It's not uncommon when you are in your 20s or 30s to begin loving foods that you disliked as a child. For me, olives and avocados are examples of things that I despised when I was younger but grew to like over time. By your 40s, however, if you've been eating across the food spectrum (as I have), your tastes have pretty much been developed. There is always room for a special preparation of something or another, of course, that might swing your culinary taste (in any form, I rarely like eggplant or artichokes), but it's rare to suddenly start liking something that you've never liked before. Or, in this case, something I had never really eaten before.
How a carnivore like myself had not crossed paths with gyros is a bit of a mystery. I remember seeing lots of gyro places around when I was growing up, I just wasn't drawn to going to them. But last May, while I was in Spokane for Bloomsday, my entire attitude about gyros changed forever. And I have endurance athletes and antiquated ideas about carb loading to thank for it....
I was in Spokane with Rose, who had been invited to run Bloomsday as an elite runner. As such, we got to stay in the Double Tree Hotel and had access to all of the elite athlete perks. This included a pre-event meal the night before, consisting of pasta, bread and lots of sweet things, as well as all-day access to the hospitality room, which was constantly full of similar starches.
First of all, don't get me started on the idea of "carb loading" the night before a race. Especially with pasta. I'm amazed that athletes perform well at all after that blood glucose bolus followed by the subsequent insulin smack-down (not to mention the inflammation potentially firing up as a result of all of those refined starches and sugars). Yes, of course, carbs are an important source of calories for endurance athletes, but the system doesn't work quite like that. Secondly, and more important to this story, is what happens to a protein-type like myself when there is only access to these kinds of foods.
You know those times when you haven't eaten in quite a while and your brain starts to go crazy? That's what it's like for me when I haven't had some serious protein. The Kenyans seemed to be having no problems, but I was suffering and exhibiting some serious physical and psychological deficits. Craving meat and feeling fuzzy-headed I found myself wandering outside the hotel, looking at the Yelp app on my iPhone for ANYWHERE nearby that might do the trick. Azteca, across the street?? No no. I wasn't THAT desperate. I think I might rather pass out and fall over. I was looking for something that, at the very least, had good local reviews. I'm not a TOTAL food snob, but I do care about what is going in to my body (if not by quality then at least by taste).
Finally, a Greek place showed up on Yelp. With really good reviews. And only a few blocks away. A light shining down from heaven! I practically ran there, and when it came time to order I almost didn't know how to choose from all of the meat-oriented options. I settled for a simple gyro, and when they brought it out to me it was as if I had been served my first meal in a month. It was unbelievable.
I understand that when you are really hungry even the most simple foods taste amazing, like a PB&J sandwich during a long hike. But THIS! THIS was something special. And when I got back to Seattle I took to eating gyros as a weekly staple. I would have to say that it even displaced tacos as my favorite "out and quick" go-to food.
So here I am, almost ten months later, and gyros are still an intricate part of my weekly eating pattern. But because it's gone this long, I have to finally confront the one thing that I ignored originally (out of necessity) and have turned a blind eye to ever since: what IS that beef/lamb meatloaf, exactly, and where does it come from? I don't consume high-fructose corn syrup, I avoid most sugar and grain products, I buy organic produce and organic/grass fed meat whenever I can. What I am left with when I strip it all down to the core is that I intuitively know that the quality of meat in those gyros isn't very high. And some day soon that knowledge is going to overtake my love of them. But until then, I will savor every bite. And I have skinny endurance runners to thank for it.
I know what you mean about the audacity of pasta-loading before an endurance run. Gyros are yummy!
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