My Pet Peeve: Picky People

So, I had a few extra moments to myself today–a rare commodity these days–and decided to try and catch up on what’s happening in foodblogland. I only got to look at a couple of my favorite blogs, but one entry at one blog jumped out at me and made me want to jump up and testify.

Amy, of Cooking With Amy ranted a wee bit about how she cannot abide picky eaters.

Her post brought forth an amen and a hallelujah from my “amen corner” here, because if there is a human behavior that works my very last nerve, it is food controlling behavior that impinges on the ability for other people to enjoy their own dinners, or otherwise interact socially with the food-controlling individual.

And the thing is–I try really hard to be tolerant of people. I really do. If I know that someone really hates a particular food, I will refrain from cooking it for them. I have already written about how, as a host, I do take into account people’s real food allergies and religious proscriptions against certain foods. I am respectful of health restrictions, because they involve keeping the diners alive (food allergies are not to be trifled with), and my own personal honor is such that I must respect people’s food restrictions that are based on their religious beliefs, because to not do so is for me to put myself between them and their view of God. And that is not my place, nor, really, anyone else’s place. So, that is all good.

But what about people who just have a list of foods they don’t like because they are “icky?” What about people who refuse to eat large categories of foods for no real reason except that they had some traumatic food incident in childhood that has left them permanently scarred? Or, they just don’t like the taste of most foods? Or, they are food controlling because it makes them the center of attention?

I, like Amy, just don’t have patience with these folks. Though, I must make a caveat here–when I say I don’t have patience with picky eaters, please understand I am talking about ADULTS, not kids. I cut kids slack because they go through developmental phases where they are picky, and nearly every kid goes through a stage where they don’t like this or that sort of food. (And that which they like and dislike often changes from day to day, much to the eternal frustration of their parents and caregivers.)

What I object to are adults who act like kids.

And my attitude toward such adults is this–grow up and get over yourself. Or, shut up when we are at the table. Or, get therapy, because you really need it. Or, I just don’t interact with them, because the rise in my blood pressure as I watch them harry waitstaff or when they whimper about this or that food and how they won’t eat it while I am trying to cook is just not worth it.

What is funny about this is that I am married to a man who used to hardly eat anything. Zak used to eat meat, potatoes, a handful of vegetables, pasta, rice, bread and the holy of holies–cold breakfast cereal. I am told by his parents that he used to live on sugar cereal virtually alone, and that there were years when he would eat it for two out of three meals a day.

Well, when I met him, he had just come back from Italy where he had his first culinary epiphany when he tasted pesto for the first time. (This was back before pesto had come to the US and taken over the culinary scene to the point where it became ubiquitous. At this point, in the early 90′s, he was astonished that I even knew what it was.) So, he had tasted truly great food in Italy and in the rest of Europe, and had started loosening up his own food neuroses.

But he credits moving in with me as being a turning point in his life as an eater. Apparently, my indomitable will in the kitchen broke him of being a picky eater, because I flatly refused to cater to his whims and limit my cooking to what I knew he liked. I just flat out refused, and cooked and ate whatever I had a mind to. If he didn’t like it, he could always eat cereal, and there were times when he did. But, over the years, his tastes changed to the point where he is quite the epicure now, and actually can discuss things culinary with me without either his eyes glazing over or saying, “huh?” at my every sentence.

Not only has his palate developed, so has his culinary vocabulary.

I do that with a lot of people. I cook stuff that they supposedly don’t like–often unknowingly, but sometimes on purpose, and damned if they don’t love it when I make it! I have had many a friend tell me, “I hate tofu, but the way you cooked it was awesome.” Or, “I always thought eggplant was nasty until you made that miso-glazed grilled stuff. That was so good.”

But some people defeat my kitchen super-powers, and are simply too whiney or neurotic to even try whatever it is I make for them, and it is these folks who bug the crap out of me. I guess because they aren’t even willing to meet me halfway and try something new. They just want to complain.

Strangely enough, quite a few culinary arts students are that way. I met more picky people in culinary school than anywhere else I have been. It seemed as if young food-controlling people flocked to culinary college, though, why, I have no idea, since most of the chefs delighted in torturing them by insisting that they try all of these scary new foods.Personally, I cannot get why someone would aspire to be a chef and yet refuse to eat vegetables. It seems rather–well, like an aspiring race car driver who won’t drive to work or something. It is just weird.

Folks like that try my patience, and tend to make me cranky, leading to rants like this one.

I guess it bugs me because extremly picky eaters tend to be narcissistic–they are so self-absorbed in their food controlling behaviors, they are either unaware of how annoying they are to those around them, or they just flat out don’t care. (Remember, I am talking about really picky eaters here, not just someone who doesn’t like okra because it is slimy and canned peas because they are olive green and mushy. I am talking about people who will not eat whole categories of food for no logical or sensible reason, and who make a big deal about it.)

That kind of self-centered behavior is extremely immature and childish, and I think that is the crux of the issue for me–I am not good at dealing with adults who act like spoiled little kids.

So, Amy–know this–you are not the only one out there who dislikes picky people. I’m the same exact way.

54 Comments

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  1. Ugh! This post is right on. One of my roommates is extremely picky. She won’t eat fish, or anything that comes from the water. No shrimp, no clams, no nothing. She won’t eat tomotoes because they “look like uteruses.” Basically, she lives off Hamburger Helper and pasta with alfredo sauce. She makes me want to scream, because I enjoy cooking, and hate cooking for only myself. But I can’t share with her if any of it is on her “icky” list.

    So, in a word, word. Picky eaters need to try new things and stop being such babies.

    Comment by M — October 20, 2006 #

  2. Good stuff, Barbara (and congratulations, by the way). I had one or two foods that I was picky about for most of my teen years because of childhood abuse issues, but by the time I was 20 I’d gotten over that, and then just had my allergies to deal with. I’m still a bit wary of them, but it certainly won’t stop me from trying new things.

    Comment by Jennifer — October 20, 2006 #

  3. Your column’s better than Amy’s, because you mention food allergies. Thank you for doing so. I have a list of foods I can’t eat because they give me migraines, and really only one I (venison) that I really prefer not to eat because I can’t stand it–can’t choke it down. Oh, I don’t like some things, the “meat with sweet” issue she raises is one of my hot spots. I’d far rather have meat prepared in a savory or spicy sauce than cooked or served in a sweet sauce, but I’ll eat it if someone serves it to me. I won’t be overjoyed, but I’ll eat the stuff without whining. I will NOT eat the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, however!

