Food is culture. If you doubt that, try going to another country and spitting out the soup. You’ll learn about local standards of conduct quickly.
No matter where you go, though, one thing holds true: When you make food for someone, you’re putting your identity on the line. That curry says something about your relationship with your guests. The passed appetizers are a direct channel to your self-image. Rejection hurts.
We all know this intuitively, which is why we find ourselves in situations like the ones described below. Turning your nose up at a meal is impolite. We want to be polite. Sometimes we want it more than we want to avoid food poisoning. That’s the kind of situation we collected for this piece; people being so agreeable that they slurp down the unthinkable.
As a quick warning, some of these stories are entirely disgusting. They’re a lot more fun to read about than to experience. Oh, and they came from the good people of Reddit, though we ran them through our editing machines to standardize style and readability. Okay, on to the main course:
Is it impolite to ask about food safety standards in your grandma’s home?
Reddit user Ninevehwow didn’t have to think twice before answering the question, “What’s the worst thing you’ve eaten out of politeness?”
“My grandmother’s chili,” Ninevehwow wrote. “My grandmother is a terrible, terrible cook. I’ve gotten food poisoning multiple times from her, but this chili nearly killed me. She made it in her crockpot.”
“The first night, the chili was good. Everything was fine.”
“She made a huge batch, so we had it again the next day. It was still okay—a little bit off but not the worst thing I ever ate.”
Tastes can be deceiving.
Here’s one of those disgusting bits we warned you about in the intro:
“I was so sick that night,” the Reddit user continued. “Spewing from both ends.”
It was time to throw the rest of the chili in the compost. That’s what they did, right? Surely that’s what happened.
“The third night, the smell was horrible,” Ninevehwow continued, dashing our hopes of a less-gross outcome. “The chili was popping and effervescent with tiny gas bubbles. I was 9. We had just learned about bacteria in school. I refused to eat more than a bite.”
So what did it taste like?
“It was Pop Rocks mixed with rotten meat,” the Reddit user wrote. “I asked her how she stored the chili. ‘In the crockpot,’ she said defensively.”
“‘It’s okay to leave things in there. I even remembered to unplug it!’”
“We lived in Georgia. It was the summer. She didn’t make chili—she made a science experiment on the kitchen counter.”
This story manages to be both sweet and stomach-turning.
“I am actually the one who made the horrible meal,” wrote holmesla0319. “When I was around 8, I decided I wanted my mom to relax while I cooked her dinner and did the dishes.”
Aw, that’s a nice idea. How do you think it turned out?
“I made way over-cooked spaghetti with a plain can of diced tomatoes that I added water to, because I thought that was how sauce worked. I finished it off with every seasoning herb we owned, plus some ketchup because the sauce looked a little too much like water and, oh, heck, some mustard, mayo, and any sauce I saw in the fridge, because she liked all those things!”
See, this is the sort of thing that makes people regret having children.
“My mom took her first bite, smiled through it, told me how much she enjoyed not having to cook, then ate every freaking bite on her plate,” holmesla0319 continued.
“She told me much later on that she ate the dinner I made her because she didn’t want to discourage me from taking initiative and trying new things. She also later told me it was the most god-awful thing she had ever eaten in her life.”
Someone get this woman a “World’s Best Mom” mug—preferably one full of Ipecac syrup.
Let’s return to the grandparents theme.
It turns out that our treasured grammies and pappies are famous for serving up gross dishes. You wouldn’t want to hurt your grammie’s feelings, would you? Well, neither would these people.
“My beloved but very elderly gram-in-law made chocolate chip cookies in which she messed up the sugar and salt and mistook the dried black beans in her cupboard for chocolate chips,” wrote Reddit user philemonslady. “Ohhhhh dear.”
Another commenter on the thread could identify.
“Sounds about right,” wrote XxbeancurdxX. “I was at my grandma’s house for dinner one night, and afterwards we inquired about whether she had any ice cream.”
This is what’s known in the business as “asking for it.”
“She thought for a second, and said she might have peach ice cream in the downstairs freezer,” the Reddit user continued. “My dad and I went down, opened the ice cream, and something was just…off.”
“We didn’t taste it, but soon found out it was expired nine years past. How she even remembered it was there is beyond me.”
Technically, then, that was a story about not eating something to be polite. But it serves our thesis, so we’re letting it slide. Anyway, the next story proves that, sometimes, eating disgusting food is an act of love and respect.
“My grandpa made sushi,” Reddit user nostarshawn wrote. “With tuna, rhubarb, yellow mustard, seaweed, and undercooked rice. He watched me eat it to make sure I got a taste of each ingredient.”
“The entire time I ate it, I thought, ‘This tough b****** made it through the beaches of Normandy. Eat the sushi and smile.’”
That’s a nice perspective.
We never expected these stories to be so…sweet (and not in a “sickly-” kind of way).
But here’s another one that proves food—the serving of it and its eating—is a proxy for affection. And here we thought we were just testing our gag reflexes by collecting these stories. Go mining for tin and you might strike a vein of red-gold human sentiment. Who knew?
