Though it would be at least another decade before I knew Kosher"" as something more than a prefix for dill pickle spears and table salt, by the age of six I had catalogued roughly one thousand culinary misdeeds. Dividing the dinner plate into hermitically sealed quarantine zones, I ordered around individual food groups like the subjects of a fascist police state.
I've been told that the picky eating habits of young children are an evolved response to their earlier instincts to snack on any brightly colored objects smaller than large ""Duplo"" blocks. But the sheer number of my food phobias suggests that the Hunzikers of the Old World were frequently the target of poisonings.
Worried by the mental image of my suit-and-tie-clad adult self still inquiring about the restaurant's selection of breakfast cereals, I've spent years training myself to like all kinds of international fare, from sushi to snails to baba ganoush. But, while I've become an expert on foods well outside my price range, my efforts have been a practical failure; despite two decades in the Midwest and four years living in the cholesterol-choked heart of the dairy industry, I absolutely hate cheese.
As far as I'm concerned, I've always hated cheese. My parents insist otherwise, that there was once a time when I liked cheese, perhaps even loved it. Searching through family photo albums, however, I've failed to find any hard evidence. No infant Matt at the foot of the Christmas tree, cuddling a wheel of cheddar from Santa, no three-year-old Matt blowing out candles on his birthday cheesecake, nor partied-out Matt fast asleep on a pillow of brie an hour later.
In almost any other part of the world, I imagine an aversion to cheese would be equivalent to, say, a dislike for organ meats. It is after all, a processed animal product, yet I've never run into the same trouble with haggis. Unfortunately, as I've learned, cheese is ubiquitous in the Midwest. I can still remember the first time I was forced to order a ""quarter-pounder with cheese with no cheese.""
Except in the company of other disenfranchised peoples, like vegetarians, denying cheese is rarely accepted as a simple dietary preference. Questions are begged, eyebrows raised, and I'm asked to explain my viewpoint like I've just announced to a panel of paleontologists that the Earth is exactly 5,000 years old.
Predictably, constant badgering has only strengthened my dislike. Once I hated cheese with my taste buds. Now my heart and soul have joined in. Visiting relatives in France, I was told that my problem wasn't with cheese as a whole but with America's feeble attempts at cheese-making. After two weeks of taste-testing I learned to say ""I do not like it on a roll/I do not like it with a troll/I do not like it with a rind/I do not like it served with wine,"" though not fluently.
None of the cheeses of France could make me a convert, but I did at least agree that it was easier to hate cheese in the United States. Whether threatening our imaginations (""Imitation Cheese Base,"" ""Co-Extruded Cheese Snacks""), or our language (""EZ Cheez,"" ""Cheez-It""), the supermarket labels speak for themselves.
Wisconsin, as a state, has taken cheese reverence farther than any other, embracing it with a religious zeal. The American Dairy Association spent millions inviting people to ""Behold the power of cheese,"" as if coagulated milk curd had led the slaves out of Egypt and felled the walls of Jericho. Once a confirmed Catholic, I made the move to agnosticism the first time I saw hundreds of Madisonians wearing foam-rubber blocks of Swiss on their heads on Sunday morning.
I'd go on, but I'm hungry and tired. Does anyone know of a cheap, ready-to-eat source of calcium and protein?
Do you like cheese in a box? Do you like it with a fox? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.