    Comment by Kiwi C. — October 20, 2006 #

  4. I am kind of ambivalent about picky eating. On the one hand, really picky people are hard to cook for and eat with. On the other, I have a number of foods that I simply dislike so much that I can’t eat them — the annoying ones are almost all fish and seafood (though it no longer matters since I’m vegetarian now), and mushrooms. I’ve tried to like mushrooms, I really have. But I just don’t. The texture just gives me the creeping shivers.

    However, if I were ever a guest in your house and you served mushrooms, I would try once again to like them, I promise. :-)

    Also, how do you feel about general dietary choices that don’t fall into the God category, like elective vegetarianism?

    Comment by Alexis — October 20, 2006 #

  5. I have brought my sons up to not be picky eaters, to the amazement of their friends’ mothers.

    The boys often invite friends home for dinner. Invariably, someone’s mother will call with a long list of things their little precious won’t eat. Then I get another phone call after the kid goes home, expressing shock that their kid ate whatever. I just refuse to tolerate pickiness.

    Comment by Missy — October 20, 2006 #

  6. My sister’s boyfriend is like that and it is so irritating. He won’t eat vegetables and if he thinks you put one sliver of onion in a dish, he won’t come near it.

    He picks through his food looking for vegetables before eating the dish.

    Just thinking about this makes my blood pressure rise. I’ve never seen anyone that picky and it drives me mad! haha

    Comment by Jenn — October 20, 2006 #

  7. Because I respect the heck out of you, I’m not going to post the first comment I wrote.

    I’ll just note that I don’t whine or expect others to cater to my food preferences, and I do go out of my way to cook them foods they like, even if I hate them. So I’d appreciate it if the people fortunate enough to enjoy every food in the world would stop trying to control my diet or guilt-trip me about something I’ve been laboriously trying to change for years.

    Comment by Mel — October 20, 2006 #

  8. A few falls ago, I make black eyed peas (with pork, onions and brown sugar) as part of a “White Trash Potluck” a bunch of us held at Playa del Fuego. The recipe is from my mom, and says something like “Cook the peas with some pork chops and onions until they are done. Take out the chops, pull the meat off the bones, put it back in. Add salt, pepper and brown sugar to taste. Eat.”

    I had a woman come up to me and ask, “What is this? This is NOT black eyed peas! It can’t be because I HATE black eyed peas, and I’m on my second helping!”. I was very proud to have helped her move past a food aversion she’d held since childhood.

    Mostly I pity willingly picky eaters. Sure, we all have items we don’t like (like my boss doesn’t like fish, or ding0 doesn’t like olives). It’s when people hate entire categories of food, colors of food, the thought of trying new food . . . this I don’t understand.

    Comment by Amy — October 20, 2006 #

  9. I don’t really think you mean picky eaters. I am a picky eater. You are a picky eater. You are probably picker than I am. You want local ingredients you want ingredients that are fresh and of a certain quality.

    You want food without preservatives and without certain ingredients. That is being picky.

    What you really mean to say is that you hate people who use food to either draw ttention to themselves or manipulate the environment. That is not picky. That is something else.

    I freely admit to being one of the pickiest eaters amongst my friends group. However most people who have invited me to dinner will never know it. I will find ways of politely declining food I can’t or don’t want to eat. I will try things that are new unless I know I can’t eat them (I have a huge problem with onions for physical reasons). And I have never found something at a dinner than I can’t eat. Even if its just potatoes and salad.

    However I don’t complain about it. I understand that it is my perogative to be picky. No one else has to know about it. Especially the host that worked hard on the food. That is rude.

    The people you describe use food to be manipulative. They are not merely picky. They are likely to continue the pattern in other places.

    Comment by Kitarra — October 21, 2006 #

  10. Sorry my post rubbed someone the wrong way! Kiwi do you need a definition of what a picky eater is? To me it is someone with MANY dislikes. I never said I had a problem with food allergies, I said I had an issue with picky eaters. I don’t think that’s the same thing at all.

    I certainly don’t expect people to put their health or religious beliefs in jeapordy to make me more comfortable. I may be less tolerant than I’d like, but I’m not cruel.

    Comment by cookingwithamy — October 21, 2006 #

  11. Kitarra you sound particular about what you eat, not picky. But maybe it’s just semantics.

    Comment by cookingwithamy — October 21, 2006 #

  12. I also dislike (feel sorry for) picky eaters– largely because my women’s college experience exposed me to an awful lot of women whose pickiness about food was disguising an eating disorder. Something about women, food and control which makes for a very ugly combination.

    This said, I cheerfully admit that I’ve got my own issue– I eat shellfish, caviar, and seaweed but can’t/won’t eat fish fish. Combination of childhood battles and a seriously nasty dose of food poisoning. Now that I’m pregnant, I’m going to hold my nose and eat it when recommended, but nothing is going to make me like it. I’m *sure* that this irritates people. Too bad.

    By the way, even though I determinedly try to be a non-picky eater, my boundaries are occasionally stretched. We were eating in Stockholm at a restaurant that specialized in reviving medieval Swedish recipes and they waiter served us a lovely amuse. We elected to have a taste before hearing what it was– but I have to confess that even though I found it tasty, hearing that it was pig lung served with cranberry and carmelized onions quickly took away much of the appreciation. :)

    Comment by frumiousb — October 21, 2006 #

  13. I just learned from my father’s current Lady Friend that she is “not coming for Christmas” because she’s newly diagnosed as mildly diabetic and “might go off her diet”. And she thinks this cook wouldn’t adjust??? wouldn’t make sure she wouldn’t starve??? THIS form of pickiness is all about control and power and pushiness (and nothing new for her) because it means that my Dad is also now not coming for Christmas because he “can’t leave her alone”. ARGGGH.

    Comment by Protecting the Innocent — October 21, 2006 #

  14. In reading these comments, I think I need to clarify something.

    In reality, I don’t much care what anyone does or does not eat. Vegetarians of principle, religious restrictions, health-related dietary choices and the lot are all up to the individual, and I do not think it is my place to meddle with what people do and do not ingest. I think it is highly disrespectful of me to judge a person as inadequate because they dislike a certain food, or choose not to consume it for whatever personal reason.

