The Politics of the Picky Eater

When I was 18, I started to become a more adventurous eater. Having grown up eating mostly Mexican food, I was ready to broaden my gastronomic horizons when I began college. One weekend, I rounded up a group of people to go to Devon Street for some Indian food and in the process, friends invited their friends, and the group grew. I was very excited for my meal and pleased that it had turned into such an event, but I was soon appalled to learn that these acquaintances only came to hang out and did not order any food. In fact, they went to some fast food restaurant afterwards. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed to be with this group of people. I didn’t understand why you would you go to a restaurant if you were not going to eat. Didn’t they know how rude that was? And why in the world would you limit your palate to fast food?

My attitude towards eating is, perhaps, extreme. I will eat nearly anything given to me. When I studied abroad in the Dominican Republic, my host mother was so pleased with me for being such a good eater. I think that is partly why she told me I was her favorite student in the 30 years she had been hosting. And it became a point of pride for me, my eating.

Part of my impatience with picky eaters may have to do with the fact that I have seen extreme poverty. When someone scowls at a plate of food because “it’s too weird,” I want to tell them that they should be grateful for even having food. I would also like to say “Just eat the effing thing already!”

I am, however, aware that unfortunately some people have dietary restrictions and that those with autism sometimes have a difficult time with food. I also know that children are grossed out by certain foods. (I remember meat used to make me gag when I was young.) I’m not talking about them, though. I’m talking about those who will make a face if you eat anything besides a hamburger or chicken tenders. I am talking about the close minded, those devoid of culinary adventure or imagination.

I remember once I was holding a plate of sausages at a barbeque and a recent vegetarian wrinkled her nose and asked me, in a very snotty manner, “Oh my god, what are those?” That kind of attitude makes me furious. I was tempted to throw a sausage at her. I don’t know many picky eaters because I tend to hang out with weirdos who also like strange foods. I don’t think I would date anyone who had a fastidious palate because I think they would really try my patience. Maybe I would force feed them pig intestines as a sort of intensive therapy. But every once and a while, I will encounter some prig who will give my food a dirty look. I’m not sure exactly how to deal with that kind of situation. I should probably just shrug it off, but sometimes I make it a point to narrate how much I’m enjoying my meal.

I suppose it’s the attitude that annoys me the most. It’s a sort of elitism that I can’t stand— the disgusted looks I get when I heat up my pozole in the lunchroom at work, the belief that any unfamiliar food is revolting and unworthy. So far, one of the ways I deal with this attitude is to bring in smellier food.

Oh Hells Nah is a small and sassy Mexican woman exploring the relationships between poetry, politics, and food. She lives in Chicago, you can check out herblog — like hot dogs for your brain — or follow her onFacebook or Twitter@OhHellsNah.

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