For some insane reason, last week I kept finding hair in my food. Whether at a restaurant or visiting with friends or even in my own custom-made bowl of oatmeal, there it was: a strand of human protein, resting in the potatoes or floating in the gravy. Most of the time it was brunette. Most of the time, it was short, like an eyelash or, well, something much worse.
I started to get upset. I felt cursed. Who keeps putting hair in my food? My food preparations were randomized because I was eating from different kitchens all week. And yet still I was cursed with hair condiments, sprinkled as rampantly in my dinners as cilantro appears in salsa. But hair is a far more disgusting — yet common — spice. “Unclean!” my dinner shouted at me. “Unclean!”
But then I realized: hair in your food is really not something to, well, pull your hair out over. For example, I have a full beard and I’m eating it all the time. Sometimes accidentally, if the tuft beneath my lip grows too long; sometimes on purpose, vacuously munching the ends the way a girl with pigtails might twirl one of them. When I was young, and I had long hair, I sometimes would chew on the long strands just because I could. I’ve kissed my wife’s hair, and I’ve spit-cleaned the eyebrows of a child with the grooming habits of a monkey. It’s only natural. Instinctive, even. So I think that so long as hair is growing on the body, it isn’t as abject and disgusting as the strands that fall off. And into my food.
However, even those fallen locks and tresses aren’t TOO grotesque, are they? Some folks keep shorn strands from their childhood or from loved ones as a keepsake. Others donate them to wig manufacturers for lukemia patients. Yet the unswept barber shop floor disturbs me quite a bit. Perhaps its the horrifying sense of dead tissue everywhere — the mixing together of a thousand different heads of hair like so much human waste, trampled there beneath a thousand more dirty feet.
But that’s still my reptilian brain talking (and reptiles, you realize, smartly have no hair!). The fact of the matter is that most of that freshly cut hair on the floor is also freshly washed and shampooed in the basins in the back of the barber’s. In fact, most people are civilized enough to wash their hair at least once a day — and many probably put more care (or care product, at least) into their curly locks than they do into soaping their skins or cleaning their nails or brushing their teeth. Yes, hair is probably the cleanest part of the body, even though it’s clipped, broken, and sloughed off like fingernails (it’s sister in protein).
So why the heck does it bother me so deeply when it happens to land in my food? Is it because I assume the chef is an unwashed brute? Or is it because I just don’t know what sort of hair it is, and what sort of person lost it, and what sort of hygiene they had? It’s often the sheer fact that the hair’s origin is unknown. That little strand of protein could be a fallen nit from a nostril, a lost waxtrapper from an ugly ear canal, or the shedding from the natural filtration of some other bodily orifice. Most of our holes, after all, are hairy. As are our pets. And the rats in the pantry.
Or perhaps it goes further than simply what hair is or where it comes from. Maybe it all comes down to what it’s matched with. The combination of food with hair seems taboo. How many hairy foods are there? No delicacy that I can think of off hand, but that’s only because of hunters and butchers flay their game before it’s prepared, not to mention the hygiene laws that make most restaurant employees wear hats and hairnets. But think about it: in the wild, as in my mother’s kitchen, hair is everywhere. What kind of strange civilization do we live in where it’s perfectly fine to bite into the tissue of an animal, but god help us if any of its fur is still in the meat!
In fact, hair could benefit us. It’s protein after all. We might not need to floss so much. Maybe it’s good roughage. I think I might like a large nest of Natural Red on my salad instead of sprouts. Sure, hair has only a micron of nutritional value, but, gee, if it can smell terrific, maybe it can taste terrific, too?
But still my gut says no, hairy food is sick, diseased, unclean, though my head knows better and it can’t puzzle out the reason why we’re so afraid of it. Are we worried about the potential of human hairballs? Is intestinal blockage the problem? The aftertaste of cheap conditioner?
Or is it subtly cannibalistic? I mean, if hair became a delicacy, what would stop us from turning on each other like monsters, harvesting it from each other’s heads like scalpers? Nah, we’d systematize it all, tame our instincts, make it civil. Groom ourselves the way farmers rotate their crops. Barbershops would have back kitchens.
Imagine the menu. Armpitted Prunes. Bearded Clams. Ham and Wigs. Pork Chops slathered in Pubicue Sauce. Blondies. Mustache Muffins. Honey Combed Cereal. Crew Cut Steak. Hirsute snacks…oh, the possibilities. A rainbow wig of flavors!
Wait, I think I’ve figured out why it sickens me so. There already is hair in the esophagus…hell, all the way down the gastrointestinal tact! Cilia — tiny little cellular hairs in their tiny little follicles that move food through the gut. There’s something uncanny about them. They move on their own accord, like an inside-out caterpillar. Maybe they don’t want to be pall bearers to their own kind. Maybe they don’t like the competition. Yeah, that’s it.