    I didn’t realize it until I read Mel and Kitarra’s comments and later, frumiousb’s and Protecting the Innocent’s comments, that it is not the food likes and dislikes of a person I find objectionable–it is how they behave in regards to those likes and dislikes that gives me fits.

    I do not consider people who have strong likes and dislikes toward food as picky. I consider them, as Amy would say, “particular,” or, “opinionated.” It is when those strong likes and dislikes manifest themselves into boorish, rude, self-centered -behavior- that I become peevish and reactionary.

    So-Mel-because you do not whine or act childish in regards to your likes and dislikes, I would not think of you as picky and thus irritating. You act in a mature way. Someone who acts like Protecting the Innocent’s father’s lady friend–well, that is just childish, controlling and obnoxious, and yes, it would make me grit my teeth and snarl under my breath. At the very least.

    I am so glad that people commented, because I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t what people do and do not eat that bugs me–it is how they go about it!

    Thank you all for a good, thought-provoking discussion to open my Saturday morning!

    Comment by Barbara — October 21, 2006 #

  15. Oh, and Kitarra–one more thing–I am not a picky eater. I am a picky cook and hostess. I will not serve or cook food that is not the best, but, I will eat other sorts of food. Especially if I am at someone else’s table–my own code of behavior is such that I will eat graciously of whatever is served to me, even if it is take out from McDonald’s.

    I may not like it, but I will be damned if I would ever tell my host so.

    There are exceptions. If someone asks my honest opinion about a dish they cooked, if I did not like it, and could offer constructive criticism as to why, and they truly want to know, I will tell them. But, generally, I will eat what is before me, and graciously, too, because that is the kind of good manners with which I was raised.

    So, while by your definition of the term picky, I am picky, I would say that by my own definition, I am quite laid back and unpicky.

    This does not stop people from being intimidated about cooking for me. Ever since I graduated from culinary school, people have been afraid to cook for me, which is sad, because I do love eating at the tables of my friends and family.

    I guess people expect that I will critique them, if not openly, then silently, and always find them wanting. For those who have eaten out in fine restaurants with me, I suppose I make them even more nervous, because they have heard me critique chefs.

    What folks do not understand is that I hold home cooks in a separate category from professionals, and I expect -way- more of professionals than I ever would of an amateur or home cook.

    To me–it is more important that what a home cook makes is made and served with love than what it is.

    Comment by Barbara — October 21, 2006 #

  16. Good for you for making that oh-so-important distinction between weird controlling behavior and people’s actual dietary needs. Over on another blog I was reading about people who are really just over-picky eaters with control issues, who play the allergy trump card to get their way. As someone who suffers from *lethal* nut allergies, I was really angry at this kind of thing. If too many people play at being allergic, it won’t be long before allergies aren’t taken seriously…

    Admittedly, I’m also aware that when my diet needs overlap with other people’s it can create a lot more work for a cook or hostess. I have a partner who’s allergic to nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant), a friend who won’t eat fish or beef for religious reasons, and another friend who also doesn’t eat beef for religious reasons. Those are the times when careful planning and a sense of humor are pretty useful….

    Comment by Nyondo — October 21, 2006 #

  17. Ah, I love this post! And feel exactly the same way. I’m a cooking teacher and trying to expand the horizons of picky eaters is part of my job description. Sometimes I get tired of holding their hands and just want to say, “Get on with it! Get over yourself! Trying some mushrooms/greens/eggplant isn’t going to kill you!” You would not believe the amount of whining, complaining and foot dragging I get from people who are actually paying me to help them learn to cook healthier and more varied food.

    I was a picky eater as a child/teen, and I just wish I could get those folks to understand how much nicer and more relaxed and just BIGGER life is when you’re not freaking out over the taste of every little bite of food that passes your lips.

    Comment by SecretNatasha — October 21, 2006 #

  18. I think one way you can prevent picky eaters as adults is exactly what you’re doing while they’re kids – exploring them to different flavors and textures and foods and giving them a taste for it, so to speak. I had fairly bland food growing up, and it took me some time as an adult trying things all over again to like things I formerly didn’t like. I’m still not willing to change my mind on beets, though. ;)

    Comment by Becke (Columbus Foodie) — October 21, 2006 #

  19. I am a rehabilitated picky childhood eater who was constantly reprimanded and punished often for her pickiness as she was growing up. It now amuses me intensely when I tell my parents about the adventurous things I eat these days. My broad palate puts theirs to shame.

    “C’mon, try the sushi – I say” as they turn a pale shade of green at even the thought of raw fish. Sometimes I feel like serving it, esepcially to my dad who was the harshest critic of my fussy behaviousr, to them for lunch and make them sit at the table all afternoon until they eat every scrap it of it up. I would throw in some bone marrow and pigs feet and beef heart and stuff, just to really show them how it felt to me when they tried to make me eat unpalatable food as a child.

    But their problem is different to a child’s. Because they are grown up and they shouldn’t let pre-conceived ideas about what is icky get in their way. To be fair, my mum, when she is with me has been talked into trying most things. I feel bad about persuading her to eat oysters when we were on vacation in Portugal together because she was really really sick afterwards. She even tried the sushi, she didnt like it much, but at least she tried.

    I am still a fussy eater these days in that I dont like to eat processed crap and I like my food choices to be of a high standard. I am lucky to have the luxury of being able to feed myself well. This makes it hard when choosing somewhere to eat lunch with my new colleagues at work, for example. They just dont put the same importance on the taste of food that I do and are happy to eat a big plate of cheap crap. Most people I know, don’t follow my standards, but although I follow them myself (and patiently cater to all my friends whims, one doesnt eat ‘mold’, one doesnt eat pork or shellfish another doesn’t eat nuts, Fred doesn’t eat lots of things), I wouldn’t dream of insulting them if they invited me to dinner.

    But i like your point about your husband. I think I am a bit soft on fred. I have managed to expland his palate a lot, but that doesn’t mean to say I am not soft on him too. I often pander to his whims. I just don’t see how I can possibly persuade him to eat fish though. Was that a hurdle you had to get over? If so, I’dlove some advice on how.

    Comment by sam — October 21, 2006 #

  20. Barbara,

    I think Amy came up with a better definition. Paricular! Its the perfect word. Picky has so much more of a negative conntation.

