Picky Eaters

I have vague memories of being a picky eater as a child. I remember standing at the dinner table while my parents and grandparents ate, whining for a “butter sandwich.” I remember eating a lot of boxes of Kraft “fettucine alfredo” and trying to explain that I was not hungry when I was offered food at friends’ houses that wasn’t a grilled cheese (which I decided was ok around age 8) or something very, very simple.

It’s strange, because I also remember meals cooked by my grandmother in great detail. I apparently had no issue eating vegetables when she’d cooked them, though my overall favorite food at the time (and still pretty much the best thing I’ve eaten) was “popcorn” rice with a gravy made by making a roux in the drippings left over from making fried chicken, then adding scalded milk. I don’t know how your tribe identified the stuff, but we called it “milk gravy” because we were free thinkers.

At any rate, I don’t really remember when I decided that I wasn’t going to be a picky eater any longer, or that it was a decision, really. I do vaguely remember wanting to prepare food, and that one of the first things I made was cinnamon toast (which also involved white bread and butter, but toasted on both sides under a gas broiler, then sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon).

I also recall that for a class project in, I believe, 5th grade, my mother and I made what turned out to be a pretty good potato gratin from a recipe I found in one of the Time Life Foods of the World series. (That’s actually a very good series of books, by the way, and you can usually pick up the spiral-bound recipe editions inexpensively). I remember it being good, that everybody in the class liked it, and that I felt a real sense of accomplishment in the preparation.

I was driving to Lafayette not long ago and listening to a radio news program on the topic of kids who are picky eaters. The gist of the story seemed to be that truly picky eaters, who are defined in part as so troubled by novel foods that they cannot eat outside of the home, may also be prone to depression and anxiety.

I was an anxious child. I’m an anxious man, for that matter, and I will likely be an anxious corpse, but I had never connected the pickiness to the anxiety. For a few minutes, as I continued to listen to the story, I began to wonder whether there was some link.

I was definitely anxious about food, and very aware how people reacted to the fact that I didn’t like most things. I remember the father of a friend looking at me incredulously when I admitted I didn’t like mayonnaise on my sandwich. I think he was largely flummoxed that he couldn’t use, “he’ll eat when he’s hungry” line on me. I remember feeling guilty that my friend’s mom made me another sandwich, and that I had actually failed to successfully pretend I did like the sandwich.

But then the story on the radio shifted to how truly picky eaters were likely that way because they were hypersensitive to external stimuli, including light, sound, touch and taste.

I think I have a pretty good palate, but I don’t think I’m a super-taster, and I don’t attribute any depressive episodes I’ve experienced to the fact that I was a picky eater.

My anxiety was, I also realized, as much about the fact that I was a short, skinny smart-ass; a combination that for a boy growing up in the mid-70s, was less than ideal. (Pro-tip: not all bullies are cowards who, when you stand up to them, will back down. Many are very angry, large boys who take great pleasure in combining fist to nerd).

My memories of eating back then aren’t specific enough to know whether I met another of the criteria for diagnosing a truly picky eater – that it takes a dozen or more experiences with a specific food for that food to not feel “new.” I think I remember trying and liking new things immediately as a kid, and the more I’ve considered the topic the more foods I remember enjoying.

I know I didn’t eat as wide a variety of things as my friends, but at the end of the day I’m beginning to wonder whether “he’ll eat when he’s hungry” might not have worked on me after all?

These days, of course, there’s very little I won’t eat, and I continue to come around on foods that only a few years ago I didn’t like. Okra, for example, which I only really enjoyed after my wife prepared it stewed with tomatoes, and sea urchin, which I avoided because of its texture, but which I would now eat with a shovel if that was a thing. (That is probably a thing, but not a thing I could afford).

Here is the obligatory “let me know if you were/are a picky eater, or if your kids were/are picky eaters,” but unlike all of those other times I’ve asked you to share your thoughts, this time I really mean it. In fact, if you do share your thoughts in the comments, I guarantee you will have seven years of luck. Such is the power of the food blogger!

For real though, y’all. Let me know?



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