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I Hate Onions

By Kiahnna D. Patton

Kiahnna D. PattonThe holiday season can be pretty nostalgic. It reminds us of the warmth of fall and winter spices and beverages. It reminds us of being close to our loved ones and missing those we have lost. The dishes we wait all year to eat are on our minds. And for those of us who like it, the taste of turkey-everything is already on our tongues. For me, the holiday season reminds me that I hate onions. There are certainly wonderful things about onions, which I will not deny, as well as pretty terrible things about them. Most of this article will focus on onions, but I promise to connect to human resources.

I have a love and mostly hate relationship with onions. I hate the taste but, in many respects, love what they represent and what they bring to the table. Pun intended. They represent love, connection and progress.

Would it surprise you to know there is a National Onion Association (NOA)? According to NOA, “World onion production is approximately 105 billion pounds per year. That is roughly 13.67 pounds per person across the world.” Within the United States, we eat about 20 pounds of onions each year per person. Maybe I eat 5. I still pick out the visible onions from my cooked food and refuse to eat raw onions of any kind in any food. I would rather be hungry for a short time than eat something like onion-ladened guacamole.

Onions are quite interesting. Onions add flavor and make you cry, they have health benefits, and they are spicy, crunchy and juicy. There are three main varieties – red, yellow, and white. And the primary flavor profiles are sweet, pungent, spicy. Pungent? No, thank you. I wanted to insert data that show how many people hate onions but after an extensive search, I only found blogs and articles dedicated to the disdain of the onion.

For all the disdain, onions have antioxidants, fight inflammation, reduce cholesterol and more. There are even claims that onions can help people lose weight. But, eating lots of them can cause some people to experience gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and, the one thing that’s hard to hide, bad breath.

I wrote that onions represent love. As a child, I used onions to measure the love others had for me. If you remembered how much I hate them, you held a special place in my heart. My dad would make separate dishes for me, like his holiday turkey salad. He always set aside a small portion for me without the onions. It made me feel like the most special person because he took the time to make sure I could still enjoy the dishes everyone else had. My mom would do the same. She loves onions. By her own account, she ate a massive amount of them while pregnant with me and thinks that’s probably why I hate them. When I was a child, she would prepare a separate dish of enchiladas for me. Even today she makes my guacamole without onions. But I do remember years ago when the golden arches took 10 minutes to prepare a special order. No one wanted to pull to the side and wait that long when everybody in the car was starving. Oh, the sadness and disgust I felt when mom ordered a cheeseburger and the nasty onions were perched on the cheese side of the burger, and the tiny specks of torture couldn’t be scraped off without losing almost all of the cheese.

For me, onions also represent change and progress. They can enhance and destroy the flavor of a dish. Slip me a raw onion, especially a red one, and my entire meal is ruined. There is no getting that flavor off of the meat and bread of your sandwich. But make spaghetti sauce without the onion, and there is a whole flavor profile missing. Alas, I have progressed. I will eat the sauce and pick out the larger onions. And as another sign of major progress, I graduated from eating only the crunchy crusty outer layer of onion rings to eating the onion, with a caveat, of course. The onion, preferably Vidalia, has to be super soft or super thin and crispy. No in-between. I’ve also grown quite fond of shallots. Well, they’re not the same as onions, but they both belong to the Allium genus, so I give myself credit.

Onions also represent connection. I was very close to my paternal grandmother. She lived to be 90 years old. One of my most fond and cringe-worthy memories was of her eating a whole raw onion. She bit right into it. I don’t know how she did it but she was a superhero, not only for staring down the face of an onion and winning but for being born in 1913 and surviving a very despicable time in American history. I connected to her on so many levels.

Now is the time to connect to human resources. Onions bring to mind organizational culture. I won’t offer solutions today, but food for thought and questions to ask yourself.

People’s energy can be like raw onion. When you walk into a room or join a virtual meeting, does your (or a teammate’s) energy ruin the whole vibe with tiny onions on the cheese side? What can you do to change that energy?

Do you add good or bad flavor to your team? Are you the immovable raw onion flavor stuck on the sandwich? Or are you the onion in the spaghetti sauce that adds just the right flavor profile?

As a leader or teammate, are you making people cry tears of joy or disdain?

How have you made connections with people with whom you initially thought you had little in common?

How have you allowed your first impressions of others to guide how you interact with them? Have you discovered that what you thought was an onion is a shallot, and you really like it a lot?

Even though I hate onions, I don’t judge those who love them. Just don’t breathe in my direction after you’ve eaten a big pile of those nasty bits. Happy holidays!

Kiahnna D. Patton is senior human resources business partner at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and a nonprofit founder.

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