    And I think that I would be intimidated cooking for you too! But that’s more my own nurosis. It’s the idea that I would take something which is a hobby and a pleasure for me and show my meager efforts to a professional. It warrents a little self conciousness even with the steadiest of nerves!

    Not because I would think you would be rude but because to not feel a little trepedation would be hubris!

    -Kit

    Comment by Kitarra — October 21, 2006 #

  21. Sing it sister!

    Whne I was doing concert and event production, one of my main tasks was to fulfil hospitality riders for bands. I’d always check with bands ahead of time to ensure there were no allergies or religious food concerns, and I’d specify that, ie. “Please let me know of any foods that you are allergic to or cannot eat for religious reasons.” Inevitably, I’d get a laundry list of “stuff we don’t like”. That wasn’t, of course, what I had asked for. One band gave me a list of 30 different things they would not eat. Given the other constraints of preparing food to serve backstage (often prepared ahead of time and palatable at room temp due to a lack of heating/cooking facilities, and usually for 20 to sometimes 50 people depending on the event), I ended up just handing them some cash and pointing them in the direction of the nearest Subway. I often had too much to do in getting things set up to worry about the fact that the bass player won’t eat tomatoes because they’re “ooky”.

    Comment by Sheryl — October 21, 2006 #

  22. I was amazed to meet picky eaters in the army, of all places. We were at basic training – not a place where you go for epicurial delights – and lo and behold, there were the whiny girls who basically didn’t eat *anything* for the entire time, except chocolates and ice cream from the machine. Not only that, but they made a scene at the table. Come on, I wanted to say; this is the army. No one expects a sublime banquet. We have a big navigation course tomorrow, several tutorials, and miles to go (with a heavy armor jacket on) before we sleep. Just eat whatever the heck is in front of you, so you have energy to go through with it, and shut up, so the rest of us can get a couple of moments of peace. Gaaaah!

    I guess my mom raised me not to be picky. These days, I cook fresh and healthy vegetarian food at home. But hey, if I’m in a large mess hall, after weeks of not sleeping, give me a can of beans and I’ll gladly eat it without comment.

    Comment by Hadar — October 21, 2006 #

  23. I’m not a picky eater but an uneducater one. I had tried my mother’s calf liver when young and I rather gagged. It wasn’t until I got to France and accidentally got foie gros on a salad that I found I liked it. It was fabulous. I recently made some fresh green beans with shallots, tomatoes and fresh basil. My son ate it rather unenthusiastically and said he missed my old green bean recipe-the one with canned beans and bacon. Sigh. He will now eat almost any vegetable which, except for the canned green beans and mashed potatoes, he wouldn’t touch as a child. Cooking for children is good training for cooking for picky people.

    Comment by Linda — October 22, 2006 #

  24. I’m totally there with you on people’s picky behaviour. It can make great food turn sour from one person’s complaints.

    I do, think, though we should differentiate people who are particular about food due to allergies, religious reasons and so forth. I myself can’t eat a number of types of foods because of both. But I never thought that made me a picky eater.

    I don’t consider my brother picky either, but he does have one quirk. He doesn’t eat fish. He has many many live ones (they are his beloved pets–the kid has “funerals” for them when they go to the great fish heaven) and can’t bring himself to eat one.

    Comment by Rose — October 22, 2006 #

  25. Hi! This post is from a recovered picky eater! I have been on the wagon for about 5 years now! I was always a picky eater at home well into college. But I came to the US for grad skool and within the first 4 months I was away from home….i was eating everything that mom and I had fought about for years!!!! Spinach, various lentils etc etc….I couldnt seem to get enough. I guess that to get cured of my food nuerosis (not for any health reasons at all, pure spoilt-brat-edness) I needed just a few months away from tasty meals cooked by other people; away from people who would listen to my whining…..and a huge dollop of homesickness. Within one year of living away from home I became a huge foodie (versus a food-hater). Now my reccomendation for each and every spoilt cousin/kid that I come across is that they need to live away from home in places where they have to eat whats cooked. No questions asked.

    And taking up from what you all have said about kids……I really feel that mom’s should stop pestering their kids abt food! its my PET PEEVE to have an intelligent adult follow a little monster around the house, spoon in hand, so that the kid will eat. Well, if he is hungry he will otherwise not! Particularly if he is 4-5 and is fully capable of demanding food!

    End note: There is hope for picky eaters!

    Comment by gunjan — October 22, 2006 #

  26. I like almost every well prepared food I have ever tried, so I am confused by picky eaters. I certainly agree that friendship and hospitality are more important than perfect food, and would never overtly refuse anything offered me in kindness.

    But then, I am not allergic, and not subject to gagging on a variety of stuff I don’t like. It is perhaps not fair of me to be irritated with people who have very limited food taste-they are missing a lot of fun.

    The one thing I am certain I cannot abide is the very limited eater who seems to take pride in broadcasting his or her revulsion with food other people are enjoying. There is a sour grapes “if I’m not having fun, nobody else will either” aspect to it which is mean. It is weirdly narcissistic behaviour, anti-social, and as far as I’m concerned, about on a par with spitting in the street.

    Comment by lindy — October 22, 2006 #

  27. Barbara,

    You know I love your blog; it’s one of my favorites, and I recommend it to people all the time. But this post really rubbed me the wrong way (like some of the earlier commentors), until you posted your comment above.

    I tend to call myself a picky eater, though perhaps that is the wrong word. I can’t stand the taste of peanuts, or oranges, or anything that tastes like licorice.

    I don’t eat mushrooms, eggplant, or nuts because I find the texture to be unbearable – though I’ll eat things made with mushrooms that are big enough to eat around, and ground nuts in things (or pecan pie, where the nuts change texture dramatically) are fine with me.

    It’s actually very common for autism spectrum people to have serious texture issues with food. I’m not particularly autism spectrum to my knowledge, but my point is, it’s a sort of food issue that many people have which doesn’t come down to trauma or need for control.

    The smell of canned tuna fish truly makes me feel physically nauseous – I was stuck on a boat on the wine-dark sea last summer with one guy smoking at the bow and everyone else eating canned tuna fish at the stern and me burning and trying to breathe out in the center.