“This was my dad eating it rather than me, but I was a witness,” wrote Reddit user TahrFantastico.
“I have two older sisters. When the elder of them decided that she wanted to cook a meal for the family, it was a big deal.”
“She decided to make chili, and she used my mom’s big red Betty Crocker Cookbook (or similar, but one of those generic cookbooks most families have) for the recipe. At one point it calls for a whole heap of chili powder, and this is where things went wrong.”
“She used the chili powder from our kitchen drawer. Seems fair, right? Except my dad is Pakistani and it was some sort of incredibly intense chilis or something like that.”
“Bear in mind that at this point I was, like, 8 or younger, so my grasp of the details was minimal. All I knew was that you couldn’t even go near the pot. Breathing the air in the kitchen was an experience.”
“The entire family just noped out—nice try, let’s order a pizza, you can give it a go again next week—except for my dad.”
“He was determined that his daughter had cooked dinner and he was going to eat that dinner.”
“He ate it. He ate the whole pot.”
“By the end, his face was Crayola Fire Engine Red and there was sweat pouring off of him. We would ask if he was okay, and he would croak out, ‘Yes, it’s very good,’ in a tone that implied he was fighting for each moment of survival. I don’t even want to consider what his gut was like for the rest of that week.”
“But his daughter cooked him dinner and he ate the whole pot.”
Cue the “awws.”
Speaking of hot peppers and sentiment…
“I nearly killed my ex with a curry once,” wrote Reddit user Furthur_slimeking. “I’m English, so of course my favourite food is curry, and my family is from Trinidad, home of the world’s hottest peppers (my granddad was actually a chili farmer), and as a young child I lived in Thailand where the food is super spicy. So I have a very high tolerance to chili.”
“My ex came from a family that didn’t add seasoning to anything. The first time I went for dinner at her parent’s house, I was served unseasoned, poorly cooked steak; boiled, unsalted potatoes; and unseasoned microwaved broad beans. Her signature dish was a pot of pasta, a can of tomatoes, and a can of tuna mixed together with nothing else.”
Somehow, this story is not about the speaker choking down his ex-in-law’s food, although it sounds like the worst gunk in the story. Nope, the speaker is the one who makes the torture-food.
“Anyway, I had bought a batch of chilis from the market that I hadn’t tried before, and didn’t sample a bit to check their hotness before adding half a dozen to the pot.”
There’s a lesson here somewhere.
“I can’t remember exactly what they were, but they were much, much hotter than I expected,” Furthur_slimeking continued. “The resulting curry was too hot even for me to finish, and she managed half a mouthful before her head caught fire.”
We’re assuming that last detail is metaphorical.
None of the following home chefs meant to do any harm.
Ingredients can be confusing, is all. Also, some of these folks were children. For instance:
“My little sister made me puke once because she made me ‘tea’ and, like a good brother, I downed the tiny teacup-ful in one drink,” wrote kramatic. “It was hand sanitizer mixed with water.”
Other mistake-prone cooks are sliding into the early stages of memory loss, which gives a sad sepia tone to scenes like this:
“My great-grandmother once baked the family a pumpkin pie knowing that it’s my dad’s favorite,” wrote DenversTrain. “She was soooooooooo excited to share it with everyone.”
“She was old and losing her memory, and she’d accidentally switched the salt and sugar when making this pie. Everyone ate at least a few bites so that she wouldn’t be hurt.”
That’s what you do. It goes beyond eating something gross to be “polite,” but “X Things People Ate to Preserve the Dignity of a Loved One’s Disintegrating Mind” just isn’t a clickable headline.
Some unpleasant meals boil down to personal preference. (Get it? Boil?)
“Back in the late 1970s, I was sent from California to a rural Maryland town for a six-month job assignment,” wrote nutraxfornerves. “I was used to the wide variety of very fresh vegetables grown within a couple of hours of my city.”
“In that rural Maryland town, I rarely saw what I would consider good fresh vegetables, except for a very short season when farmers’ markets had local produce. I really missed my good veggies.”
“I rented part of a house that had been converted to apartments. The nice elderly couple next door had a huge vegetable garden, consisting primarily of green beans. I used to lust after those beans.”
That’s some word choice, there, buddy. Anyway, continuing on:
“One day, Mrs. Neighbor saw me outside and invited me to join them later in the day for a barbecue. ‘We are going to have the first of our own green beans.’”
“I could hardly wait. I was so-o-o looking forward to those beans.”
“Mr. Neighbor barbecued and Mrs. Neighbor plated the food in the kitchen. With great pride, she handed me a plate containing an incinerated steak and a bunch of gray tubes. ‘We like our green beans best after they’ve been canned.’”
“Yep. She had home-canned the green beans, then cooked them, Southern style, for an hour or so with a chunk of ham. I looked at my plate. I looked over at all those crisp, vibrant beans still on the plants. I looked back at my plate.”
“I never knew I possessed such good acting ability.”