When picky eating becomes an affliction
January 16, 2017 8:13 AM   Subscribe


 
Previously.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:20 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


This is very, very common on the autism spectrum. I am curious about whether these folks have been evaluated or have been advised to get evaluated— they could have this one symptom, but I bet there are many who find it's part of something larger.

It's also kind of odd that the article didn't look into this or into connection with anorexia or autism/anorexia connections.
posted by Maias at 8:30 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


This is my older brother. I always assumed he was a "supertaster" type, because he reacts physically to anything new he tries. It's like torture for him, and he restricts himself to plain spaghetti with salt (boiled forever and a day), French fries, McDonald's hamburgers (plain, with lots of salt), white bread peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and plain chicken...with salt.

It's not a fun culinary existence for him, and as he gets older, it's really affected his health. He'd like to like more foods, but he honestly can't even swallow them without gagging.
posted by xingcat at 8:32 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


This sounds like hell to me, especially from a gastronomic position, but it seems so wearing socially (and, surely, nutritionally). The people interviewed seem resigned by not happy baout it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:33 AM on January 16


I guess this is one more good reminder to everyone not to pester others about their dietary choices, because you never know how much shame/isolation/anxiety you might cause them.

What strikes me is that if people weren't judgey at least a lot of the shame/isolation thing would go away. It's not like you can't go to dinner with someone and they order fries as their main (just as one does as a vegan or vegetarian at very-limited options places, so I know it's possible from experience) or gets plain rice and bread, etc. You can invite someone to dinner at your house and serve your mains and a couple of nice loaves of bread, or some plain potatoes, etc.

On a much lesser level, this reminds me of having to tell the dentist over and over again that I could not do in-office fluoride rinses or I would vomit on the floor. They would never leave me alone about it, and when I was younger I had a couple of "leap from the chair to throw up in the tiny dental sink" experiences that even then did not convince my dentist. They would not believe that something that other people could handle literally made me vomit immediately, and treated it like it was just willfulness.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on January 16 [50 favorites]


My brother-in-law's younger brother is this way. Hot dogs, pancakes, hamburgers and beer is literally all he will consume. I try not to judge (it's his life, frankly), and I certainly don't say anything to him or about him, but I do worry somewhat about his health.
posted by LN at 8:48 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Aaron Swartz was the first super picky eater I ever met. He wrote about it.
This reached its extremes at a World Wide Web conference where all the food was white, even the plate it was on. Tim Berners-Lee later pulled my mother aside to share his concerns about this diet.
posted by Nelson at 8:49 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I noticed some of the picky eaters include fruit, which I imagine is less stigmatizing, people aren't going to hassle you about your health if you're always eating fruit salad. That made me think about how a lot of the judgment on this issue (which I am super guilty of) is probably centered around class. It seems most of the food picky-eaters rely on is very cheap, the sort of stuff kids grow up eating in middle or lower class households.
posted by skewed at 9:08 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


This is my son. I have written about this on the blue before. He only eats about ten foods, and really nothing you can get at a restaurant. I don't know how he is going to navigate adulthood, and the food and dining rituals involved. We have tried lots of different types of therapy with little to no success. It did, however, get him rated as uninsurable (we found out when my husband wanted to start his own business) before the ACA. Guess we are back there!

My son has struggled with eating since he was a newborn. It is a battle for him to eat even the foods he can tolerate sometimes. I don't know. How can it be mental, when he was like this as a tiny infant? How can it be physical, when he has had every test ever, and the doctor says he is fine? I ask and ask myself what we could have done differently. He is not autistic, though too much of any sensory input can overwhelm him. He is about to turn 13, and keeps his food stuff hidden from his peers, for the most part.

Much of disordered eating therapy is focused on body image and self esteem -- not at all his issue. His therapists don't seem to really get what the article described so well: food color blindness, a visceral disgust and inability to recognize food as food instead of a threat.
posted by Malla at 9:09 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


I have some things that I cannot eat that are related to childhood eating trauma (at least it sits that way with me emotionally). I was made to eat things I could not tolerate under threat of punishment, and it created a permanent negative connection for me between certain smells and tastes that even now, as an adult, I will not go near. Certain textures of bread, for example, or the way fruit is prepared. I eventually grew to enjoy a lot of tastes that I didn't like as a kid, expect for those foods where I had those experiences. I'm not a picky eater for 99% of food, but when people say they cannot eat food, or certain foods, I definitely get it. I imagine my small subset of food intolerance and scale it to most food, and I have a lot of sympathy.

Lopez, a successful 57-year-old real estate broker from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, survives on a diet of mostly bread, dry cereal, potato chips, and French fries. What she doesn’t eat is, essentially, everything else.

As much as I look at this and go hmm, that's not entirely healthy, I'm constantly amazed at how resilient the body is when we don't give it what we actually need. Any machine we've ever built will stop functioning in very short order without very close specifications for power and fuel, and somehow our bodies can take a serious beating for a long period of time just eating things like cheetos.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:17 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, maybe skip the super dismissive take on it if you already recognize in the process of making your comment that people are gonna react poorly.]
posted by cortex at 9:21 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


Sometimes my son will come home from a full day of school and after school activities almost faint with hunger, because something was "off" about the lunch he packed and he was unable to eat it. He is hungry, but he can't eat.
posted by Malla at 9:21 AM on January 16


I get this in waves sometimes when I'm really stressed or overwhelmed. No matter how hungry I am I'll look at food or think about food and I'm like oh god no I absolutely cannot with this, it's disgusting. Even if it's some food I'd definitely eat any other day.

It makes me think of the type of hyper vigilance you see in allergies and ptsd. I also kind of wonder how much of it has to do with the fact that a lot of what we're given to eat is barely food, especially as kids. I felt bad for the people in the article. like oh honey, most blueberry muffins and fruit cocktails are legitimately gross.
posted by bleep at 9:25 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I've known a few picky eaters and it's interesting that like some mentioned in the article, they restricted their foods to foods like white bread, rice, potatoes, french fries etc, all of which are devoid of color and have a somewhat similar consistency or texture. Makes me wonder if there's some kind of 'colorthesia' at play. I also wonder, on the other hand, whether as children they may have had sensitive stomachs and found that "white" foods could fill them up without much gastric distress, and their minds locked onto these foods as safe foods. Whatever the cause, I know it is a hardship for them.
posted by SA456 at 9:29 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


This is very, very common on the autism spectrum. I am curious about whether these folks have been evaluated or have been advised to get evaluated— they could have this one symptom, but I bet there are many who find it's part of something larger.

Finding a therapist for it is next to impossible. I spent 18 months in therapy only to still fail at it. I was getting better but then it all fell to pieces and I stopped considering things food again.
posted by Talez at 9:29 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


My son is on the spectrum and this is an issue with him. At first my mom didn't get it because she was used to me being a super picky eater. She thought it was inherited willfulness. "Yeah, remember how you thought raisins looked like files without wings and if you ate anything with a raisin in it, you'd vomit?" Fun stories like that make me wonder what I would have been labeled as a kid had diagnosing knowledge especially for girls been better in those days.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 9:30 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


This sounds like hell to me, especially from a gastronomic position, but it seems so wearing socially (and, surely, nutritionally). The people interviewed seem resigned by not happy baout it.

It's not fun. Even over my protests my in-laws pay far too much attention on whether I'll eat at a restaurant (even though I know they're just trying to be considerate). My wife doesn't get to go out to her more favoured exotic food fare when it's just us. I don't like people having to go to all that trouble for me for something which is entirely psychosomatic and my own fault.

Then there's all these exotic things that look so good in the pre-frontal cortex but don't register as food in the old medulla oblongata. It's so disappointing. All the things I've never gotten to try I regret it so.
posted by Talez at 9:35 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


This is so amazing to me--how it's fundamentally true that our bodies need a variety of healthy foods to function and thrive, but how it's also fundamentally true that our brains can over-ride this.

I have a relative whom I cannot be take meals with because they way her nuclear family treats her refusal to eat foods she does not like strikes me as cruel. I don't know if her eating habits rise to the level of disordered eating; I don't know if she's really just being contrary; I don't know anything but that it makes me seriously uncomfortable to see a child guilted, forced, or otherwise shamed for expressing a food preference.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:37 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I think a significant problem in discussing this is that there is no easy diagnosis of a "picky eater."

Lots of people are unadventurous eaters, sticking to the familiar foods and avoiding anything "weird" (by whatever criteria they like). Sometimes this is just a deeply ingrained preference, sometimes it's driven by deeper factors. A lot of us were picky eaters as children slowly filling in our food palettes with new foods as we tried new things, although most of us still have foods we find repellent, often for somewhat occult reasons. These groups probably can force themselves to eat food they find unappealing (or even repulsive) out of necessity, politeness, or duress.

The people described in TFA have much more deep-seated aversions, which persist despite significant pain and stress. It's pretty clear that the limited food choices these people have are driven by something significantly more than "choice," and change (if it's even possible) would be a long and complex process. Yet, like many complex conditions, people will insist on lumping everything that looks vaguely alike into the same box and insist that there is a single, simple answer.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:39 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


change (if it's even possible)

I was getting to the point where I could eat apples, oranges, and some greens but they still disgusted me even when eating them. Probably why I stopped trying.
posted by Talez at 9:42 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


This is very, very common on the autism spectrum.

Yup. My 12-year-old son is autistic, and fits the description of the folks profiled in this article perfectly. I can't tell you how many times my wife and I have wanted to try some new restaurant and if it wasn't immediately obvious from their website had to call the place first with an embarrassing "Sooooo, do you have some sort of a chicken nugget dish available?"

What is very hard to get across to people is the extremity of the condition. You get lots of (unsolicited) advice of the "Just don't give him any other options, eventually he'll eat _______ rather than starve", when, the very thing that these people don't understand is that, yes, he would actually starve to death rather than eat something that looks totally normal to you or me. To my son a bite of steak, macaroni and cheese, or a drumstick is pretty much no different than telling him to eat dog shit in terms of his physical reaction.
posted by The Gooch at 9:56 AM on January 16 [17 favorites]


As much as I look at this and go hmm, that's not entirely healthy, I'm constantly amazed at how resilient the body is when we don't give it what we actually need. Any machine we've ever built will stop functioning in very short order without very close specifications for power and fuel, and somehow our bodies can take a serious beating for a long period of time just eating things like cheetos.

Here's a good example of pesky super-socialist, anti-commerce government red tape programs saving lives, in this case the U.S. food fortification policy, particularly for flour and salt. The addition of vitamins keeps these folks from dying of scurvy and rickets. The relatively recent addition of folic acids (just under two decades old) probably had a lot to do with why Ms. Lopez's boys are healthy too, free of anemia (along with the iron fortification) or worse neural development problems.
posted by bonehead at 9:59 AM on January 16 [50 favorites]


I've only ever seen my 4yo niece eat rice, salami, certain types of cheese and maybe maybe the occasional meatball. That's it. Her mother was a picky eater as a kid but is no longer so I'm hoping she will outgrow it. How the hell else am I going to share all the amazing candy and snacks with her?! She better not screw me on this one...
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:02 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


> That made me think about how a lot of the judgment on this issue (which I am super guilty of) is probably centered around class.

There was a lady in a previous post who apparently only ate steak tartare. ("I ordered the steak tartare, and I’ve eaten it pretty much every single day since. […] I normally eat only one meal a day".) I imagine she gets very little in the way of opprobrium.
posted by lucidium at 10:02 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


On the positive side, any snack/candy that she is allowed to eat, is less unhealthy than most stuff because it's so bland. So I guess that aversion to strong tastes is a good thing?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:07 AM on January 16


I wish I understood this better. I've always been a really adventurous eater, and my sister ... far less so. In adulthood she's developed these bizarre associations that make eating out difficult.

She won't eat "long noodles" because they remind her of the time she de-wormed her dog and they look like tapeworms to her. She won't eat rice because it reminds her of maggots. She'll only eat meat well-done. The thing that galls me the most is that she doesn't even seem ashamed of it.

To me, it seems like a bizarre and sort of princessy control issue. I'm curious if these sorts of picky eating issues happen in less developed nations, too - I've never met people from Asia, India, etc with this sort of issue. And man, it's really hard not to judge it.
posted by chinese_fashion at 10:10 AM on January 16 [10 favorites]


I have relatives who struggle with this. One even ended up hospitalised because of nutritional deficiencies. On a lighter note, I always liked how Cul de Sac approached Petey's picky eating. My favourite.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:12 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I wonder if embracing the label of "picky-eating adults" might make things worse for these folks than going with something super medicalish-sounding like ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder).

Because jumping through the culinary hoops required to satisfy the "picky-eaters" in my life drives me bonkers, and makes me think less of them. It doesn't help that they tend to expect that we'll always go with food that "they can eat," in social situations which involves eating at crappy chain restaurants (as opposed to more interesting local places, or god forbid a home-cooked meal) or annoying compromises when ordering shared food (we can only order pizza from places that use sufficiently pureed tomato sauce, no tomato slices or chunks allowed).

I'd at least be wiling to be sympathetic if they had a diagnosed condition (though it wouldn't help with the entitlement).
posted by sparklemotion at 10:13 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


My cousin had/has this as well, and is on the autism spectrum. It has gotten much, much better with therapy and medication, but that only means his group of foods had expanded from about five to twenty.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:18 AM on January 16


I am 'on the scale' and I was a picky eater when I was a kid. My parents enabled this behavior, to some extent, but it vanished when I was served the foods I 'couldn't eat' in a different social situation, where refusing would've made me appear too weird. (And as it turned out, the salad and hot dogs weren't that bad.)

the very thing that these people don't understand is that, yes, he would actually starve to death rather than eat something that

I would like to see some anecdotal evidence of poor picky eaters who actually starved to death rather than eating what meager provisions were available. Then I, too, would understand. Otherwise,

To me, it seems like a bizarre and sort of princessy control issue.


Note that everybody mentioned in the article is affluent. It's a First World problem.
posted by Rash at 10:19 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


This is also my husband, but not on the autism spectrum. I think I decided he eats about 20 things, but they must be made a certain way. That is, he'll eat pork, but it must be breaded and fried. At home, he eats the same things over and over again. We eat separate dinners, which everyone thinks is really weird, especially my mother who scolds me about not feeding him or whatever.

