It’s the first lengthy discussion of our regimented eating habits for the year. We are all flatting for the first time and happily naïve about the logistics of being budget consumers. All going well, timetable all sorted, until one flat-member declares they don’t eat onions, butter, white bread and canned tomatoes. Because this request cut out spaghetti bolognaise, it was of course dutifully ignored for the duration of the lease. We ate a lot of onion and excitedly rushed to Countdown whenever Watties canned tomatoes were only $1 each.
Living with, going out with or being friends with picky eaters can be as frustrating as when you run out of margarine and have to use fridge-hard butter and it rips apart your toast. Everyone has their preferences. Or genetic make-ups whereby consuming gluten or peanuts is dangerous. But declarations such as “oh no I cannot eat that sandwich as I am a vegetarian and it was sitting next to the ones with ham” or “oh no I only eat rocket in my salads, never iceberg” or “oh no I do not eat ice cream, only sorbet” are ridiculous.
It’s also rude. If you’re a guest and are offered a pasta dish someone lovingly devoted half an hour to creating yet you reject it because it’s topped with tasty not edam chances are you won’t be invited back. So being an adventurous eater is a badge of pride. My choices off a menu are either (a) whatever has the weirdest name (b) something I have never eaten before like kangaroo meat, or (c) the oysters after someone else at the table had loudly proclaimed they aren’t friends with fish. The kids menu was never very interesting, chicken nuggets taste the same everywhere. The despair at my peers wanting Big Macs on the last day of a school trip to South America haunts me to this day.
But then… I always pick the kiwifruit off the fruit-kebabs. Nuts are gross. Milk chocolate is sickening. Butter chicken and teriyaki chicken and pad thai are so obvious. Fries are better at McDonalds than at Burger King. And I hate, hate, hate, will-never-eat kind of hate, feijoas. The smell of them makes me so repulsed the flesh has never even reached my mouth. Feijoa lollies are foul. So is feijoa juice. I can’t eat anything with feijoa in it because it will be all I can taste. But, I refuse to admit that’s because I am picky.
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Sometimes you are at full liberty to blame fussy eating on your genetics. Like finding coriander tastes like soap. A haiku uploaded to IHateCilantro.com spouts “O soapy flavour / why pollutest thou my food? / Thou me makest retch”. You’ve got to feel sorry for these people. Coriander is so fresh. So good with lemongrass and curry. Scientists have discovered a genetic link between people of European ancestry with a tendency to associate smells with taste and this averse reaction. Can’t be helped.
Eating is also cultural. In communities with traditional eating habits or limited access to resources, fussy eating is not tolerated. In France, for example, the kids generally have tended to eat whatever the adults do and families eat together. If you don’t eat whatever is in front of you then you go hungry. But how do you avoid being fussy when you live in a culture which prides itself on offering individual choice? Why buy Dairy Dale when you can have sunproofed bottles with the Anchor label (until you realise it all comes from the same cows). When you have access to McDonalds fries every couple of hundred metres why would you buy something else? Tasteful and fresh. Convenience and choice is sabotaging our willingness to be flexible. I don’t have to buy feijoas so I’ll buy out of season nectarines imported from the United States instead.
Our palates should not, however, be underestimated. There’s the age-old understanding that young children don’t eat broccoli. There are entire books, based on supposedly revolutionary scientific evidence, devoted to persuading your child to eat broccoli. We were told as kids to pretend to be dinosaurs. An effective technique, albeit messy. Peas were my nemesis. I learnt that squashing them enthusiastically into the mat under my plate meant I couldn’t eat them. But now I don’t understand my younger self because peas are great. Frozen ones are cheap and add a smashing element of colour to any meal. Our tastes develop and mature over time. Like a blue cheese.
So maybe, there will be a transformative experience someday that enables me to enjoy feijoas like the rest of the country seems to. Until then, don’t offer one to me because I won’t eat it. But I will eat anything else.