Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Baked Beans: A Longing For Vengeance

I've a reputation among cooks and friends for the excitement I show toward strange foods and folk staples.  I don't typically have a problem with soft of jelly textures, obvious animal parts, offal, or things off the Scoville scale.  Fish eyes, chicken feet, livers, flans, ghost peppers, strong greens lionize me.
I am about to enjoy a sampling of chicken feet, fermented tofu, and pigs ear.

Yes, there are some items that I am not enthusiastic about.  I eat them, politely, or with moderate distaste.  I still eat them with one exception: baked beans.

There is some irony.  I work in authentic Southern barbecue. I prepare and serve baked beans for a living.  People frequently compliment the restaurant's baked beans.  Some go so far as to say they are the best.  I wouldn't know.  I taste them, when I make a batch, in order to be sure they taste correct - which is to say, to see if I still don't like them.  If for some reason I find myself somehow liking them then I know I have fucked the dog.

I have tried many times to enjoy them.  My partner, she loves them.  Considers them a breakfast item, the whole bag.  To my British friends they constitute a proper meal.  I have fought with myself, insisting its a childhood bias to get over.  I have tried to acquire their taste through repeated tastings to no avail.

When my mother talks about the poverty she endured in her upbringing she always mentions all of the hard times when the only thing that sustained her modest existence was a can of baked beans.  And this is what rings me out: baked beans are the quintessential poor food!  The food I have closest aligned myself with, the food that inspires my creativity, the food that flips the bird to the bougie shit coming out of fine dining kitchens - goddamnit, poor foods is my eats!

This isn't merely a story of a basic and uninteresting dislike of baked beans though.  It's a story of a deep, dark longing for vengeance, and a caveat for those who would tread the same path as the one who made me this way...

This tale begins long ago, at the end of the 1980's, with its waves nipping at the shores of the 1990's.  Radio played Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton, cars were still long and rectangular, and I had just begun day care at a loathsome facility in Owen Sound.  Back then I was the lord and defacto king of the picky eaters.  I would hardly eat anything.  Foreign dignitaries would line up bringing exotic items from far away lands to lay them at my feet and see if I would try it.  I never did.  There was a list of things I would not eat, and I can remember it vividly, but for the life of me I cannot remember anything that I would eat.  Apples, probably.

I am certain my fussy behavior concerned my childcare professionals.  One snack time we were given baked beans.  I closed my mouth tight and shook my head.  No.  Fuck you.  I am not eating that brown mushy shit, is probably what I thought.  I didn't want anything else but world peace.  I just didn't want to eat the baked beans.  I was getting good at this: the sealed lips, the slanted brows, the general look of defiance.  Nobody could feed me.

That's when it happened.  Some young 20-something blonde sadistic bitch, likely sent to my daycare straight from guarding maximum security correctional facilities, grabbed a spoon, scooped out a pile of the goopy mush, and forced it past my lips, smearing my face with brown, and all the way back into my throat.

It only took a second before I threw up all over myself.  Once I started, I couldn't stop: I threw up on her, on the floor, on my clothes, on the walls, on the other kids, on the ceiling, a torrent of sticky brown pebbles spewed out of me, the bean levels continued to rise, filling my pockets and the whole lunch room, spilling out of the windows into the playground.

As if my shame were not enough, once my reaction had been contained, the corporals stripped me completely naked.  I remember standing in the front of the daycare waiting for my mom to come pick me up, cold, sticky, without a covering.  I remember it like the photo of the detainee in Abu Ghraib, standing naked on a chair with a bag on his head, soldiers posing around him.  Except I could see the dull eyes of the children around me, inspecting me, judging, repulsed and already filled with the fickle Proddy wrath they would adopt later in life.

These years later, sitting at my window staring out in melancholy, I know these were the moments that made me the person I am.  A lifetime of truancy, casual misanthropy, and anti-authority explained in these brief childhood moments. If fate were kind, I would discover the identity of the childhood tormentor, and this time it would be me force feeding her.

Yes, I would spoon a babyfood of pureed Trinidad Scorpions right into her eyes.

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