The only time it's really an issue is when we go to Japan. I've never had sushi there because he won't eat any seafood or vegetables.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:19 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I have so much sympathy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum during all three of my pregnancies, and during the last one the ONLY food I could keep down, for months and months, was salad with a ranch-type dressing and feta cheese. That is ALL I ate, for about six months. Nothing else looked remotely appetizing and everything else came back up. I took prenatal vitamins, and in the third trimester I could drink "coolatas" (flavored sugar syrup blended with ice) to up my calorie intake, but I lost weight steadily through the whole pregnancy and was on and off bed rest because of it.

For me it was the hormones, but yeah, most food did not seem like food and I could not physically bring myself to put it in my mouth.

I had a friend like this in law school who ate only white rice, corn niblets from frozen, and well-done steak. This was a little weird and unhealthy, but whatever, he was a grown man. The tough part was that he couldn't bear to see anyone ELSE eat anything else, so if we had dinner with him, EVERYONE had to eat rice, corn, and well-done steak, and he would freak way out if someone ate something else around him; he even sometimes gagged. He didn't exhibit the same rigidity in other areas of his life, but food was a huge issue for him. I ate a lot of well-done steak is what I'm saying.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:28 AM on January 16 [19 favorites]


'm curious if these sorts of picky eating issues happen in less developed nations, too - I've never met people from Asia, India, etc with this sort of issue. And man, it's really hard not to judge it.

One thing I notice as I read historical material: mental illnesses or quirks vary across time and cultures. Some seem like they're sort of universal - like people in all cultures sometimes develop hallucinations - but a lot of stuff seems like it happens at some places and times and not in others. Like, people can die of or get sick from witchcraft at some places and times, and there's all kinds of depressions and kinds of "heartbreak" that occur in some places and not in others. These are real illnesses that really make people sick, but at some deep, deep level there's a cultural component. You can't tell people to just shake it off because it runs so very deep. I tend to assume that this is because social conditioning (in any society) is so complex and embedded in language, gesture, etc that by the time we have language ourselves, we can only undo a very little of it.

So it might well be that this kind of "picky eating" is not a problem in the developing world (or maybe it is!) but that wouldn't disprove its reality.

One thing I wonder: would some picky eaters be able to drink Soylent or something similar? On the one hand it could easily read as "gross not-food" but on the other, it's also very bland and pale. Does anyone have any experience trying this with yourself or someone else?
posted by Frowner at 10:29 AM on January 16 [27 favorites]


I am not formally diagnosed, but almost certainly on the autism spectrum, and my diet is a fairly small superset of the things described in the article - 90% of it's dairy and carbs. The color thing isn't a constraint per se, so much as an observation - bread and cheese, and their culinary kin, tend towards those colors. The things I have the hardest time with are fruits and vegetables, due to both texture and flavor. I enjoy pulp-free orange juice, but even the thought of trying to eat an orange provokes some anxiety in me. I sometimes like peeled and sliced apples, but it usually seems like more trouble than it's worth to prepare them to that degree, especially when I can't eat more than a little before the "plantiness" that is my nemesis starts to get to me. My experience with apples was one of the biggest clues for me that it's not just me "being a wimp" (despite what my depression tries to tell me sometimes) - there's a food that I actually enjoy, but become simply unable to continue eating, well before I stop being hungry.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:32 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I've noticed that a lot of small children get this phase where they are upset if different foods touch each other. It's as if they are really concerned that they understand what each thing is, and that it retain its identity. And consider pizza: kids around this same age often only want cheeze pizza; they do not trust ingredients, even pepperoni, on it. However, a friend with kids scoffed at this pizza interpretation, and said kids are just super-tasters and lots of things are too much for their palate.

I recall harsh sanctions being taken against children who mixed up all the elementary cafeteria foods together and tried to get kids to eat it, but it never occurred to me until now that they were perhaps acting out the destruction of an earlier taboo. I still think there is this kind of a metaphysical aspect to kids' food quirks - they see a meaning in the foods that goes far beyond what adults perceive.. Also it's one of the only ways they can assert their will: refusing to eat things. Things from outside are supposed to be taken into the body: certain of them? NO.

Personally I can't eat eggs. I actually have my gorge rise if I smell or see scrambled eggs. I can remember eating them when I was really young, and then I got this huge aversion to them by age 4 or 5. I suspect that someone might have forced me to eat them when I didn't like something about the texture - I can't recall my parents doing things like that, so maybe a grandparent? If there was a traumatic incident, I thoroughly repressed it, though.
posted by thelonius at 10:34 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


The tough part was that he couldn't bear to see anyone ELSE eat anything else, so if we had dinner with him, EVERYONE had to eat

Jeez, just like the alpha-male alcoholic.
posted by Rash at 10:37 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


In pediatrics, we call this sort of thing a feeding disorder (ICD-10 labels it "feeding difficulties") and it's well within the realm of treatment SLPs and OTs. When it comes to children, this is absolutely treatment for it and we do see regular improvement - one of my patients who began with a very, very limited diety started chewing and swallowing crunchy vegetables this month! I'm sure there's more going on with adults, as there's a lot of shame and psychological stuff going on with it. A cursory glance through the dysphagia and feeding journals hasn't brought anything up, but I'll be going on a deeper search this evening. Neat!
posted by a hat out of hell at 10:48 AM on January 16 [22 favorites]


Rash, you don't know. Do you say depressed people should just cheer up? Or that only rich people have the luxury of mental illness? My family lives this every day, and we are not being princessy. If my son could fix this issue in his life, he'd do it in a heartbeat.

As for this being a cultural construct, again, my son was like this in INFANCY. Unable to eat, obviously repulsed. He was almost hospitalized because he lost so much weight, and couldn't be made to nurse. He would just thrash and then literally pass out. After a week of me lying in bed with him attached to the breast 24/7, him 2 sips, convulse, gag, pass out, we, under instructions from our doctor regretfully tried formula. Same result, with added vomiting. We had to go through every formula out there, finally finding some weird brand we ordered through the doctor's office and made with soy milk. We rejoiced when he discovered Cheerios. We had no notion it was going to be Cheerios for life. Like still, at age 13, half his calories from Cheerios.

Maybe in developing nations, babies like my son are just diagnosed as "failure to thrive" and die. We were sure worried about him, as was his doctor. We were worried he would die.
posted by Malla at 10:49 AM on January 16 [47 favorites]


Please note the article posted concerns PEAs (picky-eating adults).
posted by Rash at 10:57 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Okay. Sincere, non-rhetorical question for those of you in the "princessy control issues"/"first world problems" camp. Many people like those in the article have suffered significant social ostracism. ('“Everything in the U.S. focuses around food, and you’re not able to participate in it,” Lopez says. “It’s ostracizing.”') Many of them are very unhappy with their situation, and have tried everything they can think of, for years, to try and change it. ("A poll on pickyeatingadults.com asks visitors if they would use a treatment for their condition, were one available. Out of nearly 1,400 respondents, 87 percent say yes.")

Even if this is a "princessy control issue", these people are genuinely suffering. I can 100% guarantee you that all their lives they've heard things like "first world problems", and in fact that's a large part of the ostracism described in the article. What compels you to want to make them feel worse? What virtue is there in adding to the shame they experience? Do you believe their suffering is deserved? Please help me understand.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:57 AM on January 16 [36 favorites]


a hat out of hell, do you evaluate for tethered oral tissues like lip and tongue tie? I see some babies with feeding difficulties that have to do with suck-swallow-breathe and are resolved through a multidisciplinary approach from OTs, SLPs, IBCLCs, and bodyworkers, and others for whom surgical revision of frenum helps.
posted by sutureselves at 10:58 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Yes, Rash, adults who survived their picky eating childhood. An adult like my son will soon be.
posted by Malla at 11:03 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


Please note the article posted concerns PEAs (picky-eating adults).

None of whom seem to have developed the condition as adults, rather than maintaining extremely restricted food preferences into adulthood, so I'm not sure what your distinction is.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:04 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


One thing I wonder: would some picky eaters be able to drink Soylent or something similar? On the one hand it could easily read as "gross not-food" but on the other, it's also very bland and pale. Does anyone have any experience trying this with yourself or someone else?

My partner has a Soylent subscription. I have not yet mustered the nerve to try it myself. The internet describes it as tasting like "cheerios and milk" or "cake batter"; if I can handle the texture, it might be something I can manage. If my emotional/sensory buffer is robust enough to hazard it today, I will report back with anecdata.
posted by NMcCoy at 11:07 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


> I've never met people from Asia, India, etc with this sort of issue.

People here in the US hide it - why wouldn't people elsewhere do the same? It's also not like it's a super-common thing; I know tons of people who have various food restrictions because of allergies (including me: no shellfish!), or because they're vegetarians, or they really just fucking hate broccoli, but I have never to my knowledge met anyone with this level of disordered eating. Hell, I've known more people with anorexia than people with this condition. So the anecdata that you've never met anyone in [huge geographic regions] with this doesn't mean much.
posted by rtha at 11:10 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


"Maybe in developing nations, babies like my son are just diagnosed as "failure to thrive" and die."

When I was on school board, we used to have a lot of Baby Boomers and Greatest Generation folks who would come and complain bitterly about the "wussiness" of kids today with their asthma and their peanut allergies and their medical fragility and so on, and how when THEY were in school nobody had these terrible asthma attacks and schools didn't cater to overprotective parents who thought their children were delicate flowers.

They were always pretty surprised when we pointed out that in the 1960s, those kids had no right to be IN school and schools just didn't let them attend so as to avoid being obligated to cater to them AND that in the 1960s a lot of kids with serious asthma died before they were five years old because there weren't effective treatments.

Which is to say I am quite sure that in poorer countries, and in the West's past, children with severe feeding issues simply didn't live long enough to become adults with feeding issues. (And you do read about this in old novels, diaries of doctors/nurses/midwives, letters by parents to relatives -- children who just can't or won't seem to take in enough food to live, who can only eat very bland food, who throw up or gag on a lot of it, and who waste away and die as a result.)

I'm also quite sure there's a complex interaction of physical and psychological causes, and that the mix of the two may be different in different people. But even if it's 100% psychological, it's not any less real or dangerous. A friend of mine had a crisis delivery of a 26-week infant, and they both almost died; in response to the trauma, her three-year-old simply stopped eating. Couldn't keep anything down. Lost weight, stopped growing, team of doctors and therapists (who were desperate to avoid hospitalizing her as the hospitalization of her mother and infant brother was part of the trigger). It was awful. The fact that it was a psychological response to trauma didn't make it any less real or any less dangerous. The child could not eat, and had to re-learn how to eat. (And did, and eats like a fairly normal 7-year-old now, but it took more than two years and her response to extreme stress is regression on the food stuff.)

Nobody chooses to be the law student who's got it together enough to go to a top-10 law school but can't go on any interviews that involve a meal because they gag and vomit when they see other people eat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:12 AM on January 16 [84 favorites]


One of the women I'm dating is on the spectrum and has a somewhat limited diet because of it - no tomatoes, no onions, no sour cream, nothing she perceives as slimy (Stew OK, beef stroganoff not, pot pies not), no processed peanut butter, etc - and I'll tell you how much this IS NOT 'just' picky eating.

She fucking hates it. Feeding herself is very difficult and she goes hungry often. I hate it. Figuring out what to make for dinner/where to take her is a nightmare. There are times when she comes over, and we're munching on cheese and crackers, and she'll say in an offhand way, "You know, I think this is the first food I've had since yesterday morning," and it will be 8:00 at night.

Her restrictions aren't nearly as bad as many discussed here, and even so, the difference between something like this and a "first world problem/princessy control issue" is this: If this was something she could stop, she would.

I think that there are folks here thinking of this as a prissy, "Oh, I really prefer to eat organic," when it's much more akin to how you or I might react if served a plate of stereo cables.
posted by Myca at 11:16 AM on January 16 [22 favorites]


What compels you to want to make them feel worse? What virtue is there in adding to the shame they experience? Do you believe their suffering is deserved? Please help me understand.

I can't speak for others, but for me I know that pretty much every adult who I would think of as a person who might identify as a PEA is super judgmental about all of the food that everyone else likes to eat.

I mean, I have a couple of really strong food aversions: I am turned off by what I like to call "cheese that tastes like cheese" and jasmine tea tastes like soap to me. But I would never ever comment that fondue is "gross" or demand that we not eat a chinese restaurants. I just deal and work around things. And, I will test myself every once once in a while -- it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I ended up in a situation where it made sense to try cheesecake (which, knowing how plain cream cheese made me feel was "logically" on the "out" list), but I tried it and realized that cheesecake is a good kind of cheese.

But I have friends who will tell me that my sushi smells like a garbage can, while I'm trying to eat it. Or comparing noodles to tapeworms or whatnot -- it's like they are going out of their way to make the rest of us enjoy eating less.

Maybe my palate issues don't rise to the level of "aversions" so it's easier for me to not impose them on others. But when all you've got to go on is that you're dealing with someone who makes it harder for you to eat good nutritious food (in favor of eating, what I see as, food of lesser quality), it's hard to know whether sympathy or roll-eyes are more appropriate.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:18 AM on January 16 [24 favorites]


One of the women I'm dating is on the spectrum and has a somewhat limited diet because of it - no tomatoes, no onions, no sour cream, nothing she perceives as slimy (Stew OK, beef stroganoff not, pot pies not), no processed peanut butter, etc - and I'll tell you how much this IS NOT 'just' picky eating.

This, I think is probably within the realm of normal. I don't eat tomatoes or sour cream (or some other things) for that exact reason, and I don't have a problem eating most things.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt at all that there are those who really do have some sort of physical condition that causes them to be food avoidant. None at all.

However, I also have no doubt at all that there are those who've become picky eaters because of cultural influence and/or entitlement issues. Extreme picky eating, regardless of its origins, is obviously an eating disorder, and parents often pass their eating disorders along to their children. If you watch the video of the woman in that article, there's another video of her in which she says that she assumed her daughter had similar issues, and is raising her to believe it's OK. It is from Dr. Phil, so odds are better than even that it's taken out of context, but it hits my confirmation bias because I know a guy who seemingly intentionally tried to raise his kid to be a picky eater. He'd had a very contentious divorce and custody battle and had no qualms about trying to leverage racism in his favor, so he would explicitly tell his kid that the foods his mother and her immigrant family made for him were disgusting and dirty, and he would make exaggerated gagging noises when anyone ate anything he didn't approve of. (Fortunately, those teachings didn't stick long term.) That guy is actually a narcissist--diagnosed by a professional, not me--and if anything, I'd suspect his adult pickiness maybe grew out of his inability to admit that his childhood pickiness was anything but ideal. But however he came about it, he did everything in his power to inflict it on his child.

