Those Who Don’t Even Try

by syaffolee

Yesterday, I read an article on picky eaters which sounded more like an article on people with a very particular form of mental disorder.  This was more in line of people who wouldn’t eat anything except foods A, B, C, and D rather than people who would eat anything except A, B, C, and D.  The former group has a serious problem.  The latter are either just picky or have health reasons for banning certain foods from their diet.

I like to think of myself as a person who would be willing to eat anything at least once.  I grew up in a household where eating out was rare but homemade meals were never dull.  Dinner was almost always something Asian, sometimes Western, but never the same.  Secretly, I couldn’t understand why my classmates only ate spaghetti or a hamburger every night.  I did, however, have a quirk when I was younger. I disliked sauces, particularly salty ones.  While my sister drenched her food with soy sauce or fish sauce when the occasion warranted (or even when it didn’t), I used these sparingly, if at all.  My parents thought I was a culinary dunderhead for wanting to eat plain things.  I argued that I actually wanted to taste the food and not the sauce.  Fortunately, my parents had let me be rather than forcing me to chug a gallon of Kikkoman.  Nowadays, I’m somewhat neutral about it.  Unless you’re literally bringing a soup made of broiled soy sauce to the next potluck, I’d say–whatever.

More adventurous eaters would probably roll their eyes at picky eaters and demand in ringing tones what was the matter.  I know how my parents would react–they’d just shake their heads and say that the picky eater didn’t grow up with foods A, B or C cooked how they would have cooked it since my sister and I pretty much ate everything we got served.  At first, I thought that maybe they were right–maybe other people’s parents were bad cooks.  But then again, maybe it was just a subtle comment about what they perceived as the deficiencies of other people’s parenting.  From the point of view of my parents’ generation (and myself–I don’t know about other people my age), the child is hopelessly spoiled if he or she is the one dictating the menu rather than the parents.

As for adults who are picky eaters–I say nothing at all, even if I do think it’s crazy that people avoid tomatoes, cucumbers, or cheese just because they don’t like it.  If they want a monochrome diet supplemented by nutritional pills that aren’t regulated by the FDA, so be it.  They wouldn’t appreciate a lecture from me and I doubt I’d change anyone’s mind no matter how many words and statistics I spouted.  The opposite is also true.  I would find it immensely annoying to find myself eating lunch across from someone who would immediately scream “Ew, ew, ew! Gross! I can’t believe you like that in your sandwich!” and makes gagging noises to emphasize their picky preferences.

It’s one thing to cook a limited number of foods for yourself.  Eating what you’re offered in the presence of others is another matter.  I consider it a politeness issue on both sides.  Never having tried a kind of food before is not sufficient reason to decline an offer. In fact, the only acceptable reason for declining would be for health reasons.  As for the person doing the offering, if someone declines, then don’t make a big issue about it regardless of whether or not it was for health reasons.  While rejection of your food may seem like a rejection of you (in many cultures, it seems, sense of self is tied to food), I doubt that is truly the intent of the rejector.  After all, if someone is offering you food, your first thought is generally not that the other person is offering themselves up to you for acceptance.

I suppose the bottom line is: I will never say what I think about the eating habits of the picky to their face.  It reeks too much of confrontation which I generally try to avoid unless the subject under scrutiny is of grave importance.  I think picky eating just for the hell of it is silly.  And perhaps a little dangerous, too.  Oh, not dangerous in the matter of health–anyone can take vitamins to make up for deficiencies–but more in the pattern of thinking that pickiness reinforces.  Being content with just a handful of foodstuffs and being hostile to anything new–is that not the same thing as a person never wanting to see the world outside of their hometown?  Is it not a symptom of something more serious–the choice of the comfortable over new possibilities that might lead to something better?*

This reminds me of the futurist notion of the meal in a pill.  Most science fiction writers seem to tout this as a good thing–after all, it would free us from the shackles of food production and the waste of meal times so we could concentrate on more Important Things.  Picky eaters, I’m sure, would probably rejoice because it would mean they wouldn’t have to put something else in their mouths.  But I’m beginning to think that the meal pill is really more of a dystopian device.  Converting all of our food to a pill is to consider us machines that need to be refueled rather than humans that have needs to be satisfied.  Food, throughout human history, have strengthened cultural bonds and given us pleasure in addition to providing sustenance.  Culinary variety is not unlike music or painting.  While it is not necessary–after all, the picky eaters, the tone deaf and the colorblind can lead perfectly good lives otherwise–it doesn’t mean that we should live on only the necessary.

*Don’t even try to convince me that eating [Insert Your Favorite Food Here] every day will be in any way better than a varied palate.  Ever heard of having too much of a good thing?