Big Cooks Don’t Cry

A couple of years ago, as I stood in the kitchen chopping onions and all but sobbing, my then-8-year-old daughter Addie walked in, quickly assessed the situation, and shared with me her second-grade wisdom.

“Mrs. Butler says to put a metal spoon in your mouth if you don’t want to cry when you chop onions,” she said, trying hard(ish) to keep the I-know-something-you-don’t-know from her voice.

This was news to me. So I sucked on a spoon. And I have to give it up to Mrs. Butler, it worked. I was so preoccupied with gagging that I found it physically impossible to cry. In fact, I was so incredibly uncomfortable that tears, sniffles, and an occasional sneeze seemed preferable. I’d managed to suffer through a few minutes of uncontrollable onion crying nearly every day of my adult, onion-chopping life, so I figured, why change now?

That was before the onion goggles.

The summer after Addie taught me the spoon trick, a good friend sent me a gift after her family spent a week vacationing—and cooking—with us. I don’t particularly remember crying over a pile of onions during their visit, but since chopping onions happens pretty regularly in our house, I must have, because she sent the goggles. The onion goggles.

I’d seen these very same specs in catalogs, online, and in my favorite gadget haunts. They looked like brightly colored updates of traditional wood-shop eyewear, with a spongy gasket to seal out those pesky, tear-inducing onion vapors. “Say goodbye to tearing, stinging, irritated eyes,” the ads promised.

I’m a not-so-secret kitchen-gadget junkie. My love of gadgetry, however, is mostly in theory, and comes tempered by a healthy dose of skepticism, not to mention tightwadedness. Many, if not most, kitchen contrivances seem silly to me. Honestly, I think there’s little that a good old paring knife can’t accomplish—except maybe prevent tears.

I’d forgotten all about the wacky goggles. But when the package arrived, I was unexpectedly thrilled. It turns out I had apparently really wanted those darn onion goggles. It seems I’d been so dogged at convincing others they were an unneeded extravagance, a goofy-looking fix for something that really wasn’t such a big problem, I’d almost convinced myself. Almost.

The funky plastic object of my affection are white and lime green, sporting a black trim in the form of the aforementioned foam. When I put them on for the first time, hilarity ensued. I looked like a myopic WWI flying ace who’d somehow lost his way (and his red scarf). My husband and kids immediately started singing flight songs (“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder!”) and asking when I might land my Sopwith Camel and make dinner.

The package insert from RSVP International calls the goggles “stylish and comfortable.” While I think they afford me a certain elan, my kids scoff at them—and yet they love wearing them. Go figure. But no one can argue with their comfort. I often forget I have them on, finding myself wandering around the house doing other things, still wearing them. On more than one occasion I’ve read the newspaper through my onion goggles, not my reading glasses, or done a load of laundry and helped the kids with their homework without thinking to take them off. I once answered the front door while sporting my kitchen specs. I’ve even walked out of the house, thinking I had on sunglasses, only to realize when I looked in my rearview mirror that I was oh, so wrong.

It’s not just my family who gets a good yuk at first sight of me in my specs. Everyone does. Guests arriving early for dinner seem almost confounded by them. One friend we ski with on Saturdays during winter was sure I just hadn’t finished changing before starting to cook. “Are you wearing ski goggles?” he asked in disbelief over drinks in the kitchen.

Let them laugh. These specs have proven impermeable to the sting of both onion vapors and relentless teasing. For the first time ever, I can chop enough Vidalias for a vat of soup and not shed a tear. When I’m chopping shallots for vinaigrettes, red onions for salads, or Spanish onions for black beans, spaghetti sauce, dahl, gumbo, or Sloppy Joe’s, my onion goggles have my back—as well as my front.

I’ve become so vocal about my love of onion eyewear that my sister asked for a pair for Christmas. I happily filled her request with the twin to mine, the black-and-green version. Our kids modeled them for the rest of the day—with panache, I might add.

I often wonder how my gift-giving friend knew I would so love these goggles. Did we talk about them during her visit? Or did she just see a need and fill it? I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter. I love them and wear them with pride. Sometimes right through dessert.



  1. Oh, Fran, you’re a kitchen soulmate. I love the Onion Goggles, along with the “elan” and “panache” your writing brings to them. This essay makes me smile particularly, because it jogs my memory back to the mid-1990s, when I was living alone but would occasionally cook up big meals at a friend’s place. She was involved in some heavy science at the time—biology and chemistry—and she had a pair of (much less stylish) goggles that somehow ended up on my own face to cut the sting of onions. For years prior, onions had never bothered me; then suddenly, they did. And they have ever since. I’ve always remembered my friend’s goggles, but never thought to get my own (I tried occasionally to substitute sunglasses, a total failure). So maybe it’s time to place an order and let the “red baron” make an appearance in my kitchen. My husband would surely mock me, but I bet my son would love it. Thanks for a great article.

  2. In graduate school, there were 3 lab rat physics students in our house and we brought home some chemistry lab goggles for chopping onions – not as pretty as the ones shown above, but they worked!

  3. I’ve done my share of onion slicing—50# every day for French Onion Soup in a restaurant. They must have been cheaper than pre-sliced. I found when I wore my contacts they cut down on the tears.

    Another use for your onion goggles (or swimming goggles in our case) is when grinding fresh horseradish. Works like a charm for Passover!

    Keep cooking and writing!

  4. I cry when chopping onions… even green onions make me cry. I received a pair of onion goggles at Christmas… I LOVE THEM! I chopped an entire bag of onions (ala Julia Child) with nary a tear. Fantastic!

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