What do you do in the face of well-meaning enthusiasm?
Are you in a breakfast conundrum? Do you have deep-seated, unresolved feelings for brunch? Are you at a loss in front of the smorgasbord of life? Because so often breakfast is about feelings, and relationships teeter on the edge of the morning meal table, Extra Crispy editors Kat Kinsman (Bis-kat) and Margaret Eby (Bisc-gret) are here with the tenth installment of Emergency Biscuits, our breakfast advice column, to dole out hopefully not half-baked counsel and recipes for life. Got a question for the Biscuits? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food evangelists are a tricky bunch, and I count myself among them. Not for oatmeal in particular—though I did recently try the stuff with black pepper and butter at the suggestion of Jonathan Lethem—but for tahini, brussels sprouts, whole milk, and various other culinary fixations. But the reason that those fixations even exist is because of other people—a suggestion to try cooking sprouts a certain way, or to swap out the grocery store tahini for something less stale. So it's possible that those who are cornering you about the deliciousness of oatmeal are simply trying to pass on something that has made their own lives better.
But then, the note of judgement that you picked up on is also a nefarious part of food culture. There are good-hearted exchanges of information, but there is a real element of policing, as well. I think at the heart of that policing—as you so aptly put it, "making other people feel weird about their food choices,"—is an element of deep insecurity. It is really asking you for approval, for assurance that the way that they are eating is the correct one. And there is no correct way, not really. There is only what works for you. It is silly to pretend something is filling if it leaves you hungry. It serves no one. And yet we all know the pageantry of these food choices, the loud proclamations of how much you will have to run later when you select an office doughnut, the ongoing culture of shame and righteousness around food choices. It is wise to resist it. It is reasonable.
So what I would do, dear Oatmealed, is when confronted with an oatmeal evangelist, is to attempt, in a friendly way, to bend their ear right back, about whatever you feel particularly evangelical about, some small thing that's been giving you joy. It doesn't have to be about food at all. Sometimes all that it takes is matching enthusiasm about something you've found that works for you lately, whether it's a new houseplant or a Youtube channel or geologic time or learning about the British royal family. Enthusiasm often welcomes more enthusiasm. And if that doesn't work, and if the person keeps insisting on the One True Way of Oatmeal, do exactly what you mentioned. Say "so glad oatmeal is working for you. Have you seen Westworld?" And then enjoy your fried egg and toast the next morning in peace.
I am the sort of oatmeal evangelist who likely vexes you so, and I cannot apologize. Oatmeal has brought me sustenance and joy for lo these many decades—especially since I discovered the pleasures of savory oatmeal. (Seriously—hot sauce. Try it. Thank me later. Oh wait—that’s what you were talking about. Still, though.) I coo and gesticulate to anyone who will listen, but it’s done with love. When I like something, I am loud about it. I want to reward it and support it and I want there to be more of it in the world. Oatmeal brings me joy, and I wish for others to share in it—but only if they care to. If they don’t, I won’t press them.
But that’s because I am, for the most part, secure in my own tastes. It wasn’t always that way, and I had to fight to get here. A boyfriend would make an offhanded comment about my tastes in TV. A frenemy would smirk at my shoes. A relative would issue a “Well that’s…different” about my hair/artwork/existence. I mistook the assessment of my likes for my own self worth and adjusted accordingly until I realized I wasn’t doing nearly enough to make myself delighted. What if…just what if my tastes were as valid as theirs were? If someone needed to think less of me because of the thing I enjoyed or didn’t, that said an awful lot more about them than it did about me. I’ve been a hell of a lot happier since, and have had to listen to far less New Zealand experimental music.
Perhaps take a little pity on these people. They may be seeking YOUR validation, or genuinely trying to share a thing about which they care. But if they’re just being judgy and irksome, you can either limit your time with them (If they’re pests about oatmeal, I can only imagine how relentless they must be all damn day long), or—with a smile on your face—say, “I’m so glad that makes you happy. There are other things that bring me more personal pleasure.” Your wishes and wants are presented as equal to theirs and if they cannot respect that, you know a little bit more about the boundaries of their capacity as a friend. Sometimes the oatmeal bowl is only half full, and that’s just how it’s going to be.