A couple of months ago, my sister Carolyn went out on a first date. She reported back about it after. He didn’t ask me any questions, she emailed to her sisters. All he did was talk about himself, she added. And – clearly the clincher – he made me Lipton’s tea. You could almost feel the shudder through the Internet.

Carolyn is the sort of person with several small mason jars of excellent and varied loose leaves in her cupboard at any time. She knows how to brew a cup. The prospect of a lifetime of meals and hot beverages with a man who would serve Lipton’s tea (and on a first date, yet, the time one is most striving to impress) – well, suffice it to say, there was no second date.

I related this anecdote to several men. “Harsh,” said the youngest, shaking his head. The second seemed merely baffled. “Women think about stuff like that? Do you?” (Um, yes.) The third, the sweetest, said kindly, “Well, at least she knows what she wants.”

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I wandered the streets, stores, restaurants and coffee shops of Portland to ask random strangers about food and drink deal-breakers in their own lives. What culinary habits of a potential (or actual) lover would make them question their relationship, or not embark on one in the first place?

“I once dated someone for a minute who was a raw vegan,” said Maisie DeGoosh, 25, a barista at Bard Coffee. “That lasted 5 seconds. I could not handle it. Nothing cooked. No animal products. Bird food.”

Fellow Bard barista Caitlin Sackville, 23, is passionate about sourcing her food and she seeks the same commitment in a mate. “I’ve worked on farms, local and sustainable farms. That’s such a big part of my life,” she said. “My big thing is processed food.” Sackville avoids certain sections of the grocery store. Actually, she avoids the grocery store altogether as much as she can. “I’m not willing to compromise and shop at Walmart.”


Bryan George, 21, a Colby student, was visiting Portland from Waterville and enjoying coffee with a friend. “I like really spicy food sometimes,” he said, “and I’ve been out to eat with someone who can’t stand spicy food.” He shook his head. “NOT compatible.”

For my boss Chelsea, her “Lipton tea date” was a man who took her out for dinner and proceeded to order for her. For several others, and for me, too, a date red flag is a non-sharer. If he won’t share his food, I have found myself wondering, what else won’t he share? His music collection? His toothpaste? His thoughts? His home?

(These dates pale next to one that Devon Burgess, 20, of Wells, experienced. “I got food poisoning on a date once,” she said. “I took it as a sign.”)

A friend of mine who asked that I not use her name – you’ll appreciate why in a moment – also extrapolates about men from their food choices. Men with hearty appetites for food, she has always heard, have equally hearty appetites for sex. So a date who picks gingerly at his dinner? Deal-breaker.

Naturally, there are matchmaking websites for foodies. I checked out one, Eater Dating, with the tagline “Eat. Drink. Date.” To gauge compatibility, it asks people to complete the sentence “Howaboutwe…)?” with suggestions for a first date, for example, “How about we… get a variety of fancy chocolates and try them all?” Or “How about we… go pick up some fresh vegetables at the farmers market?”

If both parties answer yes, the idea is that their road to love will be smooth and delectable. Much as I have obsessed for some 40 years over breakfast, lunch and dinner, cooking, dining, pie crusts, toast, June strawberries, August tomatoes, Silver Queen corn, juicy burgers, etc. etc. etc., I know from my own life, it probably won’t.


I once dated a man who brought blueberry bagels to a picnic. I hope he is not reading this, but blueberry bagels appalled and appalls the bagel purist in me (Yes: poppy seed, sesame seed, everything, salt, onion. No: pretty much any other bagel so-called flavor. As to Lender’s Bagels? no! No! NO!). Still, he was a lovely man, and we went out for quite some time.

Then there was the potential love interest who early on cooked me dinner in his elegant mostly beige apartment, which had floor-to-ceiling windows with a spectacular view of the city of Houston. The meal started with snails in butter and garlic – he owned the correct pan to make them in, which impressed me no end. He made me spoonbread, a recipe of his Southern grandmother’s, delicious and loving. He dressed the salad perfectly and he had the cooking chops to know to include parsley leaves with the lettuce, nicely cutting the richness of the other dishes. It was a seductive and promising meal. Did our relationship follow that implied happy culinary trajectory? No, it did not.

But enough about me. Josh Haskell, manager of the Salt Cellar, a store that sells gourmet specialty salts, had to think a long time when I asked him what has been or would be a date deal-breaker for him.

“I’m not so picky,” he said. “Whatever makes people happy. They would have to eat something really awful.”

I pushed him. Surely there’s something? He thought longer and harder. “I guess if they pulled out a big ole thing of iodized salt, I might scoff a little.”

Bonnie Beach, who was taking a walk one recent evening in the Rosemont neighborhood of Portland, was similarly tender toward a potential mate. Though she couldn’t come up with a deal-breaker, she had no problem with a deal-maker: “A guy that cooks. It doesn’t matter what it is he cooks. I’m very appreciative.”

Finally, in the true spirit of love and romance, Central Provisions bartender Jeremy Schneider, 34, flipped my question on its head. Instead of telling me about a food experience he’d had that signaled “no way in hell,” he told me about one that represented he’d found the One.

“My girlfriend is vegetarian,” he said. “On a day I was working, she made me a split pea soup with bacon – it’s my favorite soup. It was the best soup I’ve ever eaten. I came home and there it was. She couldn’t eat it. She couldn’t even taste it while she was cooking it. I guess you could say it was made with love. That’s probably part of the reason I liked it so much. That was a moment when…” He nodded his head as he related the memory, “Yep. I love this lady.”

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