We all know picky eaters, right? They won’t eat something for reasons incomprehensible to you. No corn unless it is on the cob. Potatoes only in mashed form. Milk only in a certain glass. Most of the time, we hear specifications like this from kids. I knew a little girl who, for a time, would refuse any food that was a combination of ingredients. This may seem completely impossible, but she was young and didn’t understand that almost all prepared food is a combination of ingredients. All she knew was if there was an “and” in the description, she wasn’t having any. “What’s in the rolls?” “Butter and bread.” “No, thank you.”
By the next Christmas, she had grown out of it, as most kids do when their parents get sick of catering to such habits. One can only put up with so much. Still, there are plenty of adults out there who could be classed as picky eaters and they are a bane for people like me. I am a Feeder. My self-esteem is linked to how people receive the food I offer them. Rejecting my food is rejecting me.
I realize this is a little extreme and I am working on it. Taste is unique to everybody and just because someone doesn’t like chocolate doesn’t mean we can’t be friends (though I’m sure we’ll never be close). I do have to actively remind myself that turning down the cookies I’m offering is not a comment on the quality of the food or myself as a person. This is especially true for what I call the “legitimate” reasons, i.e. dietary needs and allergies.
It is still a challenge, though, because there are all those “illegitimate” reasons. The “I just don’t like it” or the “I don’t like the texture” or the “I’ve never had it before.” As a food snob, I admit to some amount of scorn for people with mundane palettes, those who won’t try something just because it is new or different. Simply put, I don’t like picky eaters. I don’t like when people refuse the food of their host because they just don’t like it. I hate when people quibble or complain because there’s nothing for them to eat. “I would have eaten that, but they put pepper on it.” “Oh, I only eat Velveeta cheese.” “I’m sorry, I don’t like vegetables.” “No, I don’t eat fish unless it is in stick form.”
Sadly, this makes me a hypocrite. As it turns out, being a food snob makes me a picky eater by default. I turn my nose up at food if it wasn’t made from scratch from fresh ingredients. I snub processed foods like fish sticks or Hamburger Helper. I despise anything that contains a “processed cheese product.” And fast food is pure evil. Cafeterias/buffets are out of the question.
While my parents were visiting, we had to pick up some fast food before doing some sight seeing. I obstinately ordered some grilled chicken nuggets and planned on getting something more substantial later. Except I couldn’t find anything. At first, I felt like it would be rude to have a nice sit-down meal in front of others who weren’t eating, then because the eateries I saw didn’t suit me, and finally because I couldn’t find a food truck or similar small meal dispenser. Mom pointed out the irony that I would eat from a food truck, but not fast food, to which I replied that food truck food isn’t fast food. And then it hit me. I am full of sh*t.
I was looking for food trucks because they are trendy now. There are innovators out there turning food trucks into classy yet inexpensive cuisine, but that doesn’t mean that all food trucks are making good food. I am just as picky as those people who bring their own food to parties because they can’t be sure if there will be food they can eat. I worry that I’ll show up to a gathering where all there is to eat is junk food that I can’t stomach. I’ll admit to going hungry and fervently wishing that I’d eaten something before venturing out. I have (shamefully) thought less of my host for not making food to my standards.
Unfortunately, my dietary choices put me at odds with normal people, but refusing junk food doesn’t make me better than anyone. I admit to being a picky eater, but that doesn’t have to make me a bad guest. As a Feeder, I see the cardinal sin of a guest to be refusing the food of the host. In ancient times, such a refusal could be seen as a grave insult or a declaration of animosity. In The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my absolute favorite books), Edmund makes it a point not to eat the food of his enemies, even as he pretends to be their dearest friends. So I am only picky when it isn’t rude to be so.
The reason people don’t like picky eaters is because it’s rude. When someone makes food for you, you should eat it without complaining. This is a lesson many of us learned as children when Mom gave us the old “there are starving children in China” speech. We all have foibles about food, but unless those foibles will put you into anaphylactic shock, then it is best to smile and shut your mouth just for courtesy’s sake. Another tip for picky eaters when meeting with new foods is to just try it. You may need to engage a poker face to hide how horrible something is, but refusing to try something just because it is new could mean missing out on stuff you may actually like.
Ah, but the testament between guest and host is not a one-way deal. When hosting, you have an obligation to provide for your guests, which seems kind of obvious. Except that this obligation isn’t always fully understood. I’m not saying that you have to make a special dish catered to the tastes of every guest. That would be ridiculous. But there are some things one must keep in mind when providing food for a crowd. The first is timing. If the party falls during a meal time, then people will show up expecting more than finger food. Easiest thing to do is have burgers and hot dogs ready to grill -OR- have pizzas ready (frozen or otherwise). Any other time of day, snack foods are fine. For finger foods, chips and dips are classic, but I always recommend a fruit or veggie tray as well, especially with the number of people on specialty diets nowadays. You can always ask your guests to bring stuff, too, if they want. Then you get lots of variety without stressing yourself out.
The key to party feeding is not to get anything you won’t eat because there will be leftovers. That means, I don’t ever by chips because I don’t eat them regularly. Most have too much salt for my taste and corn-based chips tend to give me migraines. People will still bring chips and often leave them behind, but I just stow them away for the next party. If I decide to put together a veggie tray, I’m only using veggies that I cook with regularly or have for snacks, so no radishes or jalapeños. If you don’t like veggies, don’t put out a veggie tray. If you don’t like salsa, don’t buy a big jar of salsa. You are obligated to provide enough food for your guests with some variety of choices, that is all. Provide for picky palettes only so far that it doesn’t actually inconvenience you.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a social contract we must adhere to regardless of our personal tastes.
1. The host will provide enough food for guests, accommodating to dietary needs (allergies, diets, etc) within reason.
2. The guest will eat food when and if possible. If no food is edible (for whatever reason), the guest will politely decline. There should be no complaining, especially if food is being declined for any reason other than allergies or medically prescribed diets.
Now, let’s say we aren’t talking a serve-yourself buffet-style party but an actual sit-down dinner. Social contract says that you eat what is put in front of you unless it will kill you. This is not always easy, and I understand that. It isn’t always about taste. Sometimes it’s about health. Sometimes it’s about cooking methods or cleanliness or quality of ingredients. Sometimes it’s about cooking skill. And, yes, you may have to stomach food you don’t like in order to be polite. But let’s say you don’t like someone’s cooking and it’s someone you eat with frequently. It’s Grandma or Father-in-Law or Spouse or Best Friend. You don’t want to hurt feelings, so you claim picky eating as an excuse. Don’t. Honesty in this case is very important. Picky eating to many is a childish excuse and not to be tolerated. And lying about your reasoning will only add tension to a relationship. So find a way to talk to this person, face to face and not over a meal. It may not make any difference, but it’s better than lying.
I’ve rambled a bit, I know. I’m trying to get back into writing habits. Plus, I wanted to set the record straight. My Mom, like all Feeders, has a thing about picky eaters. Refuse her food and you will never be her friend. But she is so proud of me for not being picky, just because I’m always willing to try new foods. The fact is, I think everyone is picky about their food and with good reason. It’s just a matter of balancing personal preference with politeness.