Editor’s note: This is 2018 winner of the “Publisher’s Award” for essays written as part of a food safety litigation class at the University of Arkansas Law School. The course is taught by Bill Marler and Denis Stearns of the Seattle law firm MarlerClark LLP.

When you think about high school football, you think about the crowd, the players, the cheerleaders, and the atmosphere that is involved with high school football. What you don’t think about it what it takes to feed those teams and where that food comes from. I was fortunate enough to play high school football at one of the biggest schools in the state of Louisiana.

One perk of being at a big school is that our football booster club was really big, and was always taking great care of the players including feeding us our pregame meals. At the end of the school day on game days we would always get out of class early to go to the pep rallies, and from there we went straight to our pregame meal. Usually this meal usually consisted of  something hearty and nutritious. Members of the booster club would have the meals catered in by restaurants and other places. The meals were usually pretty good and everyone enjoyed them. There is, however, one meal I will never forget.

That meal is chicken and dumplings. Usually when you think about chicken and dumplings you think about probably one of the best comfort foods your mother or grandmother made while you were growing up. However, this batch of chicken and dumplings had something other than comfort in mind. In fact, it was quite the opposite actually. 

After eating our pregame meal, we loaded up our equipment on the buses and made the one-hour drive south to play one of our district opponents. Everything went great; we got the win and then we headed back home, as we always did. I got home, got in my comfy bed and went to sleep. I intended to wake up the next morning and get ready to go to school.

Instead, I woke up to my stomach telling me to run to the restroom. I did. And then I spent the rest of the evening on that porcelain throne, sleeping part of the time and pondering what I could have possibly done wrong to deserve this fresh hell that was taking place in my body at the time. 

I woke up the next morning stomach still upset, but I powered through and went to school. Upon getting there I talked to some of my teammates and they informed me that they had a similar experience the night before. At that point we knew something was up. At almost any point in the day you could step out in the hallway and see a football player on their way to the bathroom. As is turns out, not only did the entire team get sick, even the coaches were sick. Practice was cancelled that day and we all got to go home early.  

Now, this unfortunate event could have been a lot worse than it was. No one had to go to the hospital and no one was really sick beyond 48 hours. But I will never forget it. I even still talk to some of my high school buddies and even they haven’t forgotten about it. Even though I didn’t get seriously sick, to this day I still cringe when someone offers chicken and dumplings, and have only eaten it once since. It sounds crazy to think that one seemingly non-serious case of food poisoning ruined this comfort food for me, but it did. 

This brings me to my main point. Our brains play an enormous role in the food we like or don’t like, and negative experiences only seem to exacerbate that even more. I’m sure we all know someone who “won’t” eat a food because they have gotten sick from it. And to us it might be silly because the chances of them getting sick again off of the same food prepared in a manner that won’t make them sick are fairly small. For most people when that food is brought up they’ll say no and eat something else without a second thought. 

For instance, I have a family friend who ate at a particular restaurant, and ended up getting sick later that same evening. This person became seriously ill. After a few days and doctor visits they finally discovered that they were suffering from a medical condition, and that their illness had nothing to do with the food they ingested that night. That discovery didn’t change a thing in that person’s mind. To this day they still will not eat at that restaurant because they associate their sickness with that restaurant. 

It’s really interesting how we link these negative experiences with foods that we ate just before getting very sick or honestly before something bad happens to us. It also seemingly makes a lot of sense not to want to eat the food that you got sick from before. I think, however, it is very possible for people including myself to hack your brain and take that leap to eat that food again.

For me it took almost eight years to take that leap. I really only ate it because I was hungry and there wasn’t another option, but man am I glad I did. The chicken and dumplings I had this go-round were delicious And when I woke up the next morning I felt fine and there were no issues. Having that positive experience really made me second-guess why I hated chicken and dumplings for so long. When you have a negative experience with something do you just write it off and stay away from it? Usually, I like to think most people don’t, but food seems to be an exception to that rule. 

Food is so personal for everyone. It is something that can be related to all sorts of experiences. I think it’s fair to say that food is intimate. If we gave up on things after one bad experience we would be missing out on a lot of things. Instead, like the little kid who gets back on their bike after scraping their knee, I think that you should take that leap and try eating the food again that you have such the negative experience with. See if that doesn’t change your mind. 

Many people might say something like that is hard to overcome, or may have gotten seriously sick from the food and have sworn to never try it again. For me it was tough to try chicken and dumplings again, but I’m happy I did. It takes a lot of mental work to do something like that. You essentially have to do battle with your own brain. Because after all the only thing that’s keep you from eating that food again is you and your mind. 

While this may seem like a hard thing to do, or something that is impossible to do, I believe it’s not that tough. In fact, we do it all the time. When we’re little kids all we want to eat are sweet things, chicken nuggets and french fries. At least, that’s how I was when I was little. I never wanted to eat vegetables, much less green ones. I thought they were disgusting even though I had never tried them. I was the same way with tuna, it smelled and I had never eaten it so I thought it was terrible and didn’t even want to like it.

Then one day my mom made us “chicken helper” my little brother and I licked our plates clean. It wasn’t until after dinner that my mom told us the meat in our dinner was actually tuna and not chicken. I was taken aback, but really enjoyed it. To this day tuna is one of my favorite fish to eat. 

Just because you have a negative experience with a food, doesn’t mean you should never eat it again. You just need to get over the mental hump and take that leap. I think that you’ll be glad that you did. While you’re at it try foods that scare you or that you haven’t tried before. Just because you think you won’t like something, doesn’t always mean that is the case!

Chris Hussein

About the author: Chris Hussein grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. He moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas to pursue his undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 2014 with a Hospitality Management major and a Legal Studies minor. He went on to earn his law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law, serving as Vice-President and Secretary of the Student Bar Association. While in law school, he was a finalist in the 2016 Law Client Counseling Competition, a member of the Board of Advocates, and the 2017 Client Advocacy Competition Chair.

After graduation, Chris was admitted to the Arkansas bar and now serves as a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc. while he pursues his LL.M. degree in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. This summer, Chris will be completing a Practicum with the Walmart Food Safety team at Walmart headquarters, under the supervision of LL.M. Alumna, Amy White, Senior Manager, Food Labeling Regulatory Compliance, Walmart Food Safety & Health.

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