“You know, I’ve never considered myself a picky eater, but I’m starting to think I just might be.” This is what I said to my long-suffering husband when we had finally, after hours of trolling, located a restaurant on whose menu I was able to identify something I could eat for lunch.
“Really?” He asked, sweaty and exhausted. “A picky eater? You?”
You’d have thought I would have recognized this annoying fact about myself earlier; I am, after all, sixty two years old. But, no. “I’m an omnivore.” That’s what I have always told people. “I like everything but okra.” And it’s true. I do like everything but okra. And who really likes okra? I mean, really?
My brother Peter was the picky eater in our household. He was vigilant about not letting the juice from his peas contaminate the rest of his meal and refused categorically to eat anything called ‘dressing’. For years we had to tell him that the dressing Mom made for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner was, in fact, rice. Actually, it was rice, but it was rice that the rest of us called ‘dressing.’ (Therein lies a conundrum, but not one I’m prepared to explore in this blog post.)
As for me, I would eat anything and frequently did. In volume. One of my most cherished childhood memories was eating an entire bag of Pecan Sandies while lying on a floating raft in the middle of a lake. Another time I consumed all the leftover tuna noodle casserole at a birthday party while other children played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, a game I never found to be in the least engaging. There was that halcyon moment I made off like a bandit when the candy machine at the Green Room of the Tanglewood Barn Theater disgorged its entire contents into a large paper bag I just happened to have about my twelve year old person. (My post Risky Business details that particular heist.) I ate anything and in volume until puberty, when I graduated from being ‘chunky’ — Sears-catalog speak for ‘fat girl’ (fat boys were ‘husky’) – to being teenage and an indisputable lard ass.
In short order vanity trumped appetite with the result — pathetic — that I have spent the last half century of my life liking everything but okra . . . and eating very little of what the world dishes up. I do not eat potato chips. I do not eat French fries. I do not eat donuts. A pancake hasn’t crossed these lips for decades. Neither has a piece of fried chicken . . . or a piece of fried anything, for that matter. As for ice cream, which may be my favorite thing in the entire world, I go years between cones. There are so many things that I don’t eat (that in my head I’m not allowed to eat) that I can make for a difficult lunch companion. “Well, what can you eat?” my aspiring fellow diner will finally demand. To which the answer is most frequently, “Not that.”
But somehow I never thought of myself as a picky eater. The kid brother of the my son’s high school girlfriend, the one who ate only Eggos — and I mean ever — he was a picky eater (and probably a dead one by now, it being so hard to survive on a diet of toaster waffles). I, on the other hand, am a controlled eater, a clean eater, a mindful eater. After all, I like everything except okra. I like it. (The ‘everything’ part, that is, not the ‘okra’ part — I want to be clear about this.) Surely there’s a distinction between someone with very particular and narrow likes and dislikes and someone who likes everything, but whose mindset is mired in consequence?
It really doesn’t matter why you are a picky eater. Whether you’re a food-loving, fat-fearing omnivore like me … or someone who clings to the food preferences of a recalcitrant four year old … or you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you’re still a picky eater and, to some degree at least, a pain in the ass.
My first husband once suggested — acerbically — that the epithet on my tombstone should read, in Latin:
“She died thin.”
My forever husband prefers a line from the late Robert Palmer’s song “Simply Irresistible”:
“She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went.”
I can tell you where it didn’t go. It didn’t go for salt, fat and sugar. Because I’m a picky eater.
And a pain in the ass.