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My big issue, I guess, is people who won’t try anything new. People who look at my lunch as if I’ve just unearthed a dead body and squeamisly point and ask, “Uhh, is that another one of your weird recipes?” I have to laugh because what is so weird about eggplant and tofu in some garbanzo bean/curry sauce? Is that really so wild?

I think it’s a wonderful personality trait when people are excited about trying new foods, whether it’s sauces, ways of cooking, spices, etc.  To me it shows gumption, curiosity, a sense of willingness to challenge yourself. One of my co-workers said the reason she stays away from non-Western spices is that they confuse her brain. An interesting description! Maybe some people are hardwired to fight that confusion and settle into complacency, whereas others enjoy that confusion?

Tara Parker-Pope has a thoughtful article on the topic of the challenge of going vegan in our meat-centric culture. I think this excerpt could flexibly apply to the challenge of eating anything new outside your status quo lunch box.

Giving up favorite foods is never easy, food scientists say, for it means overriding taste preferences imprinted on the brain during a lifetime of eating. “In most American adults, meat intake has been associated since childhood with pleasurable nutritional effects,” said France Bellisle, an eating behavior researcher in Paris. “Liking for meats has been learned and reinforced over years. Any substitute would have to mimic the total sensory experience elicited by meats.

Are your preferences ingrained? Are they malleable? Why are some people more open to trying new foods than others?

“It always takes more motivation to change any type of behavior than to go on with old habits,” she added.

My three siblings and I were raised in a very typical Midwestern food culture. My mom made dinner most every night. We ate goulash, stuffed peppers, spaghetti, fish sticks, Ore-Ida fries, chicken and potatoes, canned vegetables, iceberg lettuce salads, tacos… Fairly plain stuff. Probably the same as most of our neighbors in our all-white, middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood.

Now I’m married. My husband and I split most of the cooking, and I’m genuinely excited to try at least one new recipe a week. I’m game for trying out the Korean restaurant. I love Indian food,  Mexican, Thai, Chinese, sushi, etc. The crazier it is, the more likely I am to want to experience it. I don’t think there’s a vegetable that I dislike or that I’m afraid to try. On a trip to Florida, when I saw alligator bites on the menu, you bet we ordered that. It was actually pretty gross but so what? What’s the worst thing that can happen when you try something you don’t like? You won’t break out in hives or have your tongue fall off. It’s an experience!

I thought about this because my brother introduced me to his new girlfriend. Of course the rest of the family was eager to know what I thought about her. She was wonderful. When I was describing (what I thought were) her positive attributes, I said that she wasn’t a picky eater. That was a plus in my opinion. My co-worker overheard me and immediately wrote to me in all caps saying,

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A PICKY EATER. In fact, I think that is a bonus. It shows confidence of knowing what you like and don’t.

What do you think? Is that true? Is it confidence and a self-assuredness that comes from years of cultivating your culinary experiences or is it stagnated childhood because you still won’t try eating something new? I have to think it’s the latter.

I knew a co-worker whose husband wouldn’t touch a vegetable. Really? A grown man? How do you get by in life with that attitude? Not to mention, I’m sure you’re really healthy. I have other friends who will only eat lettuce in salads but god forbid, they’d eat it on a sandwich. I have another friend who just discovered brussels sprouts at the age of 37. If you’ve never roasted these tossed with thyme and pepper, it’s safe to say, you’re missing something amazing.

Let’s be clear that I’m not talking about allergies, that is, at least diagnosed allergies. Don’t tell me you’re gluten free when you’ve never even been tested. If you are, then I sympathize with you and I want you to eat what is best for your system. I would never roll my eyes at you or the kid who has peanut allergies either.

Someone might say my vegetarianism, or aspiring veganism, could be categorized as a picky food issue. It’s not. I have tried these foods hundreds of times prepared hundreds of ways. It’s not a taste or texture issue. It’s an ethical one. Also, I would never expect anyone to delicately cater to me in some over-the-top fashion. I know most food events I go to in my area are going to be meat-focused.

Is a person’s pickiness an innate characteristic that can’t be retrained? Is it a bigger sign of someone’s curiosity and whole life outlook where they believe in having more and new experiences? What do you think?

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