I cannot say it loud enough: I hate mac and cheese.
Hate it. Detest it. Loathe it in the way some people shy away from rats or snakes or spiders. I don’t like spiders either but give me a choice between a house spider and a bowl of Kraft and I’ll take the spider every time.
I realize this places me in a very small subset of humanity. Most people not only like mac and cheese, they adore it. That’s weird to me. How can you like ingesting a bowl of slimy, orange-yellow noodles covered in fake-cheese?
As a child, I honestly thought that it was only my brother who loved mac and cheese, because he was my brother and therefore a weirdo. Anyhow, as my brother, I expected that he’d love all the things I hated, just to be difficult.
But then I went away to college.
Lo and behold, everyone there was stocking up on mac and cheese , eating it on rainy days and singing its damn praises. I’d done a pretty good job of avoiding mac and cheese up until that point, but it was everywhere in my dorm. In my room. In the hall garbage can. Dishes caked with the orange residue of mac and cheese clogged the bathroom sinks. Microwaves smelled of it. It was like being in a Kraft horror movie. All of a sudden I realized that my brother was not the weird one. I was the freak show. It became clear that I was The Only Mac & Cheese Hater in The World.
Oh come off it, you might be saying. So you didn’t like a food and a lot of other people like it. Get over yourself.
Am I being a big baby about this one particular food? Oh yes. Completely. I choose to be stoic about other things I don’t like: violence, chicken soup, traffic, fires. But the smell of macaroni and cheese? It makes my gorge rise.
My hatred of mac and cheese was so bad when I was a kid that my mother, an Irish-Italian matriarch of the Clean Your Plate vintage, wouldn’t make me eat it if she was serving it for dinner.
This isn’t to say that the poor woman didn’t try to overcome my mac and cheese aversions. At first she took my dislike as a challenge. She and my dad figured okay, I hated Kraft Mac and Cheese, let’s make this kid some real macaroni and cheese from scratch before she develops a phobia. (If you’ve read this far, you know that approach didn’t work.)
They made scores of recipes. Some had meat in them. Some had vegetables. All of them had cheeses I liked in different dishes. Some were baked. Some not. I remember thinking that one dish in particular was tolerable, so my mother made it again, but the second time I had a very hard time choking it down.
My father tried to reason with me, based on my love of Italian food. “Ann,” he said, “you like lazy lasagna.* Lazy lasagna has both macaroni and cheese in it.”
I chose not to hear this, but even so, it made me suspicious of any noodle not covered in tomato sauce.
In the end, my parents gave up, and I was allowed not to eat mac and cheese at dinner, which was a great relief.
I guessed that as I grew up and moved out into the world, I’d meet other mac and cheese haters and we’d form our own little mac and cheese haters’ club, but that was not the case. Because apparently the rest of humanity loves it some Kraft.
By the time I was out of school, I was afraid that I’d be turning down mac and cheese for the rest of my life, trying to suppress the awful faces my inner child wants to make at the site of the dish, when I was served a big piece of luck: when I was 25, I was diagnosed as being intolerant to both gluten and lactose. Hallelujah! I sure missed eating pizza, but it was worth it, because now no one would expect me to eat mac and cheese.
But recently, gluten-free technology caught up with me.
Right now, there are a bunch of mac and cheese restaurants out there. Some entrepreneurial hipsters thought that would be a great recession idea, I guess – comfort food during a time of need. A mac and cheese bar would be like the seventh ring of gastronomical hell to me, but fine, I’m allergic to everything in those places, so no worries.
But no. Because the considerate proprietors of these restaurants have created gluten free menus. And even worse? Kraft has also changed its ways. The awful orange cheese sauce? It’s gluten free. And people are cooking it over brown rice pasta.
In conclusion, I will not come to your birthday party if you have it at one of these restaurants. Please don’t be mad at me; it’s really better if I’m not there. And if you show up at my house with a packet of GF Kraft sauce, I won’t be there. I will be hiding under a rock with a bunch of spiders.
*Lazy lasagna is a casserole made with tomato sauce, a lot of cheeses and ziti. It is nothing like mac and cheese.