I have to admit—I have never understood. Why would anyone, when given the opportunity, choose vanilla? Isn’t vanilla what’s left when you take away the flavor? Isn’t it what you’ve got once you’ve already picked out all the cookie dough chunks? Vanilla’s what you’re stuck with, not what you choose.
Not only have I not understood vanilla, but I have also failed to see why anyone, when given the choice, requests vanilla. Did you not see that there were other options? Did you not realize—you could have chocolate, oreo, mocha, heath bar…maybe you didn’t know there were flavors available?
And if I admit it, I assume a lot about these people.
They must be boring, right? They clearly are uninterested in experiencing variety in life. Most likely they are homebodies, excited enough to just be out of the house and so have no need to gain additional enjoyment from what they eat. Who turns down variety in favor of plainness?
Oh, maybe they’re those kind of people, the ones with long straggly hair who wear Birkenstocks. For them maybe vanilla is a political statement—I don’t need your consumer culture with all its choice, I’ll show you and I’ll order vanilla.
Are they afraid of flavor? Is it somehow easier to pick vanilla because then at least you know what you are getting? There’s no risk involved with vanilla, no danger of trying something new and not liking it. Perhaps they are just people in need of therapy to work through some of these issues.
So, you might be surprised to know that I recently purchased a pint of vanilla ice cream. Lest you jump to conclusions, let me tell you that this was a reasonable choice—I planned on making some desserts and needed an nonthreatening ice cream accompaniment. Enter, vanilla.
As happens with conversion, change snuck up on me. I had just finished dinner. I wanted something sweet. I didn’t have much on hand. But then I remembered the vanilla ice cream, sitting nonthreateningly in the freezer.
I guess I could have some of that vanilla ice cream.
But I don’t have anything to go with it, do I?
Too bad, I was sort of hoping for some dessert.
You know, you could have just the ice cream.
Plain? Are you serious? Vanilla is an accompaniment, not a dessert of its own. Silly self.
It was too late. The window of possibility opened just wide enough for a few scoops of vanilla to sneak through and slip down the cracks. Everyone knows that there’s always room for ice cream.
The crazy thing is—it was good. Not just acceptable as my only option. Flat out good. On its own good. No need for any accompaniment good.
I’m just about done with that pint. One night I did add some sliced peaches. They were all right. But they were no plain vanilla.
*This essay was originally written for “Culture Voice” which has since dropped out of existence.