The 25-Year-Old Picky Eater Rises Again

Ha, I can't believe I wrote about all the reasons I'm not combining lunch and dating anymore. Since you can't unsee things, I'm going to run with it. While I was doing my annual hard drive clean-up (which coincided nicely with my startup disk being so full I couldn't drag even a photo onto my desktop) I found a column I wrote, like, four years ago for my alma mater, Zester Daily, but never published. That's what we in the industry call a "freebie." The links, while no longer current, are still relevent.

Without further ado, one more story, then I swear I will post...five columns in a row that have nothing to do with guys I ended up dating. We can talk about my cat. Or how cold it is. Or cheese. I'd date cheese.

You may have noticed the giant wave of articles chronicling the struggles of adult picky eaters lately. Duke University researchers continue to sort out the mystery of why some people never grow out of their childhood reluctance to try new foods, and everywhere I turn another news outlet publishes their take on the controversy. Even the BBC has picked it up. Are they really picky? Is it in all in their heads? Is there hope?

Turns out it's usually real. If they simply wanted attention, they'd find more creative ways than refusing food, living things' favorite stuff, ever. It's so real, the DSM V manual of psychological disorders will now include picky eating. People with this condition consistently fear situations where they may be subjected to things they don't eat. Out of that fear, they lie, manipulate and flee to avoid confronting their relationship with food. There's even been talk of medically-insured therapy to treat the disorder.

Google's first result for "adult picky eating" brings up PEAS. No, not the "gooey green things" abhorred (and then reluctantly accepted) so by TIME and The Atlantic's Amy Sullivan, who has been posting her stalwart efforts to expand her palate over the past year. PEAS stands for Picky Eating Adult Support, an online community for those whose social, professional and family lives have been affected by extreme eating restrictions.

When I looked over the "social life" section, I found this list of excuses people have sent in to avoid foods they don't eat.

1. Tell the host you're not hungry.

2. Pretend you're sick and just threw up.

3. At the last minute, have someone call you about an emergency.

4. Admit you're unable to eat what is served and just sit quietly.

5. Complain that you are allergic to the food being served.

6. Proclaim you're a vegetarian.

7. Pretend you're fasting and have a medical procedure scheduled.

8. Decline the food because of religious beliefs.

9. Avoid getting invited in the first place.

10. Tell everyone the truth that you are the world's pickiest eater and you won't be able to enjoy what's being served.

11. Show up late around the time everyone is finished eating.

12. Just don't show up at all.

13. Offer sex to a man who wants to take you to dinner.

Number 13 is upsetting, you have to at least pretend to pose a challenge of some kind. But if someone declined my summer tomato salad because it was mushy (totally ignoring the fact that I bought a bottle of unbelievable olive oil instead of paying my electricity bill this month specifically for that salad), I'd be a little hurt no matter what the excuse.

One of my dearest friends, Tim, has been facing this challenge his whole life. At first I just called him a baby and taunted him with writhing soft shell crabs, but now I realize he must not be very happy with his situation either. And I guess it wasn't really necessary to wave a live crab in his face. I snuck goat cheese into risotto and Tim ate it. Does that mean he tolerates goat cheese if he doesn't know it's in a dish? How much could I add before he tasted something was "wrong?" I wrapped rice and seaweed around pork belly and Tim ate it. Does that mean he has a future with fish in it?

I feel terrible when I put myself in their shoes. Passing by a Halal cart with wonderment/disgust instead of checking one's watch to see if there's time for a quickie shwarma. Getting a sinking feeling instead of feeling ravenous when opening a menu. Making up a ridiculous lie as to why you can't join in on Sunday morning dosas and mimosas ("oh geez, you know I love Indian food but I have to...wait for a package...from Fresh Direct. I don't want my ice cream to melt.") Eating the same ten things over and over and over and over, a slave to routine.

Now that I know for certain it's not Tim's refusal to try something new, but a genuine and medically legit fear of unfamiliar tastes and textures (hey, some people simply don't fly in planes), I think I have something concrete to work with. It's not that he doesn't like shrimp. It's the prospect of the snap of the skin and toothsome, yet un-meatlike texture and flavor in something as personal as his mouth. And I suppose it is a little weird when I think of it like that. But I'm still going to pretend he wants me to help him get better. This week I'm substituting carrot juice for chicken stock in risotto. Baby steps.

And for you non-picky lunch-eaters...