Just finished Jeffrey Steingarten's It Must Have Been Something I Ate and, aside from giving me a powerful desire to make fruit tarts, it's got me thinking.
Steingarten loves food. In all its forms. Fancy, greasy, insectoid, raw, and haute. He is singularly open-minded about what he eats and will spend vast sums of money and time to find the perfect version of something. He spent something like $4,000 on caviar within a few months to determine which kind was the best. In his previous book he determined "scientifically" that Heinz 57 is indeed the world's most perfect catsup (by trying upwards of 40 brands with fresh McDonald's fries).
What concerns me is the implication that there can be only one ideal of any given food. Or object or person or trait, for that matter. Take pizza: there's New York style and Chicago style, just to name two. New York style is thin and crispy on the bottom, most sellers crisping it up in their ovens just before you eat it. It's huge and greasy and satisfying. Chicago style is deep-dish, sometimes with more than one crust. It's rich and overwhelming and satisfying. They're both fantastic, they're both pizza and, as my Loving Husband would say, why choose between the two? Why does one have to be better than the other? The same could be said for BBQ. I know, it's an age-old controversy--dry vs. wet, tomato vs. vinegar vs. mustard vs. something else, beef vs. pork vs. mutton vs. poultry. Loving Husband and I have eaten a lot of BBQ. We have taken at least one vacation with the destination chosen solely because of the BBQ establishments. Certainly there have been times we didn't like the food offered, but not because of a particular style but because that style wasn't done well. Why does one style have to be the best BBQ ever? And again, Steingarten writes about the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe (Toll House, of course), that it must be yielding but not cake-like, crisp but not crumbly, etc. In theory I agree. And most folk of any discernment would say that store-bought chocolate chip cookies are kind of crap. But one, be-all and end-all, perfect, ultimate recipe? I think not.
Perhaps this is why I'm an Episcopalian--we are, at least on paper, interested in the best of all sides, willing to have space at the table for vinegar BBQ sauce lovers and tomato-based sauce lovers, crisp and cake-y cookie lovers alike. There is such joy in being open to a multitude of tastes and people. Why restrict a church and even the Kingdom of heaven to only those people and theologies that we ourselves espouse? Why not see the beauty in each person, in each image of God, in each pot-luck dish and celebrate it as a gift from God?