I know that most picky eaters aren't like that guy. He's probably the worst human I've ever known, so I don't generalize his behaviors. But I have to wonder how an adult picky eater could actually raise a child without passing those attitudes along unintentionally. Kids are going to notice what and how their parents eat.

I mean, I'm definitely not in favor of treating adult picky eaters badly, but I'd hate to see people lose sight of that fact that it's a problem.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:21 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


NMcCoy: "One thing I wonder: would some picky eaters be able to drink Soylent or something similar? On the one hand it could easily read as "gross not-food" but on the other, it's also very bland and pale. Does anyone have any experience trying this with yourself or someone else?

My partner has a Soylent subscription. I have not yet mustered the nerve to try it myself. The internet describes it as tasting like "cheerios and milk" or "cake batter"; if I can handle the texture, it might be something I can manage. If my emotional/sensory buffer is robust enough to hazard it today, I will report back with anecdata.
"

Someone gave me some and I tried it. The flavor struck me as REALLY wet oatmeal. OTOH, my energy levels when I used it as a breakfast replacement (Can't eat too soon after awakening, and I only had one bag) seemed pretty good.

I guess I am pretty lucky. I am REALLY texture sensitive, and I could see where I could end up on the picky eater scale, but I have managed to avoid that to date.
posted by Samizdata at 11:31 AM on January 16


I'm pretty darned picky but wow some of these are tough. Really tough. It can't be purely psychological, I remember one time on a date, very good restaurant, making an impression, had a certain fish dish I'd never had before. It was delicious. But at a certain point there was this distinct "not another single bite would ever pass into my mouth" moment. Something clicked and I'd just knew as much as I logically and viscerally understood that it was good for me and tasty, it was done over.

I've learned to like many things, and know I can expand my pallet but there are certain things that just can not ever happen.

All my compassion to the folks that have it worse.
posted by sammyo at 11:37 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


As far as those who just have sensory issues with certain foods rather than most food, much of the world has a lot less food variety on a daily basis than we do in the US. For most of history, nobody had the kind of food variety on a daily basis that we have in the US, especially for those who're at least middle class. For people with even minor sensory issues, including those on the autism spectrum, variety as a concept can be a terrible thing.

I think some people are more poorly behaved about this than they'd be if they weren't raised in relatively well-off environs, but this definitely is't a rich-people-only thing. Rich people just are more likely to live in environments where it's noticeable. I've known lots of poor people who weren't picky eaters and still mostly lived on peanut butter sandwiches and boxed macaroni and cheese because that was what was available, cheap, and convenient. You can't weird people out with your special orders at restaurants if you can never afford to go to restaurants, or every restaurant you go to, however rarely, offers chicken fingers and fries and that's on your okay list. Outside the US, for people in genuine global-scale poverty, of all the problems they have, I guess, I don't know why anybody would expect picky eating to be one. Not because they're poor, but because their diets are already restricted.
posted by Sequence at 11:40 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


All this reminds me of an old Love and Rockets cartoon where Hopey responds to some question by saying "nunya" and, when questioned again, elaborates, "nunya business".

Even if someone is being a princess about what they eat - well, I don't control them. If I want to eat chinese food or long noodles or tomatoes, I can do so on my own, or with other friends. I don't gain anything by being a jerk to them. Similarly, of course, unless you are either four years old or are literally freaking out that you may vomit if someone doesn't remove their sushi from the room, saying "that smells like garbage" is rude. If someone is a princessy control freak to the point where we can't be friends, it will almost certainly be about more things than just a restricted diet in any case.

Unless I am responsible for feeding someone or suffer from simple proximity to their food or they're eating peanuts in a no-peanuts space or something, what they eat is not my business. If I want to eat with someone because we both love piperade, then we both love piperade and eat it together; if I want to eat with someone because I like their company, then we can work out a way to share a meal that has elements suitable to both of us.

Just a lot of stuff about people's day to day lives is not other people's business, and we would all do well to learn to avert our eyes and/or brains.
posted by Frowner at 11:41 AM on January 16 [27 favorites]


I know some people who suffer from varying levels of this. They're largely fine, non-princessy people, who genuinely struggle with food.

I am, for better or worse, not a picky eater, but ironically, I went through about the first 7-8 years of my childhood refusing to eat anything white--white bread, plain pasta, potatoes, french fries, vanilla ice cream, egg whites--though I liked basically all cheese. Most of it, I adapted to (I remember the first time I agreed to eat mashed potatoes--I was maybe eight-- which were much better than I thought). To date, I still can't tolerate a glass of milk though.
posted by thivaia at 12:06 PM on January 16


Several years ago I met a guy who talked for quite a bit about how he only ate potatoes and chicken and possibly bread and a few other processed foods. At the time I argued with him and tried to convince him that vegetables are delicious and necessary, which likely contributed to him talking about it as much as I did. I remember that I was interested in dating him until food came up, which I know sounds - and was - judgmental and classist.

At the time I saw him as being unadventurous and stubborn, but now I figure he probably had some issues around food that I just don't understand, and I wish I hadn't tried to evangelize vegetables. I've reached a level of maturity at which I can say to someone who doesn't like a food that I enjoy "No worries, more for me."

Reading this now, I feel lucky that I'm able to be an adventurous eater and enjoy different flavors and textures. Even though at times I've wished I loved food a little less.
posted by bunderful at 12:06 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I have a close friend you managed to overcome this in her 30s. For the first ten years I knew her she ate pretty much nothing but white bread with margarine, sliced cheese, plain pasta with margarine, and cherry tomatoes (but god forbid you suggested putting the cheese on the bread or the tomatoes in the pasta).

This didn't really come with any other evident psychological issues (aside from the sorts of garden-variety anxieties that we all suffer from), but the food issue caused her a fair bit of social friction. She is Jewish, however, and covered for it mostly by pretending to be extremely observant and telling people that, for religious reasons, she didn't eat anything where she couldn't be 100% certain how it was prepared. In this way she got through a large number of dinners out where she consumed nothing but a glass of wine.

But then, slowly, she tricked herself into trying new things. I was with her the first time she tried a slice of cheese pizza, telling herself that it was really just bread, cheese, and tomatoes, all of which she knew she was capable of eating individually. From that starting point she, over the course of about five years, widened her eating to the point where she can now actually go out to restaurants and order off the menu.

I'm not trying to suggest that people who are currently suffering from this should be able to just will their way out of it. To the contrary, it still sort of amazes me that she was able to take such a crippling disorder that she'd been living with for decades and just cure herself.
posted by 256 at 12:15 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


when it's much more akin to how you or I might react if served a plate of stereo cables.

Well, I don't think it's at all like that. I've traveled to other countries and cultures and been served some unfamiliar shit. Some of it was frankly really unappealing looking to this sheltered American. But I've always been able to suspend disbelief because everyone said it was food. Most I ended up liking, some I didn't, none caused uncontrolled vomiting. I'd try a few forkfuls of stereo cables, once.

I think it's one thing to know intellectually that these people have a disability, but entirely human to have the uncontrollable "princess" reaction to them. I can give people like this (or to a less-extreme extent) the benefit of the doubt and accommodate without being mean or insulting, but I can't say I don't ever feel (and hide) that deep-down resentment when it inconveniences me. I guess I'm a bad person, shrug. Which is to say, I agree there's a stigma because I'm part of the problem, even though I know it.
posted by ctmf at 12:16 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


So I am definitely one of these picky-eaters, maybe not as extreme, but the article definitely hits a bunch of familiar issues. I eat about 10-20 things, and that's pretty much it. At work I always feel like I weirded out my coworkers when I first started working since my lunch everyday is just lettuce and cheese (sometimes with bread since I switch between sandwich and salad) or when I would remember that I forgot to eat over the weekend. When I go out to eat, I do try to eat new foods (usually when I can't find anything on the menu I'm comfortable with), but most of the time I do not enjoy what I order(often having to down everything with water or sweet iced tea) and mostly eat it out of a sense of obligation. I do know that I often gag on foods or involuntary shake for a few seconds after swallowing something that put me off (on occasion I've even felt nauseous, but I've never outright thrown up anything), but I've gotten to a point where I know I can avoid most of those foods.

Outside of getting stares from people when I order something strange (I think the biggest reactions I've gotten have come from ordering just white rice at Chinese restaurants), I don't think it really impacts my day to day life that much. Grocery shopping is easier and cheap, and when I was in college I could often get food ordered without saying a word because the staff would memorize my simple order. I mean I guess would be nice if I could eat more foods, since most of it is definitely a social thing, but most people I've met have been pretty accepting of it so I've never felt too alienated.

Part of this might be because my best friend growing up was probably a little bit more picky than me. It doesn't feel strange to order just french fries at a restaurant when the person sitting next to you is doing the exact same thing, and that feeling of not being alone probably carried with me to not being worried about it in the present. I can imagine what it would feel like to not have that shared connection, especially when you are growing up and told that you'll start liking other foods eventually and when it doesn't happen it can feel like something is wrong with you. I'm glad these people have found a community and can reach out to each other, because knowing other people in the same situation really does help.
posted by tealNoise at 12:17 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


As many of you have alluded to, it strikes me that there might be several different disorders--with various psychiatric or purely physiological causes--lumped together, or different sufferers have different combinations of these causes.

In any case, this is a good case to try to be mindful that others' experiences are just as real to them as mine are to me, regardless of how I judge their experiences.
posted by tippiedog at 12:19 PM on January 16


Something clicked and I'd just knew as much as I logically and viscerally understood that it was good for me and tasty, it was done over.

That's interesting to me, because when I get that feeling, it's nothing to do with taste or "I will never eat this thing again ever" or "this food no longer seems like food," it's just an "I'm done eating now," feeling. I eat slowly and in smallish portions; I was always the kid who didn't finish her food, because I just stopped eating when I hit that "I'm done eating now," feeling, and trying to eat more after that led to gagging or vomiting. Thankfully, my parents never made a big issue of it, for which I am very grateful, because the few times someone did pull the "you can't leave the table until you clear your plate" thing really stand out in my memory as miserable experiences.

I still can't force myself to eat once I have that "done eating" feeling, even though sometimes I do still feel hungry, or I do want to eat more because it's tasty. I generally put that down to my stomach not having caught up yet, because after 15-30 minutes, I feel more or less satiated. I was otherwise a picky eater in the same way most kids are, and I'm not a picky eater now, apart from having bizarrely exacting standards for preferred fruit ripeness (mostly thanks to texture issues, i.e. hating anything that even approaches a mealy or mushy texture).
posted by yasaman at 12:27 PM on January 16


A couple of people have touched on this here (pardon if I've missed something on the thread), but I'd like to reiterate that it might help to re-label folks going through this as something other than "picky eating adults" before the designation gets picked up by the general public? This isn't picky. This sounds like torture. And keeping that "picky" word in there is just going to add to people piling on with the "princess problem" scoffing. I'm saying this as someone with a medical issue with a dismissive-sounding name...
posted by queensissy at 12:29 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


To me, this is really difficult. I have to admit that I am judgemental towards most picky eaters, specially the type mentioned above who feel the need to instruct everyone else on how disgusting their food is. On the other hand, I'm like that. A chicken nugget or a fish finger smells disgusting to me, and I might well vomit if I were forced to eat one. I did some food-disorder-vomiting as a child, always over bland, soggy foodstuffs. Sweets with strange names are disgusting to me, and just about all Asian sweets, though I love savory Asian food. If someone at the table eats the stuff I find disgusting, I will loose my appetite completely and just not eat at all, (but I try to be polite and not talk about it). I'm picky in a specific way that makes me look adventurous so until I realized I was picky, I could be quite smug about it. But I can totally recognize the feelings the people in the article describe.
I wonder if there is a synesthetic aspect to this? For me, the taste and smell of the icky food is an important dimension, but so are the colors, the texture and mouth-feel and the service including my not-reality-based sense of food security. I have experimentally made a batch of chicken nuggets from scratch (my kids really wanted them, and I tried to overcome my disgust), and I have to admit I could eat one.
posted by mumimor at 12:34 PM on January 16


This was me for most of my life. I was a bit more varied in my diet than most extreme examples but still restrictive enough that eating out or eating at friends was always a nightmare. I didn't start eating with more variety until my late 30's and only recently while closing in on my 50s have the restrictions gone away.

Part of it was making a concerted effort to overcome aversions by forcing myself to eat things I knew I needed to eat to be healthy but also a large part was that somehow my huge vegetable and fruit texture aversions just melted away.

I can't really explain how or why it happened. But I am happy it is over! Maybe is just advancing age taste bud burnout or something.

(Except soggy mushrooms. Deep fry them or GTFO my mouth)
posted by srboisvert at 12:35 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


My 50 year old husband also has this and it is frustrating. He has about six foods he will eat; but not generic food - six specific brands. It used to be eight but something about the formulas changed in the foods so he can no longer eat them. Other people are very judgy, which is annoying, but HIS judgement of me and the children if we eat food outside of his list has had a huge impact on us. He gags, pretends the throw up (loudly), and proclaims our food "disgusting". Only one therapist was willing to even talk about it disputes me telling everyone what a negative affect it has on his, and our, lives and health.
posted by saucysault at 12:37 PM on January 16 [22 favorites]


it might help to re-label folks going through this as something other than "picky eating adults"

Good point. I am going to use the term: selective eaters, or strictly selective eaters.
posted by Thella at 12:47 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Most of the picky eaters in my life are close family or friends, so I've never thought to question why someone says they don't want X; I don't really care why and trust they're not going out of their way to be unreasonable.

Or maybe I'm just so not-picky that I can find something to eat anywhere, so it's never been an inconvenience dining with my picky family/friends. They also don't try to control what I eat, so it's easy to be flexible.

The only thing that's ever really annoyed me is when someone shoots down everything I come up with, but won't make suggestions of their own, something the picky eaters I know never do. If I'm hungry while being shot down, I'll make a unilateral decision after two rejections. Usually they either suddenly know what they want (which is fine!) Or they'll go along and find something.
posted by ghost phoneme at 12:58 PM on January 16


I know a few people with issues like the ones listed in the article. The Venn diagram of their "okay foods" seems to have a lot of overlap: simple starchy and fatty things (Cheerios, pasta, french fries, etc.) usually make the menu.

