Spicy Food and Personality


Growing up, we ate unseasoned food at home. Grandma cooked all vegetables the same way, boiled until they turned gray. Lima beans and mashed potatoes tasted the same: bland. I didn’t encounter spice. The only seasoning I craved was salt, and I would sometimes eat salt on its own as a snack. Taco Bell without sauce was probably the spiciest food I was ever served, once or twice over several years. I didn’t realize at the time how well this accommodated me.

I can’t eat spicy food. I don’t simply mean I prefer not to, or that my IBS makes me regret doing so. I mean I can’t swallow spicy food because it hurts so bad. I tried Thai food once, ten years ago. I can’t remember how the heat tasted but I remember slamming back coffee creamers while tears streamed down my face . I had chemical burns on my tongue. The relatives I was eating with were absolutely fine. The problem wasn’t Thai food, it was me.

I have gotten spice burns from dishes not marked as spicy, like pepperoni pizza. I’ve actually built up a slight tolerance for wasabi paste, about one milligram per ounce of soy sauce. I have never tried chili in my life and I never want to. I stick to safe menu options when eating out, so I’ve had a lot of club sandwiches.

And for years I’ve been made to apologize for my impairment, for ruining everyone else’s fun by being a stick in the mud. Don’t I know not eating spice makes me a wimp? Don’t I want to be macho and hurt myself eating? Am I even a real Southerner if I’m so afraid of burns I won’t try jambalaya?

The personality traits assumed about me have shifted slightly along with my social group. Macho isn’t a valued attribute among my friends. But eating spicy food is, and in this social group my reluctance to get blisters in my mouth is taken to mean almost the opposite. While before my bland food made me a questionable Southerner, now it’s evidence that I’m a redneck. I must prefer bland food because I’m a racist who fears other cultures. I’m certain I am racist in subconscious ways I’m unaware of. But my food issues are very conscious.

I have a disabled tongue. I can’t eat the foods you can, and if you got blisters each time you tried, you’d probably decide the “kick” wasn’t worth it too. As someone with many dietary restrictions (low fiber, no acid, no lactose, no spice, and noting warm or hot in temperature, for starters) I’m amazed and annoyed by the personality assumptions linked with food. Salad is for women and steak is for men. Spicy foods makes you manly or worldly. Beer is classless but wine makes you elegant.

I don’t know what all these rules make me except an outcast.

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