Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why I Hate Liver

I have something in common with the late and great comedian Johnny Carson.  No, it's not his sense of humor, multiple divorces, or his bags of money.  It's our dislike of liver.

I discovered this years ago during one of his monologs on the Tonight Show, which he hosted brilliantly for nearly 30 years.  I forget the exact context of his revelation, but its impact was immediate and liberating.  Liver-haters like me could now come out of the closet!

The Beginning

My dislike for liver goes way, way back to when I was a child.  I have a vivid memory (possibly fabricated) of the first time I tasted it.  My parents were big fans of fried liver and onions, but seldom prepared it, perhaps because one or more of my older sisters wasn't too fond of it either.  On this particular night I remember the delicious smell of the liver cooking in the pan (probably the onions were the source of the good smell, but I didn't know that).  The raw liver looked kind of nice, too -- all smooth, shiny and deep red.  So I was prepared to enjoy what I recall as my first experience with liver as a food.

I chewed the first bite a couple of times and then tried to swallow.  You know about the "GAG REFLEX?" Well mine kicked in big time and my body refused to accept the taste and texture of this foreign substance in my mouth as something edible.  Our dog Rowdy was under the table (his usual dinner time position) and he had no such qualms, however.

Testing The Limits

As I grew older I encountered many friends and acquaintances who objected to my blanket rejection of what they regarded as a delicious, nutritious, and downright wonderful culinary treat.  "Oh, well, you just haven't had it prepared the right way!  You should try X, Y, Z...."  For X, Y, and Z just substitute any one of dozens of ways of cooking liver or preparing it -- braised, sauteed, ground into pates, stuffed into sausages, baked in a pixie oven, etc. etc..  Or they said "Oh, but have you tried Type A, Type B, Type C....I bet you'd really like that kind."  For Type A, B, and C just substitute any of the usual -- calve liver, pork liver, chicken liver, turkey liver, goose liver, moose liver, mongoose liver, humming bird liver.

Not wanting to seem closed-minded I tried most of their suggestions, always with the same result:  GAG.  After years of trying to correct my aberrant dislike I finally decided it was hopeless -- I do not now nor will I ever like liver in any way, shape or form.

Living With Liver

You'd think that would be the end of it -- having once committed to a liver-free life I'd just get on with it. But if you travel a lot, as my wife and I have done for many years, it's not that simple.

Traveling exposes you to many things, including the fact that most of the world doesn't speak English.  Menus are particularly problematic when they are in another language. Learning the word for "liver" helps somewhat (and I now know it in at least five languages) but chefs have a sneaky way of disguising its presence in their flowery descriptions of dishes or in idiomatic references like "Uncle Nickolai's Special Sausage."  This problem has lessened somewhat as English has become more widespread as a universal travel-language, but it still is present in many of the more exotic places we like to visit.

The solution has been to have my wife taste suspicious food that might be harboring liver in pure or sneakily adulterated ways.  She isn't a real liver fan either, but her aversion is much milder than mine.  This technique isn't perfect, though because she isn't as sensitive to the taste as I am.  It also makes me vulnerable to her joking around just to see me react when I dig into something she has declared liver safe and in fact is contaminated. Think Lucy holding the football for Charley Brown.

You might be critical of this procedure because it is exploitative of my wife's good nature.  However, we have a trade-off.  I do things that make her gag, like scrubbing toilets and cleaning up cat barf.

A Rational Conclusion (not)

As a psychological scientist I know that food preferences are largely learned and heavily determined by culture.  Texture, taste, and nutritional value do not by themselves drive the acceptance of certain items as food -- these qualities are interpreted within specific cultural frameworks and tempered by individual experiences and expectations. For example, insects are consumed readily by many people around the world, but not in our country.  This is despite the fact that insects are an excellent sustainable source of protein that is easily and safely produced with minimal input and very little environmental degradation.

It would be rational to eat insects.  It would be rational to eat liver.  See what I mean?

Please pass the pate d'cockroach.....
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4 comments:

AKJ said...

And I hate okra! This IS liberating!

Dennis Nord said...

I'm with you & I haven't tasted liver in decades. Haven't run into it internationally, but haven't been eating meat generally so that makes it less difficult to avoid. I hate it & have similar reflex, tho maybe not so severe. Now that I read liver is so often contaminated with toxins due to pesticides, lead & other metals, I wouldn't want it if I did like it...just giving you an excuse to demure when it's offered.

Roger Fairchild said...

I too, performed a delicate deception with liver, while growing up at home. Discovery, though, could result in a whipping from my father.

Liver is really the only food I won't eat (excluding those delicacies from my wife's Philippine culture), at least as an adult, though I couldn't entirely escape eating it when young. My father, however, loved it. So, of course, I had to be creative, at least by the standards of my chronological age. I am sure these deceptions evolved over time.

A moment for the layout. My father sat at the end of the dining table with his back to the windows. I sat at his right. My mom to my right at the other end. Sisters across from me.

First, I would cut the liver into as many small pieces as I could, since the change in the appearance of the amount of liver left on my plate would be more difficult to notice.

Then I would use a number of different strategies.

We had a miniature dachshund, whose intelligence level did extend to realizing that stealth was required, while hovering quietly, just under the table to my right. She enjoyed those liver dinners.

Then there was hiding a bunch of those small pieces just under the edge of my plate on the side toward my mom (an accomplice).

I could not avoid having to put a lot of those pieces in my mouth. A favorite was putting quite a number of pieces in my mouth, pretending to chew, and then amazingly needing to go to the bathroom, where they met their appropriate end.

Some, I chewed and then at a moment when my father's head would be down or diverted, I would sweep them out of my mouth and between my legs, and even down my shorts when possible, disposing of them later.

The dining table had a ledge along the under edge, and I could line up single pieces on that ledge. Quite a number, actually.

At my father's back was toward the windows, old type casement windows with screens, and in the summer, the windows would be open. In this daring liver-avoidance technique, when my father turned his head enough to talk to the girls, I could toss some pieces into the space between the raised window and screen. This did not always work, however.

Actually, none of these were foolproof, and my father was not a fool.

No liver is served in my house.

Richard Sherman said...

Great comment! I pulled a few of those tricks but your repertoire is far more extensive. I must say I'm enjoying hearing from so many fellow liver haters!

RS