I have never had the experience of my friends forcing others to restrict their diet, or taunting people for eating other foods. In fact, they have happily hung out at dinner tables in restaurants where there wasn't really anything for them on the menu, even as the rest of their friends (myself included) chowed down.

In contrast, I have seen people taunt my friends and try to force food on them.

I think my friends would happily become better eaters if they could. They are tired of the stigma, or of feeling panic and revulsion when pushing themselves to try things, or of going hungry when they can't find a meal that they can actually choke down. They are not "being princessy," and labeling them as such sure isn't fixing anything.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:00 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


"It doesn’t look like food to me.”

I've had two experiences in my life that temporarily put me in this frame of mind: when I had mono, and when I was recovering from gallbladder surgery. With mono, I remember telling my partner that I wanted poached boneless/skinless chicken breast, and he wanted to know if he could just cook it in a pan instead. The idea of any kind of crust or texture on the chicken was completely offputting to me in a way that it never has been since; I can't imagine what it would be like to feel like that all the time.
posted by redsparkler at 1:01 PM on January 16


I can't imagine what it would be like to feel like that all the time.

It's not all the time at least for me. Like for instance if I think of eating something like, for instance, peas, my mind focuses to how disgusting mushy peas are and how that disgusting thing will be in my mouth if I chew it and I shut down. The only way I could ever eat peas as a child was that I had to wash them down like pills with something that had a flavour to mask the peas.
posted by Talez at 1:10 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


The thing that always fascinates me about this is how many severely picky eaters have cheese pizza on the list of acceptable foods. It's weird to me because I am not a picky eater as an adult (I was as a kid, but not an especially extreme one), but mozzarella cheese is completely vile to me. I love pizza - even pizza from terrible chains - but I'll order it without cheese if possible and pull off most of the cheese if not.

I thought for a long time that this was basically just a psychological aversion to the texture until one day in college one of my roommates offered me what I thought were parmesan-flavored potato chips, and I put some in my mouth and literally involuntarily gagged on them. They were mozzarella-flavored.
posted by waffleriot at 1:28 PM on January 16


I was a severely picky eater as a child, and this is true of me as well:

I'm pretty darned picky but wow some of these are tough. Really tough. It can't be purely psychological, I remember one time on a date, very good restaurant, making an impression, had a certain fish dish I'd never had before. It was delicious. But at a certain point there was this distinct "not another single bite would ever pass into my mouth" moment. Something clicked and I'd just knew as much as I logically and viscerally understood that it was good for me and tasty, it was done over.

That's always been hard for me to parse. Like, three bites, OK, but four bites and I'll throw up? What's the mechanism?

I do believe that there are social factors playing into this. I was constantly harassed and humiliated as a child for my eating behaviors, as well as being forced to sit for hours at the dining room table until I ate something they wanted me to eat, which I was unable to do. But if I tried something and liked it, I was taunted for having been so stupid before—my family put me in a no-win situation in which I would be shamed and humiliated no matter what I did. As an adult, I have broadened my horizons significantly, and I was never as restricted as a handful of carbohydrates, thank goodness. But I don't eat the way I think a person with a normal, broad diet eats, and I do feel I miss out on a lot.

One of our children was severely picky as a child, with a lot of strong food aversions. We decided that if nothing else, we could spare him the verbal abuse, power struggles, and trauma I experienced. We tried to be supportive, offered foods without pressure, praised him when he tried things, and did our best to accommodate him without letting his preferences run the whole family.

At 13 or 14, he started trying new things: a different kind of sandwich, or lettuce on a sandwich he'd always eaten plain. Then he started to try whole new categories of foods. The other day, he went out for Korean food with my partner and some of our other kids. Our 12-year-old is an incredibly adventurous eater, and he loves seafood soups full of mussels still in the shell and invertebrates. Mr Picky Eater, now 15, tried both squid and octopus from his brother's stew. He didn't care for either of them but they didn't make him gag; he was able to just say, "Hmm, I think not." He also tried sushi and discovered he really liked it.

I am really proud of him and us, and at the same time, a bit wistful thinking that maybe that could have been me if I'd been treated better by my parents.

People who are being dismissive of this probably need to understand that, first, there does seem to be something innate that starts this. But also kids who are picky eaters get little or no sympathy. Whenever it's come up around other parents, or I see questions on AskMetafilter about it, the responses are things like, "When I was a kid, my mom put dinner on the table and we ate it whether we liked it or not!" or "We have a two-bite rule that our kids have to try two bites of anything we put on their plate before they can say they don't like it," which for me as a kid was a form of torture akin to saying, "You have to eat this until you vomit, and then you can say you don't like it." You assholes contribute to attitudes and behaviors that make mealtimes traumatic and cement aversions into unconquerable compulsions and then when people try to talk about what it's like for them, dismiss it as a "first-world problem" or a problem of affluence. Somebody needs to codify Compassion Failure Disorder because I think way too many people suffer from it.

I will say, nothing ever validated the experiences of myself and my now-15yo so much as having another kid who had no food aversions at all and always wants to try new things. From a young age, he would put something in his mouth and if he didn't like it, it was no big deal—he just didn't like it. No trauma. I was like, "Wow, you could totally do a two-bite rule with a kid like him." Except you wouldn't need to because he'd try anything anyway. But seeing that Kid 2 just sort of came with "adventurous eater" hard-wired into him helped settle a last little bit of doubt I'd had that "super-picky eater" had come hard-wired for me and my son. It's good to be reminded that people really are different from each other.
posted by Orlop at 1:36 PM on January 16 [49 favorites]


The only time I've really been to sympathize with the whole "whoops that's not actually a food" brain sensation was at a Chilifest where after about cup 19 of chili the part of my brain responsible for hunger apparently left for the day, or to save itself, and I just shut down, had the traditional pint of beer at the pub nearby and went and napped for a few hours.

I'm fine with people who have some aversions, and kids are just going to be kids - it doesn't really matter if they eat cake all one day and stew all the next, we have pretty good evolutionary traits to balance that sort of thing out. I don't like mushrooms, whatever.

I will avoid people who have severe (non-medical) food aversions. It's not kind and not compassionate but when you have someone in your social group who will only go to ONE restaurant because it's the ONE place that will make them plain buttered noodles - I don't get to eat out that much, maybe you could take one for the team, noodles. Maybe we could go to Gino's House of Bland every other time.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 2:03 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


But I've always been able to suspend disbelief because everyone said it was food.

Yeah, me too. That's the difference between you and I and someone with a disorder.
posted by Myca at 2:05 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


I can understand why people with food aversions might have a hard time not complaining about food other people are eating. Imagine you had a roommate who liked to eat earthworms, maggots, rotting meat and dog shit. Would the sight and the smell never bother you? Would you be able to remain polite and cheerful all the time and never make a negative comment?

I was a picky eater as a kid, sort of still am, but not anywhere near what was described in the article. I mostly don't care what anyone else is eating. But I won't let my kid chew bubble gum in the car because I hate the smell. If there were lots of foods whose sight or smell bothered me that much, I'd be one of the "princessy" people you guys are complaining about. Not because I feel extra entitled, but just because I don't want disgusting things around me any more than you do. If everyone said, "It's not really disgusting, you just think it is, so we don't care," I'd get why they felt that way, but I'd still be disgusted and I'd be pissed that no one cared.
posted by Redstart at 2:10 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I am a somewhat picky eater. I grew up poor, eating Hamburger Helper type meals, white-bread baloney sandwiches, etc. I didn't get enough variety of fruits and vegetables to learn to like them. In first grade, I had a teacher who insisted on the "clean plate club" and made me eat peas despite my protest - which I promptly threw up. In college, I eventually started trying things I hadn't liked before - lettuce and salads, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, tomatoes. But there are still some things that make me physically ill if I see or smell them (the aforementioned peas, fish, cooked spinach).

So when my twins were born, I swore I wouldn't food-shame them if they didn't like something. They were both willing "try-ers" as toddlers, and now at 8 my daughter is still a pretty good eater, but last year my son developed PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome), and along with that came a disinterest in eating, including things he had liked before. Whenever he is faced with a social situation with food, the grown-up in charge will say something like, "Don't worry, we're having cheese pizza." And his little face falls. My son can't eat that anymore, or macaroni and cheese, or spaghetti. There were months before his diagnosis during which he pretty much only ate dry Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a certain brand of all-natural no-antibiotic chicken nuggets. He hates cake now. I had to come get him early from a soccer birthday party during which they ate pizza and cake at the very end and he was just sadly sitting there, starving after running around for an hour.

Some judge-y people have made the "your kid is picky, he only eats chicken nuggets" comments to us, but you know what else he eats? When he's feeling good and his OCD and anxiety aren't flaring, he loves garlic chicken from our local Thai place, with spring rolls and fish sauce on the side. He loves chicken quesadillas with spicy salsa. He loves almost all fruit - he can eat a tub of strawberries and a mini-watermelon on his own. He would rather have dried apple slices than chips or cookies. When his brain is working well and lets him eat, he eats.
posted by candyland at 2:11 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


Just to put my contributions into context here: I'm sure that there are plenty of trauma/spectrum/genetic/disease related reasons to be an adult picky eater. I don't know any of those people personally, and I'm not here to judge them. So my comments are coming from a place where I just know/am related to a few incredibly picky eaters who really appear to be deciding to do it.

For the long noodle example I mentioned above: I saw that one arrive, fully formed, in my sister who is an adult that I grew up with. We ate spaghetti, Chinese together for decades and then all of a sudden this happens. This is a person who also vocally and vehemently expresses disgust with you at a restaurant when you consider ordering the rabbit - because rabbits are cute - and then says "I'll have the pork chops" without a trace of self aware irony.

She also thinks that disallowing trans people the bathroom they identify with is a good idea, because you never know what lengths someone will go to to kidnap a child. Sometimes it seems like it's all of the same cloth - like a person who decides to have an outsized reaction of disgust to something based on very little.

I want to also make it clear that we love each other very much, and are just incredibly different.

I also am reminded of the time I made curried goat at a friend's house for a dinner gathering and had to endure his wife (not really a traveler or culturally adventurous person) saying "it stunk up the whole house," and saying to other guests within earshot "well, we have chicken and rice here and APPARENTLY there's goat, *snark*"

I think the visceral reaction here for me is that I really hate being judged by someone who appears to have decided to keep their world small and narrow - and acts like I am supposed to know what's weird and gross to them. To me, food is culture, curiosity, intimacy, and I find it really offensive when people decide to shut it all down for being "a bunch of weirdo stuff."

It makes me feel the same confused outrage I feel when I see conservatives on tv saying "what kind of a monster would delegitimize the president-elect?"

I can't speak on people on the spectrum, or people who at least know and acknowledge that their pickiness is unusual.
posted by chinese_fashion at 2:17 PM on January 16 [14 favorites]


it might help to re-label folks going through this as something other than "picky eating adults"

Good point. I am going to use the term: selective eaters, or strictly selective eaters.


Change that. I am going to use the term: selective eating or strictly selective eating.
posted by Thella at 2:20 PM on January 16


Color blind people see colors, so the original title is a bit off. Better to ask a color blind person to tell two colors apart.
posted by mdoar at 2:25 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Generalized asshole disorder is not at all what this article or thread are about.
posted by bleep at 2:30 PM on January 16 [20 favorites]


I'm curious if these sorts of picky eating issues happen in less developed nations, too - I've never met people from Asia, India, etc with this sort of issue. And man, it's really hard not to judge it.

When you say Asia, what part? My youngest cousin grew up a phenomenally picky eater, and even today tends to prefer the expected. Of course, you could argue that Korea is first world, but back when he was a kid, they had *just* gotten into the OECD.
posted by qcubed at 2:36 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Kids are generally pickier than adults, and I don't think anyone knows for sure exactly what the formula is to help them develop more adult tastes. I don't think it makes someone an asshole if haven't encountered severe food aversions.

But as adults, we generally have to learn to adapt and make accommodations for what is considered normal in whatever culture we live in. I do it all the time, putting up with the normal things people do that make me want to peel my skin off, because it would be unreasonable for me to impose my standards on all the people who run around flailing and screaming and turning on 400 watt bulbs everywhere they go. I have to deal, and sometimes quietly leave for a while, because all those things are normal and socially acceptable in the culture I live in, just as it is normal for people to eat vegetables and spaghetti and seafood and stuff. That's not to say that someone with serious food aversions has to eat things that make them gag, but they need to learn not to gag or make rude comments when someone else eats them.

And they need to take care of their own food requirements and not expect others to always produce acceptable foods for them.

I cook for a small group of people once a week. I don't think of any of them as pathologically picky, but the cumulative food restrictions and aversions from that small group include: Hard restrictions for gluten, soy, and all dairy except goat milk; strong aversions to onions, raw tomatoes, mushrooms, Bell peppers, peas, green beans, and raw vegetables including salad, plus two people with very low heat (spice heat) tolerance. Also, there's type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure and their attendant but more flexible dietary requirements. Also, in addition to the no gluten person are three people who are, like, mandatory gluten. Like pasta in a bread bowl level mandatory gluten.

So we can all have white rice with margarine and optional dinner rolls every week, or I can bust my ass trying to accommodate not just everyone's strict requirements, but their food preferences as well, or I can prioritize the strict requirements and expect the people with preferences to deal because they're adults. I really do try to accommodate everything I can, but it's not easy to accommodate all those preferences and still come up with any kind of variety, much less anything that's actually good. I try to put the onions and hot peppers on the side, and I usually serve bread or something on the side for those who need it, but things still come up.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:39 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


I was thinking specifically of Laos - I had my own boundaries challenged there. I made myself eat more fried crickets than I thought I would, tried the fried buffalo skin and drew the line hard at bile.

