It was widely known among the students of Paxson Elementary that you could get free ice cream by walking half a block to the Dairy Queen and requesting a "mistake"—the bungled orders set aside for cheapskates. Beggars can't be choosers, as the saying goes, and given that my allowance was earmarked for Belinda Carlisle tapes and jelly shoes, I didn't flinch at those misshapen Dilly Bars, with their soft-serve goiters and brittle exoskeletons of chocolate. Looking back, I can only conclude that the cacao content of DQ's chocolate coating is roughly equivalent to the scotch content of their butterscotch dip. You see, there is no easy way to say this: I hate chocolate.
I wish I had some easy explanation—a fingernail once unearthed inside a Fudgsicle, say—but the truth is I've always been like this. My sister (the beneficiary of my trick-or-treating bounty) used to introduce me to friends by saying, "This is Lila. She doesn't like chocolate. She's weird." (Ingrate.) I was already something of an oddity, growing up in Montana, by virtue of my unpronounceable name, my Jewish/Hispanic ancestry, my freckles. But I never felt more isolated than I did on those afternoons when I was the only kid without a cupcake at a classmate's birthday party. I possessed an invisible deficiency, like colorblindness, and it seemed to symbolize all the ways I failed to fit in.
It's heresy, I know. A dislike of chocolate is strange to the point of suspicion (as I've been informed on many, many occasions). Fro-yo may boom and cupcakes may bust, but chocolate is the gold standard of the dessert economy. It's the Type O of confections, the universal pleasure donor, ubiquitous at Valentine's Day, Halloween and Easter, birthday parties, weddings and wakes. It lounges seductively on your hotel pillow when you turn in for the night. According to a Hofstra University survey, only two percent of respondents acknowledged disliking chocolate, and among women that figure was zero. Zero percent of women dislike chocolate. Apparently I don't even count. But I can count, and, for example, I recently counted 1,048 Facebook groups called, simply, "Chocolate." That does not include "People Who Hate Chocolate Are Obviously Aliens" (35 members) and "Don't You Hate People Who Hate Chocolate?!?!" (446 members).
So you can see why I try to keep my condition to myself, locked away in the same mind-vault where I store my revulsion toward earthworms, and Ray Liotta. I worry that people will think it's an affectation, or just an obnoxious fat-phobia. But chocolate's omnipresence means I can hardly get through a week without stumbling into the Chocolate Discussion. When I'm forced to confess my aversion, often at the close of some lovely dinner party where the host has toiled over a complicated soufflé or torte, the disclosure is inevitably tainted with rejection.
"That looks incredible, but I couldn't possibly," I'll say, waving off the dish and the accompanying chocolate odor. When the host insists, or offers a disbelieving stare, I sigh, knowing I'm about to steer the conversation right off the rails. "The truth is, I'm really not a chocolate person." And then I shrug, like, Weird, right? Better to be thought aberrant than impolite. By now, though, there's no avoiding the Discussion:
Are you allergic? Nope, just don't like the taste.
Just dark chocolate or milk too? Categorically, I can't stand the stuff.*
You must not have much of a sweet tooth. On the contrary, I could subsist happily on a diet of strawberry shortcake and apple pandowdy.
Then you don't like things that are bitter? The bitterer the betterer. My favorite beers are ultra-hoppy IPAs and my preferred comic mode is acerbic.
Wait, really? How can you not like chocolate? You know those times when everyone's really excited about some band and then you listen to the album and even though you're hearing the same thing as everyone else you Just Don't Get It? (Cough, Radiohead.) I think I taste all the flavors in chocolate that you taste, but to me they don't add up to a harmonious sum. It's just sort of… brown. With an aftertaste of alienation.
Are you an American, even? I get this one a lot. Given that chocolate was discovered by Mayans, perfected (so I hear) by Europeans, and is generally imported from Africa, I have never understood the logic. But if you must know, my long-form birth certificate is on file with the State of California.
Next time the topic arises, though, I'll have a new line of defense. Not long ago, I read a 2007 paper in the Journal of Proteome Research (yep, that's how I roll) that may explain the existence of freaks like me.
Swiss and British scientists from, um, the Nestlé Research Center conducted a study of men who identified as "chocolate-desiring" and men who identified as "chocolate-indifferent." (Women were excluded "to avoid the confounding effects of hormonal fluctuations.") After a week's worth of blood and urine tests, the researchers determined that the two groups exhibited distinctly different "metabonomes" and "gut microflora," regardless of whether they had eaten chocolate or a placebo** during the study—the scientists could theoretically determine who was or wasn't a chocoholic just by examining things like lipid, niacin and citrate levels. What this means, according to the researcher who led the study, is that it's not my fault; a love of chocolate (or lack thereof) is "imprinted into our metabolic system." Palate is just the con game your intestinal bacteria pull on your taste buds. Evidently you can account for taste, so long as you're willing to submit your bodily fluids to the scrutiny of a bunch of Europeans in lab coats.
Nearly two hundred years ago, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin observed that habitual chocolate users are "least liable to a multitude of illnesses which spoil the enjoyment of life." If that's a fact, then perhaps one day some Nestlé scientist will invent a pill to treat my malfunctioning metabonomes and microflora. (And perhaps we'll have universal health care to pay for it.) Until then, thank you so much for dinner. Your ganache looks spectacular, but I couldn't possibly.
* Let's all just agree, once and for all, that white chocolate is no more a cousin to chocolate than David Lee Roth is to Philip.
** What's a placebo for chocolate, you ask? The answer, apparently, is bread.
Lila's family recipe for Babka
So, you want to marry a chef?
The cook who couldn't smell