A Skeptic Tries is a series examining our food resistances and what happens when we try them anyway. Next up, in the name of good health, contributor Joel Wigelsworth finally faces his longtime breakfast nemesis: oatmeal.
I’ve always hated oatmeal. Loathed it. For as long as I can remember, I found it bland, unpleasant tasting, and repulsively snot-like. And not regular snot either. It reminded me of the extremely thick and lumpy mucus one develops during a severe flu or cold. Even oatmeal’s non-color was direly unattractive to me.
A profound hatred of benign, even beloved, oatmeal is one of the many factors that has, throughout my lifetime, marked me as a misfit. People are always astounded to find out how much I dislike the stuff. “What? Who hates oatmeal?! It’s like one of the most wholesome, simple, and cheap foods available. You’re a monster!” Yep. Rawwwrrr.
Fast-forward through several years of desk jobs and stress-eating and I found myself the beneficiary of quite a few extra pounds. The pandemic, along with a heap of other personal and professional circumstances, landed me in a phase of existential revelations and a commitment to realign my life to better nurture my authentic self. The real me had been buried beneath corporate constraints on visual identity, the militant banality of American “professionalism,” and the excess flesh accumulated by eating my way through mountains of chips and rivers of salsa every night to soothe my addled soul. Plus, I had become too pudgy to fit into all my Bauhaus and Sex Pistols T-shirts.
The diet program I was starting declared oatmeal to be an essential food because of its high protein and fiber quantities—and I was aghast. I knew dieting would have its challenges, but come on, oatmeal?! I was about as eager to embrace my lifelong breakfast nemesis as I would be to lick a toilet bowl at a truck stop. But if those gooey grains truly were that critical to the plan, then I would have to find a way to choke them down. I pride myself on my desire to overcome challenges, I love to eat, and I’m a “creative” by trade. So I became determined to finally face my oat-rage.
A lot of people—most, it seems—enjoy sweet, almost dessert-like oatmeal. This was a twofold dilemma for me: first, sweetening adds sugar, which is not exactly ideal for dropping pounds; second, I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth. I trawled the internet for various recipes to breathe life into the culinary corpse that was oatmeal, but to my dismay the results were largely unimaginative, differing only slightly from one another. “Try adding blueberries instead of strawberries! It’ll change your life!” Yawn, no.
I did find a plethora of savory oatmeal riffs that sounded delicious—and, of course, many cultures around the world enjoy savory grains for breakfast—but most recipes online were lavishly decorated with far too much bacon, cheese, fried eggs, and oil to fit into my diet plan. What I needed was to wring big flavors out of just a few wholesome ingredients.
As I bemoaned my oat woes to my mom over the phone one afternoon, she was compelled to reach into the furthest depths of her pantry and dust off a 1979 edition of The Quaker Oats Wholegrain Cookbook from my childhood. Some of the recipes my mom read aloud from the volume positively reeked of desperation to fill pages and shill oats: “Italian Meat Pie” with oat and beef crust, “Corn and Frank Chowder,” and a scabby-looking “oat-stuffed” tuna salad. But an oat pilaf using salty bouillon sparked an idea.