It seems like a place where they've eaten every part of the animal out of necessity and made dishes out of ALL of it. I'm sure I seemed squeamish and picky to the locals.
posted by chinese_fashion at 2:45 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


About children and food cultures. The city where I live changed its policy for school lunches (including pre-schools and daycare) some 16-17 years ago, and now the food they serve is very varied, mostly vegetable and often spicy. And all the children eat it. There are strict rules about not pressuring the children and absolutely not forcing them to eat anything, but all the kids eat everything. As far as I understand it, what convinces them to try is the social situation of sitting around the table and eating together. This definitely helped my daughter overcome her pickiness and I see it now with the two small children I care for periodically. It's not a miracle cure: there are still things they won't eat much of. Often they will eat five peas and five potatoes and only a slice of chicken breast and a bite of lettuce. One won't touch a raw tomato, the other will avoid some sauces. Not one among my children and bonus children will eat cooked beets. But hey, that is OK.
The thing is, you can't always do this at home. And you can't always do this at school either. I think a lot of my own hatred of bland food comes from smelly gooey school lunches (those overcooked peas..). You need to have someone out there locally who has a vision.
posted by mumimor at 2:49 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I have really appreciated this thread. I've definitely known adults with these issues, but they happened to be rigid in other ways, and I would think something like, "well maybe if they didn't watch Fox News all the time, they'd eat something besides a plain burger for once." That was unkind of me.

I've been a vegetarian since I was a teenager, but it's driven by sensory issues as much as anything else. I feel queasy at meat's texture, and I feel ill after I've had it. Crisp pepperoni, beef jerky and Krystal burgers, the least fleshlike of meat products, were the last to leave my diet. I should have more empathy for that reason alone.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:52 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


chinese_fashion: ha, American in Southeast Asia is the much better analogy I was thinking of, too.
posted by ctmf at 2:53 PM on January 16


I have a theory that there's some ingrained algorithm in the brain that's in charge of classifying things as Food and Not Food, and that it's responsible for both picky eating and cultural/religious food taboos. It makes a lot of evolutionary sense to be reluctant to try new things, because they could kill you. And it makes some sense to have food aversions so strong that you can't rationalize your way out of them even if you're really, really hungry, because eating rotting meat or poisonous plants will kill you quicker than starving will. Picky eating is just a survival mechanism gone slightly haywire. Back in the day, those of us who weren't squeamish would be less likely to starve but more likely to get food poisoning; nowadays the picky eaters are at a bigger disadvantage, but that's really just an artifact of modern civilization.

I wonder whether it would be possible to use drugs to overcome picky eating? Might some people find that their aversions temporarily disappear when they use marijuana or psychedelics or ecstasy, allowing them to experiment with new foods?
posted by fermion at 2:59 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


> I can't speak on people on the spectrum, or people who at least know and acknowledge that their pickiness is unusual.

I completely understand the type of people that you were talking about, but I think when there are so many stories of "this might be a legit issue for people but not the people that I know who are picky eaters" then it works against actually acknowledging that it's two separate things even if you explictily state that you know it is.

I've done a lot of googling to try to find a study to link to that appeared to show that we absorb less nutrients from unfamiliar food that give us feelings of disgust. I imagine it would be similar for folks with unpreditable and extreme aversions to food. (I think I read about it in Nina Planck's Real Food, which is a great resource for anyone interested in eating competence as taught by Ellyn Satter.) The gist of it was that when we encounter unfamiliar foods that we have some digust for, with the example of a Japenese and an American person swapping typical meals with foods we haven't encountered before, our body doesn't derive the same nutritious value out of it. This fascinated me, and it also makes me want to push back on the idea that somehow USians are the only squeamish ones about food. It's not an unusual reaction if you come across something like crickets!

Apologies that I can't find a link to the study so I could go into more details. If anyone has any idea what study I'm talking about, I'd love to save the link.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 3:00 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Would the sight and the smell never bother you? Would you be able to remain polite and cheerful all the time and never make a negative comment?

I literally can't imagine being so disgusted by someone's chosen meal that'd I'd say something to them unprovoked. I'm imagining a friend happily eating worms, and I don't see how I'd want to dash his spirits telling him his food is gross. But I don't really get that viscerally disgusted by food, so that's not a fair comparison (I.e. I'm sure stuff is easier to brush off when it doesn't happen too often). If offered I'd decline though, maybe with a bit of a face.

The closest I've come to that was a brief period where I could not eat pine nuts after an overload during a trip abroad. The idea of eating a salad with pine nuts made me queasy. But the idea of other people eating pine nuts wasn't disgusting, so again, not the same thing.

I'd probably be happy to abstain from certain foods for someone I dined with occasionally. But if they waited until after I ordered and were snarky about it I'd probably not eat with them again. I don't see someone making a face when I offer them food that they don't like as problematic (it'll help me remember not to offer it to them in the future).

I don't know if I could happily live with someone who had a lot of restrictions as to what I could eat in my home. I do avoid making cabbage when my husband is home, but that's the one dish he really doesn't like to be around. If my spouse made vomiting noises at my choice of food, I'd probably hit my limit fast (that sounds like hell to me, I'm so sorry saucysalt).

Tl;Dr: I'd be polite about worms, but after reading the thread I realize that's probably because, as a none picky eater, I don't have the same reaction to food I don't like.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:02 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


When his brain is working well and lets him eat, he eats.

Wow, I have never put it in those exact terms, but this is what happens to me too, although I am not a picky eater. I just, I get anxiety and when I'm super anxious there are only some foods that feel "safe", for lack of a better term. For example, when I get anxious eating out in public, I always order a BLT with french fries because those are known quantities and I will always be able to eat that. It was my standard first-date-at-a-restaurant food. But if I'm relaxed and calm, I can eat basically anything.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:05 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


ernielundquist, I don't do it much anymore, but earlier in life I was very often in your situation. I made it a habit to make a lot of different dishes for each meal, Mediterranean/Asian style, and I almost always still do if I have guests over. If you have ten people over for dinner, you can make two or three chickens, or you can make one roast chicken and some cold cuts and a simple veggie stew, and then some starch and bread and some salads. It's not a lot more work, and it takes out the stress of thinking of each individual's needs. Some people will have it all, and some will just have a slice of cucumber and a bowl of rice, but the set-up gives the responsibility back to your guests.
Maybe you do this already, if so, please ignore.
posted by mumimor at 3:05 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


chinese_fashion: I also am reminded of the time I made curried goat at a friend's house for a dinner gathering and had to endure his wife (not really a traveler or culturally adventurous person) saying "it stunk up the whole house,"

Countess Elena: I would think something like, "well maybe if they didn't watch Fox News all the time, they'd eat something besides a plain burger for once." That was unkind of me.


These two comments (plus my own experience with entitled picky eaters) made me think of the whole "conservative brains react more strongly to disgusting images" thing discussed in this previously.

My ancedata seems consistent with this: I have lots of friends who don't like various foods. Most of them keep it on the DL. Of the ones who inflict their pickiness on others, I can only think of one who votes Democrat -- and that person is definitely on the Blue Dog end of the scale.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:18 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


Man, I feel for these people. I was a super picky eater as a child and eventually expanded the foods I would eat, but I was well into adulthood (like, in my 30s) before that happened. But I still have a couple of things I absolutely cannot eat. That would work fine if they were slightly odd foods, like sweetbreads or something, or stuff lots of people don't like, like cilantro. But the ones that give me the trouble are melted cheese and any soup except for clear broth. The smell of a grilled cheese sandwich will literally make me gag, and don't even get me started on egg and cheese sandwiches. Sadly for me, melted cheese is assumed to be one of those foods that's universally loved. I've gotten a lot of really condescending, judgmental comments about it from people who seem to think that I do it to annoy them or something. They tend to react as if I said, "Oh, thanks, but I don't really enjoy fun." One lady told me, with a totally straight face, that not liking mac and cheese was the same as hating children, and she was actually not joking.

So it can actually be quite anxiety provoking to go to someone's house for dinner, as it's extremely common to serve lasagna for dinner, or to start with soup, or both. As a corollary, people usually, at least in my experience, take offense if you politely decline something they're serving; the worst of them actually shame you in front of the other guests (had that happen to me just this weekend, in fact).

A cardinal rule in my own household is that you do not comment on other people's food choices, full stop, unless they are actually about to eat something that will cause them immediate harm. Similarly, you do not comment disapprovingly if someone politely declines food, even if you slaved over the hot stove all day making it. I have never for the life of me understood why people feel perfectly free to comment on what anyone else eats, especially since it's pretty well known that the topic is fraught for many.
posted by holborne at 3:34 PM on January 16 [19 favorites]


A cardinal rule in my own household is that you do not comment on other people's food choices, full stop, unless they are actually about to eat something that will cause them immediate harm. Similarly, you do not comment disapprovingly if someone politely declines food, even if you slaved over the hot stove all day making it. I have never for the life of me understood why people feel perfectly free to comment on what anyone else eats, especially since it's pretty well known that the topic is fraught for many.

This is a great rule and I wish other people followed it. A comment like the ones you're describing, even a comparatively mild one, is enough to make me go from FOOD to NO FOOD. I just feel like everyone's watching me!
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:39 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Declining food that was cooked or brought it was definitely not an option for us. Unless you had an allergy, you ate at least a little of what was placed in front of you, or you went to bed hungry.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:44 PM on January 16


One lady told me, with a totally straight face, that not liking mac and cheese was the same as hating children, and she was actually not joking.

This is interesting to me, holborne, because as a life-long mac and cheese hater (who grew up with two siblings who loved it, and ate a lot of plain noodles (and one time even tried ketchup as a sauce) as a child) I've never gotten that reaction. People are surprised, sure, and maybe they were trying to shame me, but it's only ever come across as something in good fun... probably because mac and cheese, in particular, is not exactly health food.

And I live in a place where "hot dish" is a word that people use, so it's not like I don't do a fair amount of declining to eat people's proud, cheese-based, culinary conglomerations*.

But... while I am always very clear to ennunciate "no cheese" when I'm ordering a burger, and I have no qualms whatsoever about sending back the cheeseburger that gets foisted on me a good 15% of the time, I'll never audibly gag or make anyone else feel like I think what they are eating is gross.

*Admittedly, sometimes it's fun to freak the squares by showing up to potlucks with Abomination Casserole (vegan mac and cashew puree with italian sausage) which is some damn good eating, if I do say so myself.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:50 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I have a gag-feeling with certain foods, and I'm certain it's some kind of spectrum thing because I also physically gag if I touch certain fabrics that are textured: crushed velvet, regular velvet, especially thick terry cloth/towels, but most of all -- CORDUROY.

Like, I can reach behind me to feel for something I've dropped in my movie chair and if I accidentally touch corduroy or another thick textured fabric, I will physically jerk the opposite direction and dry-heave.

My assumption was always that some food aversions came from the same place the fabric texture gross-out gets triggered from in me -- weirdly, it's almost exclusively salad that makes me gag. Again, I believe it to be a texture problem: so many different textures coated with a dressing that gives them a weird, heterogenous mouthfeel. I've managed to overcome it (mostly), but sometimes I'll just try to eat my One Favorite Salad Ever, then still gag and push it aside.

There are other foods I won't eat, but that's mostly down to seafood repeatedly giving me iodine or food poisoning. Throw up seafood often enough and you'll never eat it again!

I also have to touch literally every lettuce or spinach leaf if I'm making it to ensure no slime leaves infiltrate, which means I only order One Favorite Salad Ever in public and it's not always a sure thing. Damn I really want to eat healthier, this is dumb. I'm kind of embarrassed by it... but this is a sharing place, so I shared. Best of luck to everyone else with weird texture gross-out issues! I understand where y'all are coming from, truly.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:55 PM on January 16 [10 favorites]


Thanks, murimor. I posted prematurely. I was typing but looking the other way for a second, when I accidentally posted. I edited out my nonsensical sentence stubs and considered posting again to make my conclusion, but then I thought, "Meh." But I guess I should complete my thought.

Anyway, I was going to say that it's not that big a deal, because while my friends are varyingly picky, if dinner's a little too spicy, they can just add rice to dilute it, and if there are mushrooms in something, the mushroom disliker can either pick them out or just eat them anyway. It's already a fair amount of work and expense cooking for a bunch of people every week. I don't think I could keep it up if I had to make multiple dishes every week, and I wouldn't want to have someone insulting me and the rest of my friends by being visibly disgusted with what we were eating. And also, I wouldn't want people's severely limited food requirements to dominate our choices. I'm especially good at soups and curries and things like that, and those are the kinds of things my friends and family like best. If I had to switch to bland foods to accommodate one person, everyone else would miss out on what they like.

It's not that I don't like people just for being picky eaters, and it's not that I haven't had friends who had serious food aversions, but I don't have the capacity to accommodate someone's food preferences if they can't be a little flexible and accommodate others. And I also would not be willing to cook for someone with a serious food allergy, simply because I can't accommodate that either. It's not my job, and I don't think it's a reasonable request for me to do more work. I'm just making dinner for my friends.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:56 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I am not a very picky eater. There are things I don't particularly like, but I totally understand and sympathize with people who can't stand the idea of eating things. To me it just seems like a far outlier of an experience most people have.

Two data points from my own life:

First: In college I was walking to class one day, eating a banana, when I suddenly realized I was done with bananas. I wasn't disgusted by bananas or repulsed. I was just done. I threw away the half banana I had left and went about my life. In the twenty years since I think I've eaten a total of one and a half bananas. One half as a "test" to see if I still didn't like bananas. The other to be polite one day. I still feel done with bananas.

The difference of this feeling, and being totally unable to eat a food, even one you previously disliked, just seems one of degrees to me.

Second: I lived in Algeria as a child and there was a soup at a restaurant I adored. I remember it vividly. A clear stock with vegetables. A clean, fresh taste, but subtle with a full umami undergirding. It was fantastic.

I also remember the act of cooking fish sticks and being excited to eat them. I do not, incidentally, actually remember eating fish sticks.

As an adult I loath seafood. I don't remember when I stopped eating fish sticks, and I was aghast when my father informed me that the soup I remember was a fish stock soup. The soup of my memory is nothing like how fish tastes to me today.

So, something happened in my growth that changed the way foods to me taste. Fishiness is the opposite of subtle to me today. Although I recognize people like fish, I know the subjective experience they are having when eating fish-y food is not like mine. Believe me, if fish tasted like it does to me to everyone else, no one would eat it. Absolutely no one.

Again, this experience to seems like a difference of degree of what happens to picky eaters, not a mysterious ailment at all.

The problem is one of health, which I think could be helped with vitamins (if they can take pills) for the most part, and sympathy (both toward and from the picky eaters: no one should be making vomiting sounds and calling other people's foods disgusting).
posted by bswinburn at 5:00 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I would pay real actual cash dollars money to fix whatever in my head makes me a picky eater, because then, maybe, maybe then people would leave me alone about it.

