The Mashed Cauliflower Incident

Today, someone I follow on Twitter decided I am a judgmental bitch because I don’t like mashed cauliflower. I’ve tried all morning to let go of the incident, but I don’t seem able to do that. So I’ve decided to write about it, as I do.

The other day, this particular person was tweeting about making a pizza with a cauliflower crust. Another friend of mine and I got involved in the conversation because it sounded interesting (at least, it did to me; I can only assume it did to my friend). So the first person was kind enough to engage with us and share the recipe. Which involves mashing cauliflower.

I happen to love cauliflower. It’s a versatile vegetable, tasty both as itself and as a component of other dishes like curries and pies. Mashing it up to put in a pizza crust is an intriguing idea. Right on!

The versatile cauliflower.
The versatile cauliflower.

Well, that should have end the end of it, but the topic came up again this morning when another friend of mine, who had been absent from Twitter most of the week, mentioned making mashed cauliflower as an alternative to mashed potatoes. This sounds vile to me for a couple of reasons: First, when I imagine mashed cauliflower, when I taste the texture and flavour on the tongue of my mind, I go “EWWWWW!” And second, I’m not a huge fan of food masquerading as other foods. It’s something you see a lot when you’re involved with diets and food plans and health alternatives, as I have been for most of my life. As far back as I can remember, I’ve seen things promoted as being replacements for other things that make you fat or raise your blood sugar or otherwise aren’t as good for you, or cost more, or simply aren’t available. My parents grew up substituting things for other things during the Depression and during World War II. They used margarine instead of butter and made “Mock Apple Pie” out of Ritz crackers (I’m old enough to remember the recipe that appeared on the back of every box well into the seventies). Later on, health gurus hailed spaghetti squash as an alternative to pasta, carob as an alternative to chocolate, and so on and so on.

In my experience, these things never turn out well. When my mom served spaghetti squash to my constantly-dieting family in place of semolina pasta, the mass of yellow vegetable fibers covered in tomato sauce had neither the texture nor the taste of the real thing. Everyone knew it, but we gamely soldiered on, exclaiming how good it was and what a wonderful substitute it made! When I got a carob bar at the health food store instead of the chocolate bar I wanted, I choked it down and told myself it was so much better, almost like the real thing! Later, when I did Weight Watchers as an adult, I made their modified recipes for Shepherd’s Pie and Moussaka and told myself they were excellent and I’d learn to cook this way always. But I didn’t, any more than I kept eating vegetable fiber with sauce instead of spaghetti. (Aside: Some of the Weight Watchers recipes really were quite tasty, and I still use them even though I no longer subscribe to the program.)

The problem is things trying to be other things. Spaghetti squash as a vegetable is fine (I like it with salt and pepper), but it’s not pasta and never will be. Carob as carob is good–I used to go to a place in Ann Arbor for a cup of hot carob on winter days–but it isn’t chocolate. I personally would rather not have the spaghetti dinner than have a pretend spaghetti dinner. And I would rather not have mashed potatoes at all than eat mashed cauliflower because it’s “close.”

This is my deal; I get it. When I have a substitute thing, I feel more deprived than I do if I just skip having the thing it’s supposed to imitate. I’d rather drink my coffee and tea black, which I do, than use artificial sweetener. If I want an occasional dessert or if I want to eat a mound of mashed potatoes every once in a while, I go ahead and do it. It’s better for my health, both physical and mental, in the long run than mournfully reminiscing about pasta while forking in a mouthful of squash.

I tried to explain this on Twitter, how I don’t like things trying to be other things, like fake meat and cauliflower pretending to be potatoes. My two friends in the conversation understood my point, I think. But the original poster of the cauliflower pizza crust took offense to the tune of a multi-tweet screed, which I will now quote:

Wow, I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with “fake meat.” I haven’t had meat since I was 13, b/c I genuinely don’t like it. People call vegetarians preachy about their diet, yet it’s okay to criticize vegetarians? No, that’s not how that works. How about letting people eat what they want and accepting that different people like different things. The reason I eat veggie burgers and mashed vegetables is because I like the texture. I don’t miss meat, or want it. I like the texture of a veggie burger and mashed cauliflower. People crave texture over taste. There is plenty of information out there about nutrition, and the facts are greatly disputed, but whatever you believe, if you see a person is trying to better their health, maybe instead of judging it, you can research it, or at least leave them to it.

She certainly put me in my place.

I am angry about this. I tweeted back to the original poster, saying that I think she took me wrong, trying to clarify that I was speaking of personal preference, that I was a vegetarian for many years and I still will choose a veggie burger on occasion over a meat burger because I LIKE THEM, and I was sorry that what I said triggered her. Because to me it was obvious she was triggered, probably because she gets shit for her choices and she’s ready to see getting shit for her choices when someone expresses a different preference. I understand this and I am still angry that this person went off on me because she read something into my words that I didn’t put there. I am still angry, and I still apologised. It was the right thing to do. I haven’t received another reply, or even an acknowledgement. And it burns my fat butt.

The original poster doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know what research I may or may not have done. She doesn’t know my health problems or my history with food. I follow her; she doesn’t follow me. She’s not one of my circle. And yet, she felt competent to accuse me of being judgmental because I used some words she didn’t like.

I am trying to let go of this, and I am finding it extremely difficult. Sure, there are some lessons in here. I probably should have stopped tagging her in the interactions this morning when my second friend joined in–in fact, I considered doing so at the time–because she’s NOT one of my circle. But I never imagined being subjected to this unreasonable tirade. I should remember that Twitter is a difficult place to have a meaningful, nuanced conversation, particularly with someone you don’t know well. I should have remembered that Internet interactions are prone to being misinterpreted because you don’t get the body and tone cues that you get in personal conversation. People who know you can supply them; people who don’t, cant. I didn’t think of most of that stuff, because it was Friday morning and I was drinking my coffee.

I’m beyond bummed that neither of my friends, who DO know me and who were both tagged in every post of that screed, stood up for me, too.

What I’m left with, again, is the slap-in-the-face feeling that comes from someone having an intense reaction to something I found completely reasonable. That feeling that I have to guard my speech, my aspect, my opinions, my voice, to keep from being attacked, because I cannot trust other people to own their own shit. It’s a crappy feeling. It’s one I fight every day in order to be able to have any social interactions at all. And every time something like this happens, I wonder why I even bother. I honestly do want to make friends and be open about who I am. I just seem to get the message so much that who I am is unacceptable.

And yes, I am fully cognizant that this is my shit.

So that’s the story of the Mashed Cauliflower Incident. And I will get over it eventually. But remember, social media can create a false sense of intimacy with people.  The Internet is dark and full of terrors. Tread carefully.