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I give thanks for simple food

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By Debra J. Saunders
I am the opposite of a foodie. My favorite green vegetable is the pea -- fresh or frozen. My second favorite is celery. I like iceberg lettuce. At restaurants, I have been known to look longingly at the children's menu.
When President George H. W. Bush admitted he did not like broccoli, I felt as one with him. When the Reagan administration declared ketchup to be a vegetable, I knew it was true. I don't eat ketchup.
I am not proud of my eating habits. In high school, my black studies class went to an African restaurant. As our teacher noted for the rest of the year, when they put the food on the table and the foreign smells hit my nose, my face turned green.
Years ago, my now-best friend, Carla Marinucci, decided I should like sushi. She'll never make that mistake again. Same green face. You can't make yourself like what your body wants to reject.
I love to travel and hate to eat most foods that fall outside three basic food groups -- pizza, pasta and potatoes. On my first trip to Paris, I thought I'd be fine. I speak French. Boeuf, jambon, poulet (beef, ham, chicken). Then I discovered a restaurant that was serving cochon (pig) actually was serving pig snout.
My husband, Wesley, loves to joke about our first night in Paris. We ate Italian. Oslo, first night: Italian. Sydney, first night: Italian. The United Kingdom? I don't go for canned peas. The old standard pub fare gave me heartburn, and I don't do tandoori.
I have expanded my horizons somewhat -- impala stew in South Africa, elk sausage in Montana, something else -- not kangaroo -- in Australia. But I draw the line at aspic.
I rarely eat junk food. I grow my own tomatoes. And oddly, I can cook. Wesley wonders how it is that someone who doesn't eat eggs can make the best scrambled eggs. Last year, my penne Bolognese earned the ultimate praise: Carla's husband, Roland, thought she had made it.
That said, when friends decide to go out for dinner, the conversation turns in a direction that is just plain humiliating: Where can Debra eat?
I won't say that it's all bad. Friends' dogs, at least, are always happy to see me when I've been invited to sup.
I go to some great San Francisco restaurants that serve fine food that my friends who aren't palate-challenged can enjoy. That said, nothing instills terror in me as much an invitation to a new chichi restaurant. The fancier the menu, the fussier I become.
In this town, you can speak a few languages and still not understand what's on the menu. Waiters sometimes give you too much information. A friend was ready to order rabbit -- until he heard so many details on how the lapin was raised that he felt he could name it.
Logic might tell you that the richer a society is, the choicer its cuts. Au contraire, the pricier the Ess Eff eatery, the hotter its rage for organs and innards. The foodies' holy trinity: offal, belly and feet. On the veggie front, try "stinging nettles." When there isn't too much information, there are too many ingredients -- like a vegetable side with duck fat, chili and mint.
In this feast of a town, you can be a vegan, on a no-carb diet or gluten-intolerant, and you get respect. On Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the one day we picky eaters get any respect with our turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is

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