I don't shame others for eating whatever food they like. I don't somehow restrict people to only go to the one bland-ass restaurant I can eat at. (Picky eater + food allergies + introversion = I don't eat out, period.) I'm not a "princess", which is a delightfully misogynistic term I'm loving seeing all over this post. I just want to eat my handful of acceptable foodthings in peace. And yet, being a picky eater is this big goddamn problem that people have to solve, because heaven forfend I don't like [some damn thing or another].

Somehow, being a picky eater and being a rude fussbudget have merged in this post. I'd rather folk put the assholes back in their bucket and go back to focusing on the picky eaters, who are not picky-eating at anybody, it turns out.
posted by XtinaS at 5:05 PM on January 16 [25 favorites]


The soup of my memory

You stay off of my turf
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 5:25 PM on January 16 [73 favorites]


I don't think this is one that's going to get solved in a comments thread - picky eating itself seems to be a spectrum like gluten intolerance/allergy, where the people at the rude fussbudget end really make things hard for the people at the legit-it-will-kill-me end.

In my specific case, with my specific sibling - the only one that I feel qualified to comment on here, as I believe I have made very clear - it just bugs me because it's really the only (big) sticking point in an otherwise loving relationship with my sister. Nobody makes me laugh the way she does, nobody shares the same parents and memories and love. The rockiness of our early years has smoothed out, for the most part, and we can appreciate each other for our similarities and our differences -- except when it's time to find a place to eat together.

This sudden, unpredictable revulsion thing further limits the ways we can get close, in a world where those opportunities are already few. We live in different states now and she's got two (adorable) little kids.

I don't know what's acceptable or unacceptable to her, and the list is kept only inside her head and it seems to only grow as time passes.

I want to show her all the awesome secret NYC hole-in-the-wall places I've discovered, the kinds of spots where you enter a room and suddenly you're in another country, having an adventure together without even getting out your passport. It's something I love doing with the people I love the most, and she's on the shortest list of those people - but if we are really going to bond as adults, it's more likely going to have to be only within her comfort zone, on her terms, and sometimes I resent that she's not as willing to visit my world.

Food can be all of these things, or at least it is to me, and that's the real barrier that I"m talking about here. It's one thing if someone says "I have all these allergies, sorry," or "I know this is weird for you, but it's who I am." But when someone just acts like you should know and you're supposed to deal with it, it feels like a fundamental rejection of either my values or the things that cause me joy.

It only hurts when it's someone you love or want to love - I really don't care what some other random commenter does with their mouth and life.

But I wonder: do rude fussbudgets ever think of themselves as rude fussbudgets, or do you think they say "I'm just a picky eater and an introvert?"

And, as the person who introduced "princess" to the thread: would it be misogynist if I were talking about my little brother and said he was being a little prince-y?
posted by chinese_fashion at 6:06 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Princesses basically have to eat what they're offered and smile and like it while the paparazzi snap a billion pictures and if they grimace it turns into an international incident of WHY DOESN'T PRINCESS KATE LIKE POUTINE, DOES SHE HATE CANADA? so it just seems inaccurate.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 PM on January 16 [38 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: I admit it, I lol'd.
posted by XtinaS at 6:22 PM on January 16


After many years of flirting with the idea, I decided to become a vegan. It always aligned with my ethics, but every time I'd tried it in the past, I relapsed and started devouring meat, again. Then I started having some weight-related health problems, and I new I had to make a change.

I was lucky enough to get to work with Ray Cronise, the guy who helped Penn Jillette lose 100lbs. He helped me switch to a plant-based diet (and lose 50lbs). It's now been seven month since I've tasted an animal product, and it's pretty clear to me I'm going to be vegan for the rest of my life.

I'm autistic and an extremely picky eater. I rarely think any food is "just okay." I either love it or it makes me gag. Lots of things people call "food" seem more like turpentine or feces to me.

Included in this list of untouchables are tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, mustard, and vinegar. Try being a vegan without ever eating those foods. 70% of my options are gone. Vegan restaurants are pretty much out.

Vinegar is an especially big problem, because I'm not just a vegan; I'm a vegan who, under Ray's tutelage, eats no added sugar, salt, or oil. I eat salad as my main meal--huge amounts of it every day. I can't eat cheese-based dressings, and I can't eat oil-based dressings. Which leaves me with vinegar. Vinegar is the one standard dressing allowed on my diet, but, unfortunately, even a tiny amount makes me gag.

Yet somehow I've managed to slowly build up a collection of recipes I like, including a home made, nut-based dressing. (Cashews, pecans, dates, garlic, and almond milk.) I prepare all my food myself and almost never eat in restaurants, but I manage. And I love what I eat. The pleasure I get from foods I like is of equal intensity to the hatred I feel for the food that disgusts me. All of my reactions are extreme, but there are positive as well as negative extremes.

And, this month, I'm trying a new experiment. Somehow, mushrooms* went from making me gag to being "just" disgusting. So I've decided to make myself eat some every day for 30 days. I'm 16 days in. Each day, before lunch, I eat about ten mushrooms, and, very gradually, they've become tolerable. It's a tiny bit of progress. I would now describe them as "bad," which is a lot better than "not even a food." Though the idea of eating more than ten is pretty daunting.

* People who are less picky keep telling me that I should eat this or that sort of mushroom, because "they don't taste like mushrooms." Portobellos are often on that list. But you what my problem is with portobello mushrooms? They taste like mushrooms. (I have the same issue with beer, which is just about the only alcoholic drink I loath. I've gotten to the point where I just go ahead and say "... and that includes dark beer." If I don't, people will insist that I try it, because "it doesn't take like beer." Yes, it does!)
posted by grumblebee at 6:33 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Somewhere I saw the answer to why adults like coffee and beer, and it was: around college, your baby tastebuds fall out and you get your adult tastebuds. These people rolled a natural one on the adult tastebuds.

I'm certain this stuff is hormonal, to a certain extent. (Other people in the article seem like they have hormonal but also brain chemistry/structure differences and power/control issues. It's definitely not one thing.) But in my case: before puberty: fish is food, some of it is tasty. After puberty: POISON. I was the same way with maple syrup until I had some hormonal changes as an adult; I like maple syrup now. Fish still tastes like Not Food, but I can be in the same room since the change.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:40 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Princesses basically have to eat what they're offered

One of the many, many reasons I will never run for high office is that a vegetarian is basically disqualified in this country. Candidates have to go to the top local BBQ joint or diner and have a big greasy bait of whatever is on offer. To do any differently would be un-American.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:41 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


@grumblebee - I'm a big mushroom fan, personally. Like I have grown various strains, none of them psychedelic. And I have very little experience with autism myself, so I hope I come across as sympathetic here.

When you say "try mushrooms," how do you cook them? I've found that one kind or another takes on the flavor of what it's prepared with, and that "sweating" them before adding garlic, olive oil, etc, breaks down the original flavor into something a lot more palatable.

It's great to read that you're on a journey here, and working to expand your comfort zone.
posted by chinese_fashion at 6:44 PM on January 16


The problem is, no matter how you cook them, they still retain a little of their mushroom flavor (which I dislike) and their mushroom texture (which I also dislike).

I think that's what non-picky eaters have trouble understanding. A teeny, tiny, fingernail-sized bit of mustard on the end of a spoon makes me gag. The only way to make me like mustard--or mushrooms--is if they have none of their original taste at all.

Truth is, I have had them chopped up into minuscule pieces and mixed in with a so many other strong-tasting ingredients, I couldn't taste them. And that was fine. But, to me, that doesn't count. It doesn't get me any closer to being able to tolerate them without all that masking.
posted by grumblebee at 6:58 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Another way of putting it: when a food disgusts me, there's generally no version of it that's more palatable. Just as there's no version of feces that's more palatable. Feces is still disgusting, even if you mix it with cinnamon and chocolate. When I say that the foods I hate are as disgusting to me as eating shit, that's not metaphor or hyperbole.

Mushrooms may be the rare exception. They're "just" bad to me. But I don't know how to even begin trying vinegar or mustard.
posted by grumblebee at 7:01 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


But I wonder: do rude fussbudgets ever think of themselves as rude fussbudgets, or do you think they say "I'm just a picky eater and an introvert?"

I think you're saying that people like me aren't what you're calling "rude fussbudgets," but I'll say that I hate being the way I am, and if someone could cure me of my food aversions, I'd gladly give him thousands of dollars. I'd empty my bank account. Because it really, really sucks.

And it's just one bit of suckiness in an autistic sea of suckiness. Luckily, I've grown out of the social problems, so most folks don't even know (or believe) that I'm on the spectrum, but the sensory issues awful.

Everything bothers me, and it seems to get worse with age. I can't stand light that's too bright, light that's too dim, noise that's too loud, noise that's too quiet, etc. When I watch TV, I have to continually adjust the volume. What's "a little too loud" to most people is intensely painful to me. As is noise that's "a little too quiet." Eating certain foods is equally painful to me.

I continually berate myself to "man up" and "just get over it," which seems to make it worse. And that makes me hate myself. I feel like I should be able to control my reactions better.

I try not to make a fuss about it. I rarely talk about it. Most people don't know about all my food issues. I avoid the subject. I make excuses.
posted by grumblebee at 7:11 PM on January 16 [16 favorites]


I think you're saying that people like me aren't what you're calling "rude fussbudgets," but I'll say that I hate being the way I am, and if someone could cure me of my food aversions, I'd gladly give him thousands of dollars. I'd empty my bank account. Because it really, really sucks.

Yep.

I continually berate myself to "man up" and "just get over it," which seems to make it worse. And that makes me hate myself. I feel like I should be able to control my reactions better.

Yep. It's so god damned difficult to not practice negative self-talk. Even when you're being consciously careful, even when you know it doesn't work, even when you know better ways. It's just such an ingrained habit after decades of doing it.

Self-improvement is one of those things that happens both non-linearly and at a glacially slow pace. For people who already have next to no self-esteem and no self-efficacy it's like being in a cage. The worst part of it is that the warden who holds the key is yourself and you're the only one who can let yourself out of the cage.
posted by Talez at 7:18 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I guess I'm what you'd call a picky eater. Always have been. I'm better about some foods now (I can tolerate small amounts of tomatoes and greens if necessary) but had to give up others (eggs make me queasy to just think about now while I used to eat them several times a week). And it's been a strong source of shame and self-loathing in my life. A shame that got a lot of help from the taunts and humiliation I received from those around me telling me I was just being difficult.

If I could simply change my life to be able to eat something unfamiliar and decide yes tasty or no not tasty, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But if I'm trying something new, I know there's a good chance I'll gag and maybe throw up in my mouth. So when I do try it I do it in private (see above re shame). It's not that I feel I'm a special person who needs his food preferences catered to. It's that I don't want to gross other people out with sudden uncontrollable vomiting. So as it is I mostly just avoid going out to dinner as that's the "safe" option. Which is isolating. But making my problems known to other people has traditionally in my past led to mockery and eye rolling and a whole lot of negative judgment.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:36 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Malla As for this being a cultural construct, again, my son was like this in INFANCY. Unable to eat, obviously repulsed. He was almost hospitalized because he lost so much weight, and couldn't be made to nurse. He would just thrash and then literally pass out.

On the topic of third world and cultures, I can't help but wonder if conditions like this might be at least partially responsible for some of the myths of changelings? European folklore held that sometimes fairies would steal a baby and replace it with a changeling, a thing that looked and acted like a baby but, since it was fairy made or a fairy in disguise (details varied from myth to myth) it couldn't eat human food.

Sounds like a pre-modern way of trying to explain a kid with food aversions to me.

Presumably for most of history the people afflicted with that disorder just died because medical science hadn't advanced to the point where they could be treated or fed without eating. IIRC there was a story here on the blue a few years back about a kid who had such a food aversion that he survived only by having surgery that allowed his parents to pour liquid food directly into his stomach. In a prior era, or a less advanced nation, the kid would just have been another mysterious infant death.
posted by sotonohito at 7:40 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Yeah, after seeing people throw around phrases like "rude fussbudget," I'm going to go ahead and note that my preferences have never caused me to veto anyone's choice of restaurant,* or make gagging noises at other people's food, or force people to not order something because I didn't care for it, or what have you. I don't insist that people work around my preferences -- never have. Because, you know, there's a difference between being a decent human with odd food preferences and having an obnoxious sense of entitlement.

*ok, fine, you got me: I once vetoed dinner at an actual mac and cheese restaurant that had literally nothing on the menu other than, you guessed it, mac and cheese.
posted by holborne at 7:46 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


Because, you know, there's a difference between being a decent human with odd food preferences and having an obnoxious sense of entitlement.

Agreed. I have odd food preferences on top of mild sensory issues in addition to food sensitivities. I try to make up for that by having default-food for various restaurant food-categories, so that when I'm with friends and we're ordering food, I don't have to stand out as "that rude fussbudget who's going to Make A Fuss".

The only time I've ever required that people not eat a certain food around me, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, and the smell of meat would set off my nausea something hideous. My partners could not cook or eat meat in the house for three months. We were all glad when that was over.
posted by XtinaS at 9:08 PM on January 16


A couple people in this thread have mentioned disliking fish or seafood. This is another interesting thing: I grew up in Louisiana, and until I left, I never met anyone who claimed to dislike all seafood. When I finally did - and it was someone who didn't think of themself as a picky eater - it sounded completely bizarre to me, like saying you dislike foods that start with the letter R: I mean, it's a ridiculously broad category of foods that to me have basically nothing in common, flavor-wise. Salmon tastes nothing like shrimp or catfish or crab! If you dislike them all that's fine, but it's four separate food dislikes, it's not as if they form a meaningful single flavor category! But people in the Midwest seemed to think "I don't like seafood" as a blanket statement makes perfect sense and is even pretty common.

Anyway, I'd be interested to see some sort of breakdown of how different cultures categorize foods, and how that affects picky eater palates - I'd guess disliking seafood as a broad category is extremely rare if not unknown in coastal cultures, and probably there are other, completely different groupings of foods that are widely disliked.
posted by waffleriot at 9:11 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I have a colleague who eats from a very limited selection of foods. One time we were on a road trip together and through poor planning we had to eat out on the road, so I asked if she ever eats out. Yes, she has a Chinese place she goes to that worked with her to make a special dish she'll eat. It's boiled white meat chicken and steamed rice, they call it "chicken no taste."