    I tend to avoid olives, uncooked tomatoes, and strong cheeses, because I usually don’t like them, but I will try them anyway on the off chance that my tastes have changed or that the one being offered is an exception. I used to say I didn’t like pork except in Chinese food, but by being willing to try it when people cooked it for me, I discovered that I can actually enjoy it in just about any formation except for pork chops.

    I don’t act like a jerk or a child when it comes to these things. If someone asks for my food preferences, I’ll let them know. I can order from the menu almost everywhere I go, and if I order off-menu, it’s only to the extent of asking for no nuts or no mushrooms on top of some dish. I can pick around the stuff I don’t like (or nowadays, Dave happily picks out mushrooms and eats them for me).

    I don’t sit around going, “Ewwwwww,” about things. I just avoid the stuff I don’t like and eat the stuff I enjoy.

    Thing is, my preferences are my preferences, and I’m allowed to have them, and I don’t really understand why I should feel bad over having them.

    I didn’t have any traumatic experiences with food when I was a child. I have a fairly wide palate, and I’m very adventurous and into trying new things. But there are things I have tried and not like and feel no desire to eat again, and I just don’t see anything wrong with that.

    …maybe I should just write up a post of my own about this.

    Comment by Danielle — October 23, 2006 #

  28. I have a certain amount of sypathy for picky eaters, since food is such a *visceral* thing. One of my most vivid childhood memories (I was probably about 4) is of gagging up scrambled eggs in my milk glass– nobody can say I didn’t TRY to eat those eggs, but it just didn’t work. Having a strong reaction like that to food makes it difficult not to be wary of the stuff. I wouldn’t eat anything my mom cooked growing up, but it wasn’t until I was seriously learning to cook in my early 20′s that I realized how much my pickiness (still lingering then) had to do with my disassociation from the preparation process. I just need to know what’s in the food in order to trust it; if there are going to be onions, I need to make sure that they are REALLY finely chopped; if there are going to be mushrooms, they need to be finely chopped AND thoroughly cooked. This does not mean that I won’t eat other people’s food, but it does mean that it’s important for me to know enough about food to recognize what I’m dealing with when somebody puts a dish in front of me. I would no longer be considered a picky eater by any means (I’ll eat any kind of eggs except scrambled!), and I am actually much more adventurous now than anybody else in my family. Still, that’s something that came very slowly, and had everything to do with education. My pickiness was never about perverse narcissism, but it was about a very natural desire for a certain amount of control– one that education and experience could satisfy.

    Comment by mdvlist — October 23, 2006 #

  29. [...] Barbara recently posted about how picky people are a huge pet peeve of hers. She was inspired to write about this by Amy, who wrote about how picky eaters make her a bit crazy. There was even a recent Washington Post article which implied that picky eaters are rare and suffer from some sort of disorder or childhood trauma. It always astonishes me that some people are so intolerant to the food preferences of others. [...]

    Pingback by Habeas Brulee » Blog Archive » In Defense of Picky Eaters — October 23, 2006 #

  30. Danielle, when I first wrote the post, I didn’t really realize that it isn’t what people eat or don’t eat that bothers me, it is how they go about expressing those food preferences that bug me to no end.

    The truth is, I don’t give a damned what anyone eats or doesn’t eat, because that is such a personal, intimate choice–what to put into one’s own body–that it isn’t for me to insert my own ego into that equation. I do hate to see people eat foods that are unhealthy for them, because I hate to see people hurt themselves (just like I hate to watch people binge drink or smoke cigarrettes, especially when these are people I love and thus do not like to see them cause themselves to be unhealthy and possibly shorten their own lives), but other than that, I don’t much care.

    If people want to eat fast food all the time–fine. I think it is an unwise choice, and unhealthy for themselves and the environment, but that is their own choice. If they are vegetarian for whatever reason, excellent! If there are food allergies involved–please, avoid those foods at all costs! If one is a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Jew and avoids the foods that are supposed to be avoided–that is fine. If one simply abhors the taste of canned peas, more power to you–I think they are pretty gross myself.

    What bothers me is how one goes about voicing these preferences and avoidances that bothers me. In my experience, most folks with true allergies or dietary health restrictions are painfully polite about their food avoidances, both in restaurants and at other’s homes. Most vegetarians I have known have been pretty laid back, too, and simply every religious person with dietary restrictions has been extremely polite about it.

    No big fusses are made with these folks, and thus, I don’t consider them to be “picky.” They simply live differently, because of necessity or choice, and it doesn’t matter to me, because they act like adults about it.

    “Picky” people are the ones who make it all about them, make a big deal at restaurants or when eating out, or who critique what others choose to eat (and frankly, some vegans do berate non vegans while they are eating–a habit I find odious, but then, I have seen meat eaters pick on vegetarians, too–which is equally odious and childish) while in public or private.

    THAT is what I consider picky behavior. Acting like a kid, making faces or noises at the table, making a big fuss at a restaurant (there is a difference between asking for no mushrooms, if possible, and completely changing a dish as written on the menu–especially when the tone of the request is put in a less than polite way to the server), and just being a general pain in the ass is what I consider to be picky behavior.

    I guess what I really object to is rudeness and childishness in adults who are old enough and sophisticated enough to know better. In some people, it has been bad enough that I really do think it is a symptom of some sort of mental health issue, hence my comment, “get therapy!”

    Sam–I will answer your question later–if not here, then in a post.

    And I will comment on other comments later. Must call the pediatrician–Kat has a cold.

    Comment by Barbara — October 23, 2006 #

  31. Barbara,

    And that is a stance I can entirely understand and go along with. Even your first comment explaining that it was about behavior rather than having preferences was enough for me to get it. ^^ I wonder what percentage of the people who mind picky eaters are really just opposed to poor manners, actually.

    Poor Kat! I hope she feels better soon.

    Comment by Danielle — October 23, 2006 #

  32. I have pretty much the same reaction to picky eaters. But I can certainly understand allergies and dislikes, if they are legitimate dislikes. (I have tried and tried to like lamb and have gotten to the point where I can now swallow it gracefully so as not to embarrass myself or the cook. But it still feels like a tremendous waste to feed me lamb – I know how much people adore it and it just seems wrong of me to eat it at all.)

    We actually go out of our way to cater to people’s severe dislikes, moral taboos towards certain foods and allergies. And we cater completely to people’s seemingly irrational dislikes when they are very ill but need to eat.

