Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Snow Peas and Normality

As I child, I learned that peas were to be unshelled, boiled and then eaten as a side dish. Nobody cared about the shells; we simply discarded them. The real prize was the small, green and round pea. Nobody would think of eating them raw.

And so I grew up thinking I know what peas are and how you should eat them. Of course, there were variations in terms of the recipes one used to cook them. But the basics stayed the same: unshell and boil.

Little surprise that when I first saw someone eating a raw pea pod, I was taken aback: how could they do it? It contradicted everything I knew about peas. More than that, it contradicted a shared norm of eating and cooking peas. How could they eat a raw pea pod when everyone knew peas had to be boiled and the shells had to be discarded? Eating them raw was simply 'abnormal'.

Curiosity aside, my stomach also decided to make a stand. As it grumbled at the thought of putting a raw pea pod in my mouth, it reinforced
my decision on eating raw peas: abnormal. It just wasn't right and my stomach simply knew it!

Normality was thus born as a seemingly biological thing: eating raw peas is not good for you, and that was the end of the story. The fact that so many other people did not seem to buy into this normality wasn't disconcerting. After all, the world is full of exotic and eccentric people! I knew what was 'normal' and I was gonna stick to it because that was the right thing to do!

We often fail to see that 'normality' is contextual: it becomes 'normality' by virtue of being accepted and enforced by those around us. Confronted with difference, we become rigid and loose our curiosity, hanging on to that false sense of self-reinforcement that 'normality' brings along. What counts as 'normal' when it comes to food is even trickier, as I wrote a long time ago, mostly because growing accustomed to a type of food becomes intertwined with our sensations and biological reactions. Even today, when I know that snow peas can be eaten raw, my stomach still protests to the idea, making it quite easy to forget that this reaction is part of a long process of socialization, that shaped my taste buds but also my sense of 'good food'.

Photo credits: Snow peas by little blue hen

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