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Souza: Picky eaters should at least try new foods

Souza%3A+Picky+eaters+should+at+least+try+new+foods
Collegian | Preston Box

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

As a waitress who works at a delicious restaurant, anytime a regular — an adult, mind you — consistently orders the kids’ chicken tenders, I have to bite my tongue. Hands shaking, I write on my notepad, “Fucking tenders.” And I want to roll my eyes or tell them to order again, but that’s the thing: Picky eaters know just what they want. It’s always the goddamn tenders.

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I don’t want to come off as disrespectful here. If you have a dietary restriction, this isn’t about you. If you have sensory issues, this isn’t about you. If you have allergies, this isn’t about you. If you deal with food insecurity, this isn’t about you. If your relationship with food is struggling, broken or currently healing, this also isn’t about you. But if you’re simply a picky eater because you don’t like perfectly likable foods, prepare to be shat on for about 500 more words. 

You might not call yourself picky if you try different cuisines, but I urge you to consider whether you are actually trying ethnic food or an Americanized version of ethnic food.”

As an extremely adventurous eater who has enjoyed foods ranging from snails to frog legs, from sea urchins to chicken feet (my main adversary is asparagus), I completely understand the people who don’t like to get all crazy on their dinner plates. I also completely understand if you try something and dislike it — that happens to everybody.

I define pickiness as an inability to try something new. Try — not enjoy — but try. This definition absolutely comes from how I was raised; my parents forced me to eat at least a couple of bites of every food they or someone else made, even if I thought I wouldn’t like it. Sometimes, the food grew on me, and other times, I consistently wanted to spit it (asparagus) out. But no matter the outcome, I tried everything in good faith.

And not to impose the way I was raised onto everybody else, but I see no good reason — besides allergies or restrictions — to not at least try.

The number of taste buds we have decreases as we age, so trying new foods is important for two reasons: For starters, you should taste everything you can while you have more vibrant taste buds, but primarily, your taste changes and adapts over time. That pickled trout dish your mom made when you were 7 years old? Surprise, surprise, you might love that now!

Picky eaters irk me because they deny the fact that our tastes rapidly change and that they might love something they once hated. If we hated all the foods we did as kids, nobody would eat vegetables anymore. But because everyone adapts, broccoli is now a close friend — maybe not to picky eaters, though.

Not to generalize, but another gripe I have is that a lot of picky eaters — at least the ones I know — are not the most respectful when it comes to trying other cultures’ cuisines. There’s nothing wrong with preferring American food, but American food itself is a conglomerate of other cultures. For example, bacon dates back to 1500 B.C. in China, where pork bellies were cured with salt. And New Orleans gumbo is inspired by West African soups.

You might not call yourself picky if you try different cuisines, but I urge you to consider whether you are actually trying ethnic food or an Americanized version of ethnic food. Different cuisines in America are frequently changed from how they are meant to be cooked in order to fit mainstream American tastes, including less spice, less umami, sweeter or bigger portion sizes. There’s a difference between your family’s Taco Tuesday meal and authentic tacos from Mexico — or the butter chicken you order from your local Indian place and actual Indian food.

But when you scrutinize authenticity with an inability to try non-Americanized versions, you deliberately pick and choose the parts that are most familiar to you. You like Asian cuisine when it’s tailored to American tastes but not when it’s made how those in Asia eat it.

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While there’s nothing particularly wrong with disliking certain foods, take some time to recognize whether you even try something you dislike. And if you dislike it, why? That is what separates you, in my mind, from pickiness or not.

Reach Emma Souza at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @_emmasouza.

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