Lately, I’ve noticed this trend of picky eaters airing their dinnertime dislikes on the internet, and not doing much else about it. To be clear, these are full-grown adults, not children. Picky eating is a normal phase of childhood; in adulthood, it’s lazy, closed-minded and borderline pathetic — a troubling condition that should be in no way encouraged.
While admitting you have a problem is usually the first step in the right direction, these public gripes seem to do little more than rally the support of other picky eaters in a collective cry of “Leave us alone!” that won’t result in any progress, which is sort of the point of fessing up in the first place.
One such story on Refinery29 is headlined “Why You Should Think Twice Before Calling Someone A Picky Eater.” The author defends her right to continue her dubious eating habits with “I deserve to try new things or avoid them without feeling any embarrassment” and “what I choose to put on my plate should only matter to me.” Neither, of course, is a helpful sentiment — she’s merely co-opting language traditionally associated with civil-rights issues in order to justify feeling repulsed by certain foods.
One is not born a picky eater; it’s a socially engineered condition, or else you’d see people rejecting plantains, chickpeas and sweet potatoes in severely food-insecure countries.
Another example is Gawker’s recurring video series “Watch An Adult Eat ______ For The First Time.” Here’s a real quote from one finicky 27-year-old: “A Fig Newton…frankly the filling of it just looks gross to me.”
Oh? Does it look like poop? It does? It’s probably poop, then, and you, as an intelligent adult, should take that clear sign from nature not to eat this obvious excrement in bright crinkly packaging.
Why are we glorifying picky eating with its own video series? He’s making it worse! I can hear the cries of “Yeah, Fig Newtons are nasty” from hundreds of miles away! No, Fig Newtons are not the best cookie. No, they won’t usurp any other cookie, not ever, but there’s nothing wrong with them, and they shouldn’t be rejected.
“There’s something about it I just don’t like. I would never have eaten a pineapple if not for this.”
Something about it, eh? So Hawaii’s staple crop is all for show? Is this about Carmen Miranda’s hats? His reaction: “It isn’t that bad…it’s not terrible, actually…it’s not the worst thing in the world…not the worst fruit I’ve ever had.”
Excuse your language, sir! There are delicious, juicy, succulent and good-for-you pineapples within earshot. I have a pineapple on my desk right now. It’s beautiful. Fruiting plants offer their literal children to those who would be nourished and delighted by them, and using the words “not terrible” to express your gratitude is shameful. Sorry to go all hippie, but pineapples are goddamned fucking magical. Strong words, I realize, but no stronger than “I don’t like it” in context. Now shut your Fig Newton hole; we’re going to Europe.
Don’t like cheese? Neither did most of Asia until its people tried it a bunch of times, encouraged by the rest of the world’s obsessive love. Logic prevailed: It MUST be good; it could not possibly be bad.
In France, even a child saying “I don’t like it” at mealtime is both unacceptable and not accepted. Learning to love all foods and to eat them slowly and thoughtfully is held in the same esteem as learning to speak in complete sentences or learning to share. It must be taught, lest both child and parents be unapologetically verbally admonished, and public schools are particularly strict that all students become educated on the art of dining. The response to “I don’t like it” is unequivocally “Oh, but you will,” followed by a demonstration of overt enjoyment of said mussel, olive, Roquefort and so forth. If you give a child’s picky eating no reinforcement — not heading to the freezer for the bag of nuggets but instead turning the situation into an ordinary learning experience — their pliable minds will change course for smoother seas. One is not born a picky eater; it’s a socially engineered condition, or else you’d see people rejecting plantains, chickpeas and sweet potatoes in severely food-insecure countries.
This technique mirrors the science behind rejection of unfamiliar flavors. The dislike may very well be real, but is easily conditioned away by repeated trials. By the tenth exposure, the ingredient is tolerated and even enjoyed. Adults have it even better: They don’t have another adult looming over them with a spoon. Don’t like bananas? It can be introduced in stages: first pudding, then fritters, then pancakes, then peanut butter sandwiches and by the time all these forms have been tried, eating a whole banana should prove no challenge. Don’t like cheese? Neither did most of Asia until its people tried it a bunch of times, encouraged by the rest of the world’s obsessive love. Logic prevailed: It MUST be good; it could not possibly be bad. Now Hong Kong is behind the infamous rainbow grilled cheese, Japan tops ramen with American slices and Korea slings cheese ribs (yes, cheese ribs).
Sometimes an aversion to food is so psychologically ingrained in the mind that it truly hinders everyday life. The TLC series Freaky Eaters, clips of which are available on YouTube, spotlights those physically and emotionally handicapped by the inability to expand their diets, as they seek help from dedicated nutritionists and gag-suppress their way to a better life. With resolute desire and coaching, each subject ends up able to eat and enjoy a reasonable variety of foods. Some fare better than others, but despite weeks of forced revulsion, no candidate drops out — and not only because they signed a contract to see it through, but because they’re desperate to rejoin the rest of society in an activity that is universally loved.
Adult picky eating is something that absolutely can be fixed, and cultivating an environment more encouraging than “I tried a raisin and didn’t immediately die” should be a bigger priority. Mind over matter is an incredible thing, and woefully underutilized when it comes to expanding American adults’ culinary horizons. To those who suffer: Don’t allow your inner monologue to stay rooted in its place, convincing you that you won’t like a food. That is a self-actualized and therefore 100 percent preventable hostage situation. Prescribe yourself small doses of normalcy and rationality, and take your medicine every day. And by the way, it’s not actually medicine, which is, by nature, gross-tasting. It’s a fried egg, and it’s delicious — you’ll see.