There’s nothing ickier than raising a fork to eye level and finding that intimately human object entwined in your food: hair. All the sudden, it’s like you’re in bed with the chef. And how well that person cleans him or herself, or where he or she has been in the last twenty-four hours — and who that person is — you have no clue. Panic ensues.
I know this is not a pleasant topic for anyone. But chances are, if you’ve been eating restaurant food throughout your life, this has probably happened to you at least once. So sorry for bringing back the bad memory. And for this thought: what about the particles, germs, and other human artifacts that are in our food, too, but that we can’t see? Creeping, crawling, migrating into food, because they just do, in even the most sanitary kitchens.
When you go to a restaurant, your trust is in their hands, literally, and you trust that those hands are clean. Unless that trust is broken (like from finding a hair in the food, or becoming sick afterward), you don’t have reason not to. When cooking at home, you don’t have to operate on guesswork and faith — you know that you washed that spoon, rinsed that pot, and above all, have pretty clean hygiene. That is, if you do and did.
On the other hand, hair happens. It happens when I cook for myself. Naturally, I try not to let it get into food, and in most cases I think I’d be able to spot it before it winds up on a plate, or fork. It doesn’t always work. I’ve found hair in loaves of bread that I’ve baked. I was mortified to hear, a few months later, that at one of the first meals I’d cooked at home for a date, he’d found a strand of hair in my homemade linguine (I should’ve made “angel hair” instead). I suppose I could wear a hairnet in the kitchen and that’s always an option. If this isn’t enough to gross you out entirely, there is a rare disorder of people eating their hair, so unless that’s your thing, you can rest assured of not being at the pinnacle of hair consumption if any of this has happened with you, too. (The old saying, “You are what you eat” just got weirder.)
But herein, a glimpse of my point. Hair, and the rest of one’s bodily effects, is just more palatable when it’s your own. Call it fickle or unfair, or just a fact of life: we live with our germs, our bodies are ours, so what could be icky about any of that in our mouths? So no, I didn’t throw away the loaf of bread with a strangely twisted strand of hair that poked out of one piece, because there was no mystery as to whose it was. And if I found a piece of hair in a food that a friend, family member or acquaintance cooked, then I’d just use my own judgment about whether I trusted him or her enough to remove it shrug it off.
I’ve always praised the act of cooking with other people or trying their homemade food as a good way of getting to know them better. It brings a new dimension of peoples’ personalities to light, watching how they chop and dice, teamworking on a time-sensitive dish, etc. It’s intimate, and now we can attribute that to a more physical reality. You can end up eating one another, sort of, to an extent, sharing germs and such. That’s why knowing not only where my food came from but who made it are two mottos close to my fork.