I’m coming out of the pantry: I’m a chronically, obnoxiously picky eater. I scrape the sauce off my pizza, individually salt each chip at Mexican restaurants and examine the width of my noodles. I try to make myself look young at fancy restaurants as I charm waiters into ignoring the “12 and Under” label at the top of the kids’ menu. I never re-heat food, am particular about the temperature of my plain vanilla yogurt and will spit out an apple if it doesn’t have the right amount of crunch to it.
It hasn’t always been this way. As a 10-month-old, my adorable face was splashed across the Kansas City Star. In a photo illustration for a story, mini me happily ate cottage cheese and posed as the poster child for “Oh, Baby, It’s time to eat!”.
My claim to fame in the newspaper soon proved to be just a minute in the spotlight. As I grew up my eating habits quickly diminished, and soon was a much better example for “Oh, Baby, She won’t eat!”
As soon as my parents picked up on my eating habits, they tried to save me. They were adamant proponents of the “three more bites” rule and would patiently sit at the dinner table as they coached me on the plate. I made it miserable for them; I glared at miniscule bites of chicken, spit bits of spinach back onto my plate and dramatically plugged my nose while gagging on warm milk.
“She’ll grow out of it,” other moms told mine, and, “It’s just a phase.”
Turns out, a phase can last 17 years.
My taste buds aren’t the only factor in deciding if I’ll eat a food; it also has to pass my smell and texture tests (and escape my OCD). Unappealing textures are the cause of years of spitting out bites onto napkins. I can’t eat potatoes (with the exception of really skinny french fries), tomatoes, blueberries (mushy), soups (too liquidy), tomato sauce, steak, raisins (dried up skin), chicken, apple sauce (baby food), pork, cottage cheese…the list goes on and on.
I’d easily be able to fit in the dietary norm with Buddy the Elf and his friends in the North Pole with their four major food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup. But I’m in America, where unfortunately it isn’t Christmas year-round, where our diet is supposed to have some rhyme or reason to it. Mine doesn’t.
As of now the meat in my diet consists of thinly sliced turkey (with the in-edible brown edges picked off), well-done cheeseburgers (I’m terrified of undercooked meat) and burnt bacon. And P.F. Chang’s Sesame Chicken (the texture isn’t noticable because it’s smothered in sauce and crunchy stuff). That’s it. Most of the time I just tell people I’m “sort of a vegetarian” so they leave me alone.
I love to eat fruit, but not like a normal person. I suck the juice out of orange slices —the flavor is delicious, but the pulpy texture is terrible. As a precaution against mushiness, each grape must be squeezed before being plopped into my mouth. I adore apples, but only eat about 3/5 of each as I’m careful to avoid each and every crook and cranny that could possibly be a dis-textured bruise. I also refuse any fruit that hasn’t been cut by a family member or friend. It may be OCD or sanitation issues or craziness; probably all of the above. But I can’t help it.
I’m surprisingly great at eating vegetables, as long as they’re drenched in ranch (and cut by a family member or friend). I have to get my nutrients from somewhere.
Anything I eat cooked, I like burnt. There’s less chance of food poisoning and less flavor — just how I like it. That being said, restaurants are a nightmare. I like everything I eat to be prepared in a specific way —if the vegetables are too thick, I won’t eat them. If the bread has weird seeds in it, I’ll pass. If the food is touching other food on the plate, forget about it. On the rare occasions I order something off of the adult menu, I order it with a dozen specifications. Most of those get ignored, understandably, and I’m stuck with a meal I absolutely cannot eat and feeling guilty about the poor, starving children in Africa.
It’s embarrassing, really. I dread eating in public with people who don’t know my eating habits — I either have to attempt to order off of the kids’ menu or order something I end up flicking onto the floor. Either way I’m painfully aware I seem immature and ungrateful; It’s a lose-lose situation.
If I could choose my taste buds, I’d gladly trade with my dog. It’s un-American eating two rolls and a spoonful of Jell-o as a “Thanksgiving Feast,” and it’s sad that I couldn’t eat anything on the Homecoming dinner menu so I ordered a steak and auctioned it off to the meat-head sitting next to me.
I’ve never grown out of my childish picky eating habits. The real growing up was having to accept them for what they were and learning from it: how to politely dispose of unappetizing food (feeding it to the dog, of course) and dealing with people who are appalled I won’t eat their dish (it’s not you, it’s me). Maybe those moms are right, and maybe I will grow out of it someday, but for now I’ll keep making dinners difficult and scraping the sauce off of my pizza.