    What gets me going are the following:
    1.) Vegetarians who won’t eat beans or tofu simply because they don’t really like the texture.
    2.) Anyone with a self-diagnosed band-wagon allergy. Example: “I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to wheat gluten but I can eat spelt.” (wrong… spelt is a cousin of wheat and anyone with a wheat gluten allergy should not eat spelt)
    3.) Anyone who claims to be very easy to please. And then says: “Could you possibly make that cream sauce with milk rather than cream? I can’t eat salted butter and oh are there tomatoes in that? I don’t like tomatoes. I need to have finely grated parmesan cheese. And I LOVE mushrooms but oh are those wild mushrooms? I’m afraid I can’t have those…”
    4.) Anyone who says they can’t eat onions and/or garlic because they don’t want to smell bad. (Oh please. Just make sure you brush your teeth and bathe properly!)

    -Elizabeth

    P.S. Who me? Picky? I will do just about anything to avoid eating McFast food. Yes, I’m a snob.
    P.P.S. Hope Kat gets well soon!

    Comment by ejm — October 23, 2006 #

  33. I have issues with picky eaters, too. Especially ones who simply won’t try anything if they think or know there is something in it they already don’t like. My English father-in-law won’t eat garlic or melted cheese (to name many many many things). Funny how he eats it when he doesn’t know it’s in there! I also think some people take a mild dislike for something and turn it into a full-blown won’t eat it thing. I don’t like raw onions much, but I will eat them.

    Comment by Caryn — October 24, 2006 #

  34. I’m afraid I haven’t quite managed to read all the comments so hopefully I’m not just repeating what someone else said.

    What really annoys me is inconsistency. Especially those meat eaters who run away screaming if there’s a bone visible in what they’re eating. It’s fine if its minced up and covered in breadcrumbs but if there’s any evidence it came from an animal, it’s a no-go.

    Seriously, they need to start living in the real world.

    Comment by Ros — October 24, 2006 #

  35. My head is spinning with trying to read all of these comments, and those on Amy’s site as well, and absorb what they are all saying. What is of most interest is the absolute storm of opinion over this topic. Kudos to all foodbloggers who have the voice to make themselves heard!

    I am not a picky eater, nor am I particular about most foods I eat, although I do have a pretty precise “Will Not Eat” list….however, it is not for any reasons other than the items on it are CRAP! Like fast food….processed foods, packaged foods etc etc. Doritos. Velveeta. Jello

    Whoever talked about culinary students being the worse sure knew what they were talking about, and I concur heartily. When I talked to my fellow culinarians in school and discovered a whole herd of people unwilling to eat a whole plethora of foods, I said “You must be kidding!” and cannot even imagine them becoming a decent chef if they themselves can’t even eat a shrimp to see if it tastes good.

    I have no need or tolerance for those finicky ones, the ones who say “I don’t DO white vegetables” or turn up their noses at a carefully crafted meal because of one ingredient that’s not to their liking. I eat what is placed in front of me (well, I don’t like organ meats, and yes I have tried them) and I try to remember the nights when I was dirt poor and sometimes ate ketchup spread on saltines as a meal because it was all I had. When you have a period in your life where you aren’t really sure whether or not you will have a decent meal that day, you tend to not allow yourself to turn your nose up at any foodstuffs. While I can’t pick up a plain mushroom and eat it like that, I can eat them in pasta and on pizza. And sometimes I find that I actually like them. It’s amazing what happens when you really TRY some foods.

    Comment by Kate — October 24, 2006 #

  36. Hee hee, I’m a reforming picky eater :-) I used to eat ‘not a lot’ but I tried not to impose it on other people – it always worried me when I went for dinner at someone’s house as to whether I’d enjoy the food. Now, my partner (and lately, her mother!) have taken to deliberately serving me things I ‘dislike’ and I’m taking the opportunity to add loads more to my diet. It’s been great for me and I’m enjoying food a lot more.

    Comment by jo-less — October 25, 2006 #

  37. It’s a good thing I grew up not being a picky eater, so does the rest of our family.

    Comment by Carmen — October 26, 2006 #

  38. Hi Barbara,

    What a great post. You’ve expressed something that’s driven me crazy for years. Fortunately I don’t know that many picky eaters. I did have a boyfriend once who refused to eat any vegetables, or tomatoes. He would have a vegetable-based soup, as long as it was puréed and there were no discernible veggies. His will-not-eat list was as long as his will-eat list. I was truly baffled by this behavior, striking it up to 2 things – 1) he had been spoiled as a child, and/or 2) he had never really been hungry.

    When I was growing up, one of six kids in a family without much of an income, my dad was a teacher, we were all acutely aware of the work our parents did to make sure there was food for us. We never would have presumed to ask for something that wasn’t at the table. What was served was it. If you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to eat it, but that was it. If at the end of the meal you were still hungry, too bad. We kids all learned to eat fast, because if there were any seconds, you had first dibs on them if you had finished your plate.

    There was also no junk food allowed in the house. No soda, no chips, cookies once in a while when grandma made them. No empty calories. No filling up on junk and ruining an appetite. Carrots and celery filled with peanut butter were available for an afternoon snack.

    As a result, there’s never been any obesity in the family, and not one of us is a picky eater. My brother refuses to eat horseradish, but that’s about it.

    Comment by Elise — October 31, 2006 #

  39. [...] I just read the most recent post by Barbara of Tigers & Strawberries (who, I will say, is probably my absolute favorite food blogger to read) regarding picky eaters. It was a follow up to her post from a few days ago in which she states that one of her biggest pet peeves is picky eaters.I have to admit that her first post got my hackles up a bit, for two reasons. Firstly, because I have to admit – I’m a picky eater myself. In some cases, a VERY picky eater. The second reason is because one of my biggest pet peeves is people who discount picky eaters as just being “fussy and a pain in the butt”. You know, the people who say, dismissively, “oh, you’re just a picky eater” when you state that you can’t or won’t eat something, as if it’s a *bad* thing. I grew up with a mother who refused to acknowledge food preferences whatsoever, and this could be where some of my opinions regarding this came from, but really, who knows. I just take issue with people expecting me to just dig into every last thing on my plate with complete disregard for the content of it. [...]

