the first time it happened…when I was five.

If, back in those restaurant-going days of yore, I would dare to post about a restaurantorial misadventure, I could always count on at least one person (usually a waiter or chef) to come down on me with a lecture about how I was “messing up the line” and “being difficult” and “acting entitled” because I want the food I’m paying my hard-earned cash for to be edible to me.

And I see those same people posting memes about what monsters people are for wanting their steak well done, or being told they don’t belong here because they won’t eat a hot dog with stuff on it that I don’t even consider to be food.

When that happens, I realize that some people just want to hate other people, and any stupid reason will do.

But I realize that some of you who share those memes and say things like that don’t really mean any harm. Dr. Seuss didn’t mean any harm when he published horribly racist drawings. It simply didn’t occur to him that such caricatures of Asian or Black people might be seriously hurtful to Asian and Black children. He didn’t even consider their feelings when he did those drawings.

Likewise, I figure that most folks who post jokes and images ridiculing people for their food choices aren’t trying to be malicious. They’re just being thoughtless, careless and insensitive. You know, like a bully.

I know that nobody ever went broke by making it easy to look down on other people, but do we really need to keep doing that?  Maybe it’s time we put a little more thought into what we post. Is your life really so perfect that you see your biggest enemy in somebody who likes their steak well-done?

Maybe it’s time we stop and ask if we’re really making the world a better place by calling someone else a monster because they eat their food a certain way…after all, some people even like green eggs and ham.

And that is this week’s preachy and self-righteous PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features and fresh content every day.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    Food bullies? Wow. Thankfully, I haven’t encountered this extensively, and it’s almost surprising that I haven’t.

    I eat very plainly. Part of this is just how I grew up. My mother was no great cook (and she’d admit as much if she were alive to do so), and my father worked such late hours that I was often given a simple dinner earlier in the evening while she prepared something a bit more elaborate for later, for herself and my dad. So this is simply what I got used to.

    When I tried to expand my diet a bit in my late 20s, I ended up in the emergency room. When I finally saw my regular doctor at the time, he said that while my diet wasn’t the best, neither was it the worst, but it was what my system had gotten used to, so I probably shouldn’t mess with it or this was what was going to happen.

    I eat everything plain. Hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, whatever. Hell, I don’t even put milk on breakfast cereal. I prefer my burgers medium well to well done. I like chicken, but not pork. I am no fan of seafood. If this makes me a world-class criminal in the eyes of some, too damn bad. Anybody thinking that has too much time on their hands, and should probably find something better to do than spend it on social media.

    I am allergic to garlic. I got this from my father. I also get the same reaction of disbelief and occasional bad jokes that he got whenever he told someone. I read a lot of food labels, and I don’t go to restaurants, and the scenarios that you describe in your article are, to me, just further evidence of the breakdown of any semblance of civility in our society. I don’t even eat pizza because I just can’t take the chance that there might be something in the sauce.

    While I have not often been ridiculed online for my food choices, I have taken occasional verbal abuse in grocery stores. It doesn’t happen often, but I have had people come up to me and criticize the contents of my grocery cart. What the hell business is it of theirs?

    As for books, I do agree that children do not need to be exposed to images and sentiments that would be considered exceptionally insensitive and offensive today. However, I do believe that it’s possible to go too far the other way. One of my favorite books is titled “Alas, Babylon”, by Pat Frank. It is NOT a children’s book. I first read it in high school. It was written in the late 1950s, and tells the story of a small rural community in Florida, doing their best to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The portrayal of a black family living in the community unquestionably has some racist overtones that would be considered highly offensive today. But I believe the book needs to be viewed in the time it was written, and this aspect allowed for, something that one would hope adults would be more capable of than small children who might be reading Dr. Seuss. I certainly would not want to see the book banned, as it’s a superb tale, if this aspect is properly considered.

    As for racism in general, the ironic thing about racism is that anybody can be guilty of it. I’ve had black people tell me I should be ashamed to be white. I’ve had Hispanics call me a “stupid gringo”. This is no more acceptable than Dr. Seuss’ illustrations are today. It’s all wrong.

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