Beating Picky Eating Requires Trust

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I had a realization the other day while writing one of my Picky Eater posts. I’ve been focusing about specific dishes that helped me develop a taste for new things. It’s true that cooking food the “right” way has been a critical part of expanding my palate, but that’s only part of it.

The thing that’s made the biggest difference is eating food fresh from a garden.

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is. But I’m always happy to speculate and psychoanalyze myself for a moment 🙂

It boils down to trust.

Most of the foods that I “don’t like” are in fact foods that I’ve never tried – or if I have tried them, it was so long ago that I’ve forgotten what they taste like. For whatever reason, though, I still have strong negative associations with these foods. Eating them would be tantamount to eating bugs. Or onions. I’ve definitely had onions, and they belong on the icky list.

So why is that?

I think it stems in part from a lack of trust.

Imagine this. You’re eating dinner with your family, and your mom brings out a bowl of soup for everyone. You ask what’s in it, and she says “Oh, it’s just a chicken noodle soup.” Sounds great. Chicken and noodles. You can do that.

So you spoon some into your bowl, look down, and– wait a minute. There’s green things in here. And orange things. And what’s that translucent looking thing there?

Chicken and noodles, huh. Sure.

Was she being malicious? Of course not. She just made a chicken and noodle soup that happened to have some other stuff in it. For most people, this is probably normal and expected. For me, it feels like I was lied to.

So you ask again – what’s actually in the dish, not just what is the dish. At first, she gets a bit indignant. “Why do you care?” “Just because.” “Ok, fine.” She says it has chicken, carrots, peas, maybe some garlic… (wait 10 seconds) oh right, and some onions. (wait 30 more seconds) Maybe tomato, too?

Whelp, this dish is lost. Not only do you not like half those things, she can’t even remember what’s in it. Who knows what else might be lurking in that semi-opaque liquid? So what if you can see everything in your spoon before you eat it. Food can break up into tiny little bits, so there’s really no controlling what’s going to end up in your mouth.

This experience happens all the time, and is deeply unsettling for me. Maybe it’s because I’m an aspie, or maybe this is just one of my own special quirks, but either way I struggle with uncertainty. I especially struggle with uncertainty around things that trigger my various sensitivities (texture, sound, whatever).

Over time, I think I’ve started to associate this general experience with the actual ingredients that I dislike. Tomatoes have shown up in enough dishes unexpectedly and unwantedly that now I just refuse to eat them. Heck, I love pizza with a light tomato sauce. But don’t you dare tell me to eat a tomato or cook with them. Well. Go ahead and dare. I don’t care. I just won’t eat them.

At some point, it became so ingrained that I refused to eat… well… pretty much everything. It stopped being about taste and texture (even though they’re still absolutely a factor) and it started being about anxiety.

The longer you wait to do something uncomfortable, the harder it is to do it.

I’ve had so much time to perseverate about how much I dislike onions and tomatoes and mushrooms (oh my) that the mere thought of eating them makes my heart race.

It’s a conundrum. I want to learn how to like more foods, but now I’m fighting almost 30 years of pent up anxiety about my eating habits.

My first breakthrough came after experiencing fresh food, straight from my mother-in-law’s garden. When you eat from a garden, you eliminate variables that could cause distress. You know what the food is, where it came from, and how it was grown. You get to pick it, wash it, and cook it yourself. At no point did it leave your sight or your control, so you don’t have to worry about someone else fiddling with your food.

The important part is having control over the situation. At first, at least. Over time, the goal is really to learn to like different foods so that it doesn’t matter if you’re the one preparing them. One step at a time.

In fact, the way I learned to like leafy greens was by eating them straight off the plant. I’d rip off tiny bits of kale, arugula, orach, and collard, and eat them on the spot. (Not lettuce, mind you, which is boring and has a weirder texture – or at least it looks like it does. I’m not sure if I’ve actually tried it yet ?)

Anyway. Eventually, I built my own garden to experiment with. It’s mostly full of the specific things that I like, but we’re slowly and surely adding more. I had my first snap pea the other day, right off the bush, and it was … good enough. I think one day I’ll really like them 🙂

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