    Pingback by Peppermints & Gingersnaps · picky, picky — November 2, 2006 #

  40. I’m not entirely sure where I fit in with this debate.

    I’ve always been a picky eater. Can’t eat fruit, vegetables, nuts, seafood, eggs, rice, pasta, the list goes on. But this is not by choice, I simply can’t eat that stuff. It’s not my fault. I’d love to be different, and I have got slightly better over the years. I don’t ask people to cater for me, and neither would I expect them to. I just don’t want them to make me feel bad for something I can’t help, just because they don’t understand it. It’s nothing to do with attention or control. If anything I’ve always been somewhat ashamed of it, and it is upsetting when I come across people like some of the commenters here, who call you a baby, or think you’re doing it on purpose. We’re not.

    Comment by Claire — November 12, 2006 #

  41. So Barbara, tell us how you REALLY feel about picky eaters…!

    “And my attitude toward such adults is this–grow up and get over yourself.” Now if only I’d thought of that! Here I am at age 50 still trying to cope with an eating disorder and it turns out I just needed to grow up. Thanks so much for that. I’ll put that into practice straight away and let you know how I go!

    The fact is that you are so self-centred that what you are actually objecting to is these people are not bowing down to your culinary prowess. You accuse picky eaters of being attention grabbers, but you probably need to pause for some reflection to see where the real problem lies.

    I can’t speak for others who suffer this food affliction, but I could guess from the small number of discussions I’ve read that I’m not alone in my experience. I hate being unable to eat socially. I hate sitting in a restaurant paying good money to eat next to nothing. I hate having to send a burger back three times because of the muck that’s on it. I hate being unable to just eat whatever is put in front of me.

    I can assure you the last think I want is to draw attention to myself over what I will or won’t eat. And I really wish it were simply a question of “growing up” or “just trying something”.

    Anyway, you keep right on harranguing your dinner guests and hopefully you’ll show them the light, as you did your husband.

    Comment by Phil — November 12, 2006 #

  42. At the same time, sometimes it isn’t just unwillingness to try. There are vegatables I prefer not to eat, so if I’m cooking they aren’t served. (like chicory) but if someone else cooks them I will eat them (this rule gets thrown out if I’m sick) but short of some berries and those only if they’re not quite ripe, I cannot stand fruit. It’s far too intensly sweet. I’ve always been like this. I remember refusing apples at age 5 and having a huge arguement over it with my teacher. I just can’t make myself swallow them, even. But if I’m not going to be living with someone,I just move the icky stuff to the side of my plate or say “no thank you” when it’s offered. But I agree, that children are a slightly different case.

    Comment by Valerie — December 27, 2006 #

  43. I was pointed here by a friend, and I agree with your post absolutely. I often cook for friends, and nothing is more frustrating than putting forth my standard invite question of, “Any food allergies or issues I should cook around?” and getting back a four-minute recitation of things the guest refuses to eat. OK, there, sparky, you refuse to consume dairy, fruit, any meat besides chicken, potatoes, vegetables, brown rice, anything cooked with garlic or onions, and ‘weird food’. What, exactly do you eat? Chicken and plain pasta. I see.

    I’ll make chicken and plain pasts for the guest, but I probably won’t offer to cook for that person often, and am unlikely to ask them to be part of a group kitchen or a camping trip. I often, when dealing with more than ten people, will set up meals like fajitas or kababs to let people pick and choose around preferences. One woman glared down at my preferred ‘big group’ kebab selection of shrimp, scallops, beef, chicken, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, peppers (bell and hot), onions, mushrooms, tiny potatoes, pineapple, and tofu, said, “I can’t eat any of this junk!” and sat in ostentatious melancholy with a bologna sandwich, watching the rest of us grill our food and complaining loudly that her preferences had been ignored. I can’t abide that (the glaring and complaining, not the bologna sandwich). The same woman insisted that (despite low-fat dietary restrictions for a number of people on the campout) that we change the grilled fish to a ‘fish fry’ because the only way she’ll eat fish is battered and deep fried. Those of us on low-fat diets held our ground and grilled most of the fish; she brought herself a box of fish sticks so she could have ‘decent’ food.

    My experience is less with a guest refusing to eat what’s been served, but more with one or two people holding a group hostage to their juvenile and unhealthy food issues. I’m sorry if you won’t eat a vegetable unless it’s batter-dipped and deep fried, but half the people eating this meal are on medically restricted low-fat diets. I’m sorry that you think all seafood is ‘icky’, but the rest of us are going out for sushi and you can either come along and try it, come along and order something else, or stay home. We’re not changing the plans to go to a restaurant that serves ‘real food’.

    There’s a huge difference, by the way, between saying, “You have unreasonable requirements and I’m not going to great lengths to cook around them,” and badgering someone into eating what you think they should. What you did with your husband was refuse to accomodate his pickiness. There was a thing he could quite happily eat if he didn’t like the glazed carrots or the pork chops or the grilled eggplant, so it’s not like you forced him to eat what you made or starve.

    Comment by Rowan — February 10, 2007 #

  44. I love to cook. Sometimes my husband and I have friends who come over and before we know it, we have a huge group of hungry friends. I am skilled at improvising and just coming up with something. Most of our friends eat and enjoy almost everything we make. But we have some close friends who are a couple. He won’t eat lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, garlic, broccoli, or any greens. She won’t eat fish, mushrooms, pork, beef, or chicken (unless it’s minced), onions, garlic, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember. I really want them to feel included and don’t want them to feel bad about not eating what I cooked (with improvisation) but I also like to see to it that my other friends get something healthy to eat when they’re at my place. How do I handle such situations? Thanks!

    Comment by S.H. — April 24, 2007 #

  45. SH–I would just make a vegetarian dish that did not include lettuce, greens, onions, garlic, broccoli or tomatoes for them. Some sort of bland bean dish, because that sounds like it is the only thing they will agree to eat together. Keep some lentils on hand to cook for them, and cook their dish, along with whatever you cook for the rest of your friends.

    And, if they complain that their food doesn’t smell as nice, well, point out that is because they don’t eat onions or garlic which is what makes foods smell nice.

