We all know picky eaters. Carrie Bradshaw famously claimed to be allergic to parsley so as not to wind up with any on her plate at restaurants. Sally Albright of “When Harry Met Sally” had the most anal way of ordering apple pie imaginable:
Sally Albright: But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it’s real; if it’s out of the can then nothing.
Waitress: Not even the pie?
Sally Albright: No, I want the pie, but then not heated.
When I read this paragraph at the opening of a Wall Street Journal piece about picky eaters, I immediately thought of a friend, an adult professional friend, with the palate of a four year old, subsisting on grilled cheese, chicken tenders, hot dogs, plain turkey sandwiches on white bread, and mac & cheese:
This is what Heather Hill eats: French fries, pasta with butter or marinara sauce, vegetarian pizza, cooked broccoli, corn on the cob and cakes and cookies without nuts.
And what she doesn’t eat? Pretty much anything else.
Ms. Hill is what you might call a picky eater. But she isn’t a child. She’s a 39-year-old mother of three who runs her own business in Raleigh, N.C. She says she is unable to eat other foods.
Unable? Is she allergic?
The piece seems to suggest that extreme pickiness that persists into adulthood may soon join anorexia and bulimia as an eating disorder. To my non-doctor mind, they have many similarities. I even have a theory that adults who are picky eaters, like my friend, have, at root, a control issue– they see food as a socially acceptable area in which to exert exacting control of a sort they are unwilling or unable to exert in other areas of their lives. I also have other theories that they’re simply unwilling or too inhibited to experience true pleasure, but, like I said, I’m no medical or mental-health professional.
The thing is, I used to be a picky eater. Hoo boy, I could gag on a green bean in a performance worthy of an Oscar. I refused to eat bell peppers, because I thought they tasted like Windex. I cried if faced with hominy. I hated honey. I hated asparagus and artichokes. I could sniff out a mushroom a mile away in order to avoid it. I despised poppy seeds. I wouldn’t touch spinach or any other greens. My husband, when he was still my boyfriend, used to keep a running Word document of all the things I didn’t like, marvelling in particular of my preference to only eat blueberries in pancakes, never muffins.
You could say I took after my Uncle Jimmy. My Memaw loves to make broccoli-cheese rice casserole. My entire family calls it “Goop,” even Memaw. Why? Because, as a child, my Uncle Jimmy would always proclaim, “I’m not eating any of that goop!” about the casserole. And then one day, left alone in a room with a dish full of Goop, he ate the whole thing. Turns out, without pressure to like it and a desire to refuse, just to be a punk kid, it turns out he liked it after all.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that repeated attempts to try things I thought I hated eventually led to me liking them. Bell peppers, it turns out, can be delicious. I even eat them raw! Green beans are one of my favorite veggies. I love honey! Wilted spinach with garlic is one of my favorite foods. Blueberries, while still my least favorite of all berries, have become acceptable in cakes and muffins, though I’m still working on liking them in their more overwhelming form in cobblers and pies. I will no longer avoid mushrooms if they’re part of an ensemble of other ingredients, though you’d not catch me ordering portobella fajitas just yet. And I’ve been known to make a mean poppy seed lemon cake.
What changed? To some degree, it was learning to cook and discovering ways to prepare things in ways I could enjoy them. Being a member of a CSA, in particular, challenged me to find at least one way I’ll eat any number of veggies, forcing me to find ways to make turnips, mustard greens, and rutabagas, among others, tolerable. In addition, I just decided to be more adventurous, to see if I couldn’t embrace the adventure of trying new things and seeing if they were, in fact, pleasurable. I stopped being so uptight and rigid about my food rules and found out most of them were stupid.
Having been a picky eater who’s now seen the light, I have little tolerance for truly picky adults. While everyone will always have a few foods they just can’t groove on, people who have fewer foods they will eat than those they won’t will always drive me nuts. My husband hates corned beef and he hates olives. I still haven’t learned to like the taste of beer or avocado, though I keep trying, and I’ve got some progress to make yet on blueberries and mushrooms. But I’m determined to keep trying things I think I don’t like, because I never know when I’ll be surprised. The world is too full of deliciousness to spend my life hemming myself in with silly rules.
As for the extremely picky folks in the Wall Street Journal piece: in a way I pity them, because they’re really missing out. And I hope they never come over to my house for dinner.