I am a food bigot.
This was brought to my attention by my wife some years ago when she first served me eggplant.
“I hate eggplant,” I said. “I thought you knew that. Any kind of eggplant.”
“You,” she declared, “are a food bigot.”
I clutched my heart and reared backwards.
“How can you say such a thing?” I cried.
“Because it’s true.”
“No one has ever said such a mean insensitive thing to me—ever!” I protested.
“Dear, have you ever actually eaten an eggplant?”
“Have you even thought of eating one? Ever even been curious as to what it would be like?”
“But even the idea of eating an eggplant is revolting to me!”
“Then you’re a food bigot. And you have just now engaged in hate speech against eggplants. Eggplants—which have done nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, to you.”
That interchange has haunted me to this day. It’s true. Even now as I write, the very thought of eggplants engenders a gag reflex, and for no logical or earthly reason. Google “eggplant,” in fact, and you will discover that it ranks among “the world’s healthiest foods,” rich in vital phytonutrients.
Why, then, have I erected this irrational, unreasoning “wall” in my mind to shut out this particular food? Is it because it looks different for a vegetable (purple—I mean… really: purple???). And what’s with that weird name? EGG-plant? What bill of goods are they selling here?
And, indeed, why do many of us (I won’t say “all,” because I don’t know all of you) harbor suspicious, unreasoning thoughts toward things and people that are, well, different?
I don’t pretend to know the reason, but I do know that once I’ve gotten to know someone by actually communicating and finding out this and that about the person, his or her hopes, dreams, fears, opinions, then and only then do my unfounded suspicions or prejudices melt away. Why? Because that person is now no longer a foggy generality to me. He or she has become a sharply in-focus three-dimensional human being. I have now earned the right to take a shine to that person or avoid him or her like the plague based solely on familiarity and hard facts.
I grew up in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. My Jewish acquaintances liked or disliked me, hung out with me or ignored me based mainly on one-on-one specific impressions I made on them, and not on any preconceived bias. I found, however, that the prejudices and biases that I did run into came from non-Jewish people, and even more specifically, non-Jewish people who didn’t know me or who, yet even more to the point, didn’t want to know me (I’m talking sophomore high school gym class here).
Now, later in life, as a Scientologist, I find that when I tell a non-Scientologist that I’m a Scientologist, interesting conversational doors open, most often doors of the welcoming variety, adorned by that marvelous key to understanding: interest. Sometimes, however, an Exit door is slammed in my face, as the time when a certain person, a friend from my youth who we will call Evelyn, went from, “Martin! It’s been so long! What have you been up to?” to “Oh!” accompanied by a Houdini-like disappearing act.
Evelyn, get to know me and you’ll see I can be just as nutritious and as rich in phytonutrients as the next person. Really.