I convince her that any Chinese restaurant will be able to make it, and she's hesitant but agrees to give it a try. We find a Chinese restaurant and she starts describing her special dish and the server cuts her off, "You want chicken no taste?" Yes, chicken no taste. Her mind is blown, chicken no taste is a universal off-menu item.

So now she eats out at different Chinese restaurants all the time for a change in ambience, but always orders the same thing, chicken no taste.
posted by peeedro at 9:43 PM on January 16 [27 favorites]


"I mean, it's a ridiculously broad category of foods that to me have basically nothing in common, flavor-wise. Salmon tastes nothing like shrimp or catfish or crab! If you dislike them all that's fine, but it's four separate food dislikes, it's not as if they form a meaningful single flavor category! But people in the Midwest seemed to think "I don't like seafood" as a blanket statement makes perfect sense and is even pretty common."

Hello, I am a Midwesterner who doesn't eat seafood! And the thing they have in common is, they all smell like seafood. The other thing they have in common is that when I was growing up in the 80s, we did not have good seafood in Illinois -- it was frozen, shipped in, smelled off, smelled old, smelled fishy. Very offputting.

Now I will actually eat (fresh) salmon or (supermarket) tuna if I don't have other choices -- they're all right -- but I won't eat shellfish at all, which is a combination of having grown up in a fairly Jewish town where nobody ate shellfish -- the supermarket didn't carry it and people never served shrimp cocktail at parties -- so I wasn't exposed to it basically at all until college; and the first time I was exposed to it, back East, I ate a bad crab and, well, that was that for me and shellfish. (I also had very limited exposure to pork, incidentally, although as Catholics we tended to have ham on Easter. Never had a pork hot dog until I went to college; was duly horrified when I did. All-beef franks 4 lyfe.)

My husband's from Florida (we live in the Midwest) and he constantly fucking orders the fish when we go out to eat and then every timeis like, "Ugh, this is not very good fish" and I'm like "BECAUSE IT IS EITHER SOME GROSS LOCAL RIVER BOTTOMFEEDER OR IT'S BEEN ON A TRAIN FOR THREE DAYS, WHY DO YOU KEEP ORDERING IT?"

(Anyway you can get good fish now in the Midwest if you're picky about where you shop/eat, but it's too late for me to learn. I am grateful for the ever-spreading vegetarian contingent because now I can go to seafood places with friends and be confident that they'll have a veggie pasta, whereas that was not always true in the past and I'd have to ask if they could do a surf-and-turf with no surf.)

My parents and siblings all eat and like seafood. But they didn't have a bad crab on their first try, so ... My kids eat it and like it too, they just cook it with dad on nights I'm not home so I don't have to smell it cooking, because then I don't want to eat at all because of the smell.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:03 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


Brains are super weird. Just wanted to share this recent NY Times article on bariatric surgery, not because it talks about picky eaters, but because it turns out that the surgery works in part because it cuts out a bit of stomach that controls 500 genes, including the production of bile acids, hunger hormones, and presumably causes a shift in the entire gut biome.

Their appetite levels change overnight, not because of the mechanical changes, but because their brain/endocrine system has changed. Hunger and food preferences are not 100% under conscious control. It's great that people have shared in this thread that some folks can make slow changes to how their brains/guts react to things. I don't like to admit that in some ways we are just riders in a robot body controlled by bacteria and genes and twitchy neurons, but it does help me feel more understanding to folks who experience restricted eating.
posted by troyer at 10:25 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


And the thing they have in common is, they all smell like seafood.

That sounds to me like "the thing roast beef and ratatouille have in common is, they both smell like foods that start with R" - I mean, I guess I can see it in the sense that they both smell like food? - but okay.
posted by waffleriot at 11:27 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Well, if you say something smells "fishy" or "fruity" people will know what you mean, despite both of those being very broad categories. If you say something smells "like an 'R' food" you're just going to elicit confusion.
posted by Pyry at 12:14 AM on January 17


This book By Bee Wilson is marketed as being about raising kids who have a healthy relationship with food. But it turns out to be just as much an extremely readable and interesting a survey of existing research on contemporary therapeutic treatments for both children and adults with extremely limited (even as few as one or two food) diets due to exactly the kinds of issues being related here. It's a good read and I suspect of interest to anyone here who wonders about the neuro/cultural/shame/pleasure systems that influence our eating.
posted by Lisitasan at 3:11 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]


I love seafood, but I think salmon, shrimp, catfish, and crab have related tastes. It's why, if I asked you to serve me seafood, I'd be happy with any of those options but unhappy with chicken, hamburger, or cherry pie.

It's possible that all seafood tastes like seafood to me, because I've been conditioned since birth to put them in a single mental category. (They all on the same menu at seafood restaurants.) Or it's possible that they do have some flavor, smell, or texture in common.

I grew up in Louisiana, and until I left, I never met anyone who claimed to dislike all seafood.


You may be a connoisseur. In which case what's going on might be the opposite. It's possible your brain has been trained to pick up on nuance--and to interpret the nuance as extreme differences.

I've been studying and directing Shakespeare plays for 30 years. I know that, to many people, all Shakespeare plays are kind of the same, but I can barely experience them as being related. I'm so focused on their unique properties that the question "Do you want to see a Shakespeare play?" has little meaning to me. And as a lifelong movie fan--and the son of a film historian--I'm baffled by the category "old, black-and-white" movie. To me, "Stagecoach" and "Top Hat" have nothing in common.

Whereas, though I love wine, I'm a philistine. My only categories for wine are good and bad. Wine connoisseurs taste huge differences between different types and different brands. My brain can't pick up on them.

I'm also the opposite of a connoisseur when it comes to sports. It amazes me that there are people who love football but hate baseball. To me, they're essentially the same. And the thing is, we're both right, me and the sports connoisseur. Baseball has totally different rules than football. But they're both competitive games that involve balls, teams, and uniforms. The connoisseur sees (or tastes) different things than the philistine.
posted by grumblebee at 3:30 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]


This whole thing makes so much more sense to me after having experienced some food aversions while pregnant. There are things like eggs and sausage that I normally love, but during pregnancy they literally made me gag if I tried to eat them.

It did not feel like I was being "picky" or "princessy," it felt like things that I previously liked and wanted to like had overnight turned into revolting non-food. It did not feel like something I could ignore or overcome with willpower.
posted by beandip at 4:12 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


I'm curious if these sorts of picky eating issues happen in less developed nations, too - I've never met people from Asia, India, etc with this sort of issue. And man, it's really hard not to judge it.

There is a youtube video of North Korean refugees eating American BBQ. It's kind of fascinating how they judge the various different regional sauces and how some like the ones that are similar to Korean foods and others seem to enjoy the novel. On refugee does discuss a particular food aversion at one point. So yeah people who are in deprived situations can still develop food aversions.
posted by srboisvert at 6:32 AM on January 17


and the first time I was exposed to it, back East, I ate a bad crab and, well, that was that for me and shellfish.

This is a specific type of aversion. In psychology it is called Prepared Learning or Preparedness- basically our brains are wired to discover poison reactions and pretty much hard code avoiding them in a single trial. It's also known as "Sauce-Bearnaise Syndrome".

Some taste/texture aversions are probably driven by something going wrong in this mechanism.
posted by srboisvert at 6:40 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


This recent subthread about seafood is weird. I like seafood generally as a category and have specific seafood dishes that I prefer to others. I definitely taste the difference between salmon, swordfish, tuna, etc. But I won't go and say they have nothing in common, because they do. Most fish has some level or another of that "fishy" smell. The best (read: freshest) fish has the least amount. But it is totally understandable how someone who has not had broad exposure to good seafood would think that it all tastes (or smells) the same.

If, grumblebee, you are suggesting that someone who is an expert (or at least well-versed) in a field is by definition incapable of seeing the forest for the trees, I must strenuously disagree. And I have serious doubts that you, as a Shakespeare expert, can't see any common threads between his various plays or otherwise understand why someone might lump them together.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:42 AM on January 17


OH one more weird thought -- as a child picky eater, I was so afraid of being disgusted by other people's food when I did sleepovers (as in, acting like an ungrateful asshole in front of my friends' parents) that I simply didn't eat when I was there. At all. The parents got used to it, but man. As an adult, I cringe thinking about it now!

This was true until I was around 13 or 14, and even then I'd usually ask the friend to sneak me snacks like popsicles or pop tarts in their room instead of eating dinner with the family. I just couldn't bear the thought of those people watching me eat and possibly not liking it.

Almost certainly this looked much worse to the parents than me spitting out an onion or asking to only eat one side dish instead of the main, but... that's kid logic for ya, I guess.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:58 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Although I'm an adventurous eater who's strongly driven by novelty, I would never say anything to someone who's a PEA. It's just not polite. And I expect that to work the opposite direction. I was always taught it is the pinnacle of rudeness to tell someone their food looks or smells bad, or to comment in any way on what someone else is putting in their mouth, or to say anything disparaging about what someone else has cooked for you.

My mother-out-law has a very limited diet due to her pickiness but she is also a proper Texan lady. We do give her preferences consideration when we eat out but she also realizes that she is outside the norm and she does her best to find something she can eat, and is graceful about it.

I'm horrified both by those who would shame a picky eater and the picky eaters who would say to someone that their dinner looks or smells disgusting.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:09 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


When I was in second grade (or +/- 1 year) we had one of my best friends and his family over for dinner. My dad had prepared my then favorite dish. It was something with shrimp, rice and tomatoes, although I can't remember the specifics. And my best friend refused to even try it. I became incredibly angry with him and may have even had a meltdown (I was prone to them at that age).

It felt like a rejection of who I was as a person, that it judged something I loved as not even worthy of trying. It said that my tastes were wrong and invalid. I've since gained more perspective and no longer feel that way about food being rejected. However, I think this is where part of the annoyance/anger at PEAs comes from. Upthread, someone equated mushrooms and feces. The thought of eating feces flips the stomach of the vast majority of people (there are enough humans that there are undoubtedly some people who do enjoy it), and I suppose the thought of eating mushrooms does the same for the person who wrote that. At the same time, it did bring back the memory of the experience I described earlier, with a brief thought of "wait, you're saying I enjoy eating dog shit?"

I think it's like the annoying cyclist problem. There are a few annoying cyclists, and those are the people everyone (who doesn't ride a bike) remembers. I'm sure I know plenty of people who are PEAs. In fact, I don't think I've ever known someone who was offended by what I was ordering. But the stories that permeate our culture and the occasional policing PEA are what people think of when they picture a picky/selective eater. We don't see the shame, frustration and anxiety that they feel when confronted with unpalatable food.

I'd also like to echo Lisitasan's recommendation of Bee Wilson's book. She interviewed several picky/selective eaters and their therapists about how it developed for the people and how the treatment is going. It's a great place to continue reading if you're interested in the topic.
posted by Hactar at 8:43 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


Both my parents are of the "choke it down, don't think about the taste" post-Depression-era generation, so they thought I was a picky eater for not eating liver, bluefish (which is like tuna, best served rare) cooked into catfood by a mom who was terrified of parasites and assumed all fish should be cooked like catfish, and eggplant Parmesan that was so slimy I'd gag on it. Pretty much anything else I was fine with, even over-boiled brussel spouts, but that cost me at least 2 trips to Europe because I actually like my food to taste and have a mouthfeel like food. Nothing on this scale, which is truly depressing: food, tasty tasty food, is one of the great pleasures in life, and it sounds like they know what they're missing, but just can't stomach it, literally.

I'm reminded of a cookbook I picked up a while back, it was for Hungarian food, which I associate with spicy goulashes and other heavily spiced dishes, but this one was geared specially at bland foods. There was even a badly-scrawled note (misspellings, bad grammer, horrible penmanship) at the beginning, a note from a man to his wife, explaining that this cookbook would enable her to cook for him, foods he could tolerate, which leads me to believe he may have been one of these APEs.
posted by Blackanvil at 10:31 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Pa Ardship has become a PEA as his dementia has gotten worse. Foods that he used to eat without complaint are now greeted by "I don't care for this" or "yuck."
He'll still eat cookies and PB&J, though, so he's not going to starve any time soon.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 10:31 AM on January 17


One of the many, many reasons I will never run for high office is that a vegetarian is basically disqualified in this country.

Former Representative Dennis Kucinich is (famously) vegan. Senator Corey Booker is vegan, which impresses me to no end. And Joseph Lieberman, who keeps strictly kosher, was also a senator and the Democratic VP candidate.

I normally am a notoriously un-picky eater but had an experience once where I was ravenously hungry, ordered a shrimp po' boy for lunch, and as soon as I started eating found that it might as well have been made out of cardboard and I had to throw it in the trash (and I love shrimp po' boys!). It was interesting, and would probably be great for weight loss, but I can see how feeling like that all the time would be horrible.
posted by phoenixy at 10:52 AM on January 17


re.: fish — I will not eat any seafood if they are more than one day old. I adore seafood, and I could eat it every day. But a very short while after seafood comes out of the sea, it moves over into the gag-reflex eating trash category. That excludes almost all supermarket fish, and all frozen fish that wasn't frozen on the trawler (which is in itself a problematic product category). I prefer buying fish off the boat. And anyone in the Midwest who doesn't like fish seems like a very reasonable person to me*. I've heard oysters are supposed to travel well, but I don't want to test it. The very thought is absolutely disgusting to me.

Maybe there is in general something to discuss about the quality of the food you get as a small child, as you develop your taste. I have literally never met a child who didn't love broccoli. But it seems to be a common trope that kids hate broccoli. That makes me think that the broccoli kids get in my local area is different from that children get in other areas. In the case of broccoli, it may be something about cooking methods, while with fish, it is certainly a case of bad produce.

My youngest child had a friend who was extremely picky, and we always accommodated his needs when he was over for a meal. But one day he and his dad came unannounced, and we were having a lentil stew. It was a green lentil stew, and it just didn't look very nice. But because he trusted we'd never cheat him, he tasted a bite, and he loved it! His dad was astounded. I think that what he liked was that it had a very clean taste. We didn't use any flavor enhancers other than salt and natural herbs and spices that day, maybe for expedience, I don't remember. But many picky children prefer clean tastes, while some types of fine dining celebrate complexity. And some types of "complexity" are in my opinion misguided. Yes, cream is good, tomato is good, wine is good and meat is good. But if you just mix all of them together and add a lot of aromatics, you may well get something which tastes exactly like puke (sorry).