    Say it nicely, of course. ;-)

    Comment by Barbara — May 6, 2007 #

  46. I came across your website while I was looking for help with my problem, I’ll say it before you are thinking it, I AM A PICKY EATER. I don’t mean I won’t eat a few certain foods, I mean I ONLY eat a few certain things prepared a certain way. I am not one to judge someone’s opinion, but you are all generalizing. Especially the author of this article, you all think that picky eaters are just wanting to be the center of attention, no I HATE being the center of attention, or we are all a bunch of big babies, quite the opposite, I am a very mature what most people call an adult at the age of 22, I happen to be very successful at whatever I put my mind to just like the majority of you. I simply have a some sort of mental block when it comes to trying new foods. I have it set in my mind that it is something that I don’t like, the texture of it alone on my tongue is enough to make me gag and run to the bathroom to throw up. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things, I want to be normal like the rest of my friends and not worry about where I am going if there is going to be something I like on the menu or what kind of excuse I have to use to get out of eating. I just today found this site that describes exactly my type of problem, up until today I thought I was the only one with this problem turns out I’m not. Check it out and maybe you will understand what some of us go through….

    pickyeatingadults.com

    I respect the fact that the majority of the people that most of you cook for are just the average run of the mill picky eaters that do not like certain foods, but do not generalize and make opinions about everyone.

    Comment by Blake — July 9, 2007 #

  47. The author of this article doesn’t seem to be very sensitive to other people’s feelings. As a person with a life-long fear of most foods, I feel as though I might die if I eat something that others would consider edible. It is something I’ve lived with my entire life, for as long as I can remember. It does not stem from a traumatic childhood incident, controlling parents, or because I don’t like the taste of food. In fact, I’ve never tried most foods and the thought of doing so is unimaginable. I hate the attention this has brought to me over the course of my life and there is definitely a negative impact on my social life. I can’t enjoy holidays or eating with other people and everyone (including you, apparently) thinks I am a freak and can’t understand why I won’t eat the same things as them. I have a very normal life and I’m happy for the most part but food is a struggle for me constantly. You are very judgmental of others..

    Comment by Olivia — May 25, 2009 #

  48. On one hand, I wanted to rip the author a new one – what the hell does SHE know! – but I didn’t, for two reasons. One, this is oooooold and she, like anyone who cares, has likely moved on, which means I’d just laugh at myself afterwards, along with everyone else for being a moron. The second reason? I see treating a person like this the same way I see treating people with developmental disabilities: its not their fault they don’t understand, and no matter how much you want to shake the shit out of them, you shouldn’t. She’s probably a bitch anyway, but I’m not sure its her fault, and frankly, even though I am seriously super-picky in the horrible, evil, teeth-gnashing way she can’t stand (that being refusing to eat entire categories of food or refusing to even touch a dish that contains something like onions or mushrooms), she didnt cause this problem and its not fair of me to force her to accomodate me, even if I still think she’s a stuck-up control freak. The silver lining for me in things like this? I’m not likely to know, much less associate, nevermind *break bread* with an uptight, manipulative douchebag like this chick, so I find it hard to imagine being in a situation where such a clash between cook and picky eater anyway. Just not gonna happen!

    So now I skip merrily on, to shut down this idiotbox and go eat my food – cooked exactly to specification and all the more god-damned delicious because of it! ;-)

    Comment by Emme — August 22, 2009 #

  49. Well, hello, Emme. Nothing like waking up to some insults.

    See, this post is old, but I get email notifications, so I got to wake up to some stranger feeling the need to come into my online space and insulting me personally.

    Glad you decided not to really “rip me a new one,” because I might have had to cry.

    BTW–I think you are the one who is a bit of a control freak and I am very glad I don’t know you and have to put up with cooking for you. Because not only are you controlling about food, you are narcisstic enough to take a general post written by a stranger as being all about you and you get insulted about it.

    And I suspect that would make you an awful dinner guest. Rude folks are a real drag.

    Comment by Barbara — August 22, 2009 #

  50. I guess I have to call myself (68) as “picky”, too! Because I listen into my body, what is good for it, in other words, my body tells me, what is good for it or not. And I feel very well and healthy that way. I am vegetarian but sometimes I eat eggs as well and then suddenly my body tells me to stop, and I do so. I guess people should be more awake (or maybe even picky) about what they are eating, maybe they would have less allergies!
    Anita

    Comment by Anita — May 24, 2010 #

  51. Allergic to nightshades? holy… I’d cry.

    To all those with texture fetishes: sometimes the food you hate can be prepared without that texture. If you kindly describe to the cook what you hate about it, and they still suggest you try it. Try a little. Spit it out if necessary.

    I’ve discovered I like wood-ear mushrooms, though I can’t stand most.

    Comment by Mia — December 14, 2010 #

  52. [...] Tigers & Strawberries » My Pet Peeve: Picky PeopleOct 20, 2006 … I met more picky people in culinary school than anywhere else I have been. It seemed as if young food-controlling people flocked to culinary … [...]

    Pingback by Picky people | Commoditiesass — February 20, 2012 #

  53. You are a slimebag lady. Obeying stupid ancient dietary laws that have nothing to do with “God” is just fine but people should eat food THEY HATE THE TASTE OF just to please you? YOU are the one who deserves the term “food-controlling”. And you are also an idiot to eat food YOU don’t like to please your host. That makes no sense whatsoever and I fail to understand the impulse. Why in the world would anyone want anyone to eat some food they hated? Wacko.

    Comment by Retnan — April 27, 2012 #

  54. My turn to vent!!! I live with my boyfriend and his children visit every other weekend during the school season and every other WEEK during the summer. these children have no bounderies, rude and are PICKY eaters. Chicken nuggets, mac and cheese,ramen noodle and Pizza is the extent of what they will eat only WHITE bread,except one who eats all day along, peanut butter sandwiches with honey, and ice cream..everything these kids are poison to there bodies. ages 17,14,10 I am a diabetic type 2 so I know how important eating healthy is, I also am the one who buys and cooks the food in this house. I am always fit to be tied the weeks they are here trying to cook, I eat alot of veggies, dried beans(cooked)whole fresh foods..they will say, that is gross or sit and whine because I used tomatoes..when i do call them to eat they run to the table like they haven eaten in a week, grab a bunch of food(if is it to their liking) leaving little for anyone else to eat,it is this behavior that causes tension between me and my boyfriend. I find myself cooking a meal just for them and they all eat together. I find something healthy to eat along with my 2 daughters. I am tired of buying food for 2 separate meals, it is too costly. On top of it all they think they need to eat mainly all the meat portions and nothing else..I am at my WIT end with this picky eating!!

    Comment by Betty — July 9, 2012 #

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