We have a hard time handling well worn ideas.
If an idea was once good, but it’s taken a turn off the road an into the weeds, we often describe it as having “jumped the shark“. The popularity of that term means it also is used in situatiosn where an idea has been used so much that we’re now bored with it, and I find that a clumsy conflation of ideas.
After a certain point, ideas become cliche and familiarity breeds contempt, but that’s a very steep precipice, and lots of ideas are overused without quite reaching that point. This is especially true of ideas with varying degrees of exposure – I may have grown tired of Chthulu, but there are plenty of others who barely known the name.
I think that it’s all about chicken breasts.
If you spend any amount of time cooking, especially if you pursue the self-taught-American-bachelor school of cooking, you will use a LOT of chicken breasts. They’re reasonably priced, they incredibly versatile, and they’re easy to do well. They offer a depth of options for the beginner while still staying useful for the expert.
But sooner or later, you will have had enough, and that’s when it becomes interesting. It’s not that you start hating chicken breasts, or even that you stop using them entirely – sometimes they’re on sale, or they’re the only thing in the house or you’re in a hurry – but they just stop being something on your go-to list. If you see them on a menu, it’ll take something really interesting to catch your eye. When you’re planning shopping, you think about other meats.
That’s all well and good, but what’s so interesting to me is that when you set aside chicken breasts, you do so with respect. You would never suggest a new cook forgo using chicken breasts as he learns, nor would you suggest they’re not a worthy food.
And that’s where you see the interesting divergence from geeks. We all have our chicken breasts – maybe they’re ninjas or zombies or tentacled horrors but whatever form they take, we really stink at leaving them behind gracefully.
It’s fun to think about why this is. Maybe it’s a function of the fact that cooking takes physical effort or produces a physical result that can be measured. Maybe it’s part of that ingrained geek insecurity. Maybe it’s aliens. I doubt we’ll ever know, and that’s ok. Life needs mysteries.
But it also needs a little more respect for other people’s fun, and chicken breasts is now my codeword to remind myself of that. It’s a cue to remind myself that someone else’s passion about something I have discarded does not suggest inferiority or poor judgment. It asks me to think abut why I thought this was a good idea once too, and to consider that maybe the idea is not the thing that’s changed.
Or barring that, it’s just a reminder to make chicken salad.