* There might be fresh-water fish, though? I haven't spent much time in the Midwest and not enough to explore local cuisine, but in Germany and the interior of France, they have excellent fresh water fish dishes.
posted by mumimor at 12:46 PM on January 17


I'm sympathetic to picky eaters, and even more so to those with serious food aversions, but it's something that I damn sure want to know about you BEFORE we're at the restaurant.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:17 PM on January 17


I will say, re: wine, it has recently come to my attention that some people - potentially many people - will open a bottle of wine, not finish it, put a cork in it, and leave it sitting around overnight, sometimes even for a couple of days, before drinking the rest. I find that flabbergasting - anything that's been sitting out for more than a couple of hours starts to taste like vinegar to me.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:27 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


I've heard oysters are supposed to travel well, but I don't want to test it.

Ehh... I wouldn't make that gamble. Fish doesn't go squicky for me quite as fast as for you, and the few oysters (at very nice places that are supposed to be the place to get them in the area) I've had in the Midwest and...No. Just no. It seems like a completely different food compared to what I've had on the coast.

Fresh water fish, in my experience, is something you've caught yourself, not gotten at a store. Maybe you have a place with a good pile 'o perch on the menu. But a lot of times fish=fried in the Midwest.

I damn sure want to know about you BEFORE we're at the restaurant.

I've had a couple people blanch a bit at the sight my rare hamburger. I forgive the initial exclamation* as it's not something that people usually expect. I don't flaunt it, and they don't look so we pretend it didn't happen.

*There may be some teasing back and forth, depending on the group.
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:35 PM on January 17


I am basically this way when it comes to anything that doesn't have hot sauce on it. If it doesn't have hot sauce, it isn't food: it's a missed opportunity.

Hot sauce for life.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:58 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


"* There might be fresh-water fish, though? I haven't spent much time in the Midwest and not enough to explore local cuisine, but in Germany and the interior of France, they have excellent fresh water fish dishes."

There are some, but when I was growing up, most of the local waterways were too polluted for eating your caught fish to be safe, and fish stocks weren't really large enough for commercial fishing. It's safe to eat sport-caught fish now in a lot of places (and I can say, those fish do smell a LOT better when people cook them, fresh and fishy rather than stinky and fishy and slightly rotten). There are a handful of really quite small commercial fishing operations now, and most of what they catch is catfish and Asian carp. In the Illinois River, commercial fishermen can catch 40-50 lbs./day of "good" fish, and pay ranges from 7 cents a pound (carp) to 50 cents a pound (catfish), so it's not a hugely viable commercial fishery.

Asian carp are invasive and the catch unlimited and the state will give you technology to help you find them (and even pay an environmental bounty, in addition to what you can sell the fish for), so high-tech operations can catch 1000 lb./day or even more in focused fishing that combines commercial catching with eradication efforts, and sell that in China. (They keep having "eat the Asian Carp" festivals where they have carp-cooking contests, but so far it has not caught on in the US market.) So that's made commercial fishing a little bit more viable, and we have our first fish-processing plant* in decades that has just opened on the Illinois River, that sells local freshwater fish packaged for the African immigrant market, which is pretty neat.

(*I think Purina actually has a couple of fish processing plants in the area for pet food but that's not quite the same, and I think they're primarily grain processing with fish additives.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:50 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Someone upthread posted about the difficulty of feeding a bunch of people with different food requirements, and a friend told me about handling the problem by having a potluck with discussion in advance about what people can eat and a requirement that every dish be thoroughly labeled.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:51 PM on January 17


If, grumblebee, you are suggesting that someone who is an expert (or at least well-versed) in a field is by definition incapable of seeing the forest for the trees, I must strenuously disagree. And I have serious doubts that you, as a Shakespeare expert, can't see any common threads between his various plays or otherwise understand why someone might lump them together.

I understand it intellectually, but it's hard for me to get why someone would say, "I don't like Shakespeare." To me, that's like saying "I don't like weather." What sort of weather? Hot weather? Cold weather? Rainy weather? Windy weather? What sort of Shakespeare? Comedies? Histories? Romances? Tragedies? If it's tragedies, which ones? "Hamlet"? "Lear"? "Macbeth"? "Othello"? Each one is a whole world until itself, and each is wildly different from all the other ones.

I didn't used to feel this way until I'd spent many years studying the plays. When I was younger, I got that they were all different from one another, but their similarities seemed more prominent than their differences. That was back before I regularly spent weeks pondering single lines from "Hamlet."

If I was a seafood connoisseur, I'd probably come to think of each individual fish as being much more unique than alike. In my less expert state, they seem much more similar than different.

I don't need someone to explain to me what "I don't like Shakespeare" means (or could mean). I realize that all the plays, however different, are written in an archaic version of English and in a mixture of verse and prose. My point is that this common ground seems relatively unimportant to me, whereas it once seemed like the main feature.
posted by grumblebee at 4:53 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Regarding becoming pickier as one ages and/or as dementia takes hold, there's also mental health reasons that can cause someone to draw associations between food and feelings (physical or emotional) that are not helpful at best and deadly at worst.

My 80 y.o. mother recently starved herself to death via a lethal combination of untreated anxiety and depression which, coupled with some unfortunate IBS-ish episodes*, transformed her into a person who ate fewer and fewer foods until she would eat nothing at all. The trend began after my father died and started with a few foods disappearing from her diet, which she claimed she had never liked but ate only to keep my father company or provide an example to we kids. [My mother had always tortured my picky eater brother, refusing to let him leave the table until he cleaned his plate of food he hated.] Gradually, more foods disappeared from her repertoire. She also attributed her diet to the travailles of cooking for one. To counter that I would cook her bulk meals to freeze but slowly she stopped eating even her old favorites because they didn't feel safe to her. Then she started lying to us.

In truth, for the past several years, she was down to living on orange juice, cereal with berries, toast, cheese, Triscuits, fish sticks, and frozen French fries, plus a daily shot of bourbon. She claimed the bourbon settled her stomach; we wondered if it was settling her nerves. When she'd go on a guided tour or visit one of her children, her IBS always "miraculously" disappeared, which we put down to someone else being in charge of the food and causing her to eat a more balanced diet; later, as we understood how severe her anxiety had become, we came to realize it was because someone else was in charge of everything. She would not listen to doctors, nutritionists, etc. and refused all entreaties to get therapy.

In October, after an especially excruciating bout of IBS, she found relief by skipping food for a day and laying flat. This became her solution and no amount of pleading or talk of consequences, from us or her friends or her doctors, would result in her taking more than a bite or two. I'll skip over the whole medical/drug/psych intervention that was tried, the hospitalizations, home health aides, visiting nurses, etc.: nothing worked. Eventually we got her to explain that while she wasn't currently in pain or nauseous, she feared that eating food or getting out of a flat position would make her so. From start to finish it took about five weeks before she died and all of it was as awful as you can imagine.

TL;DR Untreated anxiety and depression kills in many ways. Food refusal is one of them.

*She was too ladylike to ever detail her symptoms to us, but she called it IBS. She revered doctors but wouldn't comply with their recommendations, so I have no idea if she could have been helped.
posted by carmicha at 5:57 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


carmicha, I'm sorry for your loss.

I would make a joke about how all seafood has different tastes, but also has an overlay of Just Poison in addition to the unique crab or salmon or whatever taste. But really, the topic is very serious and I feel bad for contributing to a jokey atmosphere about what is really a life-ruining problem to have, much like those people with the imaginary disease where they can sense wifi or have threads growing out of their hands. No actual reason it should be happening, but something was happening to them just the same.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:54 PM on January 17


I will say, re: wine, it has recently come to my attention that some people - potentially many people - will open a bottle of wine, not finish it, put a cork in it, and leave it sitting around overnight, sometimes even for a couple of days, before drinking the rest. I find that flabbergasting - anything that's been sitting out for more than a couple of hours starts to taste like vinegar to me.

It really depends on the wine, and doesn't (to me) seem to depend on price or "quality" (however defined.)

Some red wine goes bad overnight. Some red wine sits fine for a few days. Plenty of red wine tastes better the next day (a good 24 hours decanting.) Of course it's all subjective ... (white wine stored in the fridge can also last a few days, IMO.)

I've know a fair number of guy friends who proclaimed proudly they didn't eat vegetables, i.e. they'd pick out the chicken from the Kung Pao Chicken, etc. They got a little better as they got older, but not much. Those are the junk-food junkie types who get a bit of the eye-roll reaction when they say they don't like something like mushrooms or kale.

My brother had a profound food aversion as a child, compounded by a lactose intolerancy at a time when milk was considered essential for kids, and pizza parties at ChuckECheese were the rage, but I think it was more sensitivity than psychological affliction. He's gotten much better as he's gotten older.

All the super picky eaters I've know have been dudes. Did TFA have any demographic breakdown on PEAs?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:27 PM on January 17


Pa Ardship has become a PEA as his dementia has gotten worse. Foods that he used to eat without complaint are now greeted by "I don't care for this" or "yuck."
He'll still eat cookies and PB&J, though, so he's not going to starve any time soon.


My 100 year old grandmother is getting like this as well. The most recent frustration is that she "doesn't like anything sweet anymore" which she manages to say with a straight face as she eats her half a sugar donut dipped in pure maple syrup. Sweet dough covered in sugar and dipped into more sugar is fine, but a chocolate cake is too sweet?

I've also got some food taste issues. I don't like cheese, which growing up in the US meant that I got very used to saying no cheese as melted cheese comes on everything. I also don't consider fungus a food. The most annoying is when people are trying to get me to eat lasagne or cheesecake because you "can't really taste the cheese". Um yes I can I could with 100% accuracy be able to pick out the cheesecake with the cheese in it vs the cheesecake made with cream and thickened with eggs and cornflour and baked into a nearly identical but much more delicious dessert. Cheese just tastes off to me.
posted by koolkat at 1:29 AM on January 18


Um yes I can I could with 100% accuracy be able to pick out the cheesecake with the cheese in it vs the cheesecake made with cream and thickened with eggs and cornflour and baked into a nearly identical but much more delicious dessert.

Ok, as a fellow "Ew, cheesecake" person, I really feel that I need that recipe right this very second.
posted by holborne at 7:23 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


grumblebee, Have you tried Jain food? It can be really delicious, and once you learn the principles, it can be fairly easy to prepare. It's also a good search term for you, when looking for restaurants/takeouts. I wouldn't be able to have it as my sole source of food, but it is delicious and maybe a good variation from the salads
posted by mumimor at 11:11 AM on January 18


Dear Lord, carmicha, what you wrote is almost word-for-word how my own mother died about a month ago. I am so, so, sorry to hear that she and you had to go through that same terrible process. Big virtual hug and many tears of sympathy.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 11:40 AM on January 18


It could also be my father's story, in the near future, unfortunately. Since my mother's death, he's been losing his appetite in a similar way. I'm now enlightened by the testimony upthread, my consciousness has been raised about the severity of the issue, for those affected by it the worst. Not a First World problem; literature has many examples of young people with enough food available, who wasted away anyway. Now we know why, and I'm glad science is able to alleviate at least some of this suffering, today.

I'll gag and maybe throw up in my mouth.
In my circle growing up, we called this 'barficide'.

posted by Rash at 1:59 PM on January 18


Unicorn on the Cob I adore your comment from above. I too have serious texture issues and just the thought of the dreaded corduroy makes me cringe. I've always felt alone in that. I also returned pillows recently because when I got home the velvet was too....bumpy or something cringe-inducing.

Like others here I have one aversion, which I think is largely mental (as in controllable if I tried, which I won't). Turns out that a "no meat on the bone" aversion is a big problem when someone proudly serves you Cornish game hen. Which as I found out way too late is not like a chicken breast at all. It is an ENTIRE CARCASS on your plate! I have always disliked bones, but the aversion started the time I had soft shell crab with new friends at a new school. I got through the crab dinner, but that kicked my carcass problem into high gear. And the unfortunate Cornish game hen was months months later.

I also have months-long periods where all poultry is out, surely a response to the fact that the childhood answer to what time is dinner was "chicken". That stuff has a weird texture sometimes.

Thanks to everyone who has written in. This is a fascinating thread and I've learned a lot. I assure you I will stop teasing my son for disliking melted cheese, which is virtually inconceivable to me. Cheese in all forms is my favorite, and melted most of all.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 7:50 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Measured: Thank you re the chicken. I don't even know where my aversion comes from, I just know that while I can technically eat it, the texture is incredibly off-putting, and I can't explain it well enough to others to make anything stick.
posted by XtinaS at 8:18 PM on January 18


I have always disliked bones, but the aversion started the time I had soft shell crab with new friends at a new school. I got through the crab dinner, but that kicked my carcass problem into high gear. And the unfortunate Cornish game hen was months months later.

I have no problems with Cornish game hens or any other forms of carcass on my plate, my softshell crabs give me the heebie-jeebies. I'm already kinda iffy when it comes to seafood, but when I see a whole crab deep-fried and placed into a roll I just lose all reason.

Isn't it chitinous??? Crunchy in a bad way? DOESN'T IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU HIT A PIECE OF SHELL IN AN EGG SALAD SANDWICH*?!?!?!

* (If I hit shell in an egg salad sandwich, all bets are off. The sandwich goes in the trash, no matter how much I was enjoying it previously, and I have to fight to keep from throwing up.)
posted by elsietheeel at 8:19 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Thanks, The Ardship of Canbry, for letting me know I'm not alone; heartfelt condolences to you too. And Rash, I'm glad my family's saga (which I worried was a derail) may help your decision-making process vis-a-vis your father's health challenges.
posted by carmicha at 12:56 PM on January 19


> softshell crabs give me the heebie-jeebies

This got me curious, because I've had little baby soft shell crabs before, and don't remember much texture beyond the crumb coating. Apparently chitin by itself isn't particularly hard, it can be thin and flexible like a larva's skin or just firm like a mushroom, and after moulting it takes a crab a couple of days to harden it up with minerals

Anyway here's a video of a lady poking at a recently moulted crab that gave me the screaming abdabs.
posted by lucidium at 2:01 PM on January 19


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