I’m not talking about a fear of eating – that’s a whole ‘nother box of worms I’m not opening today. No, I’m talking about a fear of food. Or rather, trying new foods. Last night at dinner I served a seasoned rice I’d made up – and deliberately under-spiced because I knew the kids would kick a fuss if it were ‘spicy’ and my son refused to try it, then when told he had to take a bite, put it in his found and immediately spit it back out, before he could possibly have tasted it. Above and beyond the whole ‘that’s not acceptable behaviour’ which led to parental disapproval over the spitting, I wonder why he won’t even give the food a chance.
It’s not the only thing he won’t eat. And some of the things that he will eat, and ask for, leave me wondering. Bologna. I never in their lives fed them bologna – I can’t stand it myself, and I don’t think it’s a healthy option for them. But it’s the only way he’ll eat lunchmeat. I asked his sister about it, while we were putting groceries away the other day. Where did he even have it? I asked her. It turns out that it was a staple while they were with the other set of parents. Which explains that part… And probably explains a lot of why they will no longer eat things they used to enjoy. Mexican food, Thai, Indian… I used to cook my way around the world, sometimes with great deliberation as an extension of their education. There were always things they wouldn’t eat, but it seems that now there are things they won’t even consider.
I’m left working on other ways to overcome their food fears. Teaching them how to cook, and where foods came from. Taking them to Jungle Jim’s and letting them choose something that looks exotic but interesting. We’ve had really good success with that, and I have hopes that in time they will return to being adventurous eaters.
As we were talking about bologna, I told a story on myself. When I was first away from home to college, twenty-odd years ago, we were required to do service. There were about twenty churches we could pick, but being me, I went along with two or three others to a church no-one else had chosen before. It was a tiny church perched on a steep West Virginia hillside, and the parsonage was a single-wide trailer. The pastor was in his eighties, and his wife along with him. She insisted on feeding us kids. We couldn’t refuse. It didn’t matter to her that we had a cafeteria at the school and ate well, even had kitchens in the dorms for our use when the caf wasn’t available. We were teens (we weren’t all, but close enough) and therefore we were starving and she was going to feed us. You don’t turn that down. And you eat whatever is put in front of you.
Let me tell you, an elderly Southern lady is a force of nature. When she tells you to sit, you sit, and then you watch her fry slices of bologna. You don’t try to help. She’s got this, and you just say yes Ma’am. And when she hands you the bologna between two slices of paper-white bread slathered in mayo (my family didn’t eat much store-bought bread, and never white bread from the store), you bow your head for grace and then you eat. It was surprisingly good. I still can’t and won’t eat cold, clammy bologna with all the grease that sticks to your palate, but the fried stuff wasn’t bad. And I’ll never forget that lovely old woman feeding us.
I’m slowly working on my own kids. They are eating more broadly. I watched them prepare sushi last weekend and introduce their friend to it. He tried it – because A. teen boy, always hungry and B. teen boy, with girls paying him attention – and to his surprise, he liked it. There was no raw fish involved (I remain deeply suspicious of the quality of fish I’d find here in Ohio and won’t let them do sashimi) but there was seaweed. He went home no longer able to say he didn’t like sushi. I was proud of my daughters.
All of us come from an upbringing that influenced how we felt about food, and trying new things. Some people never strayed outside the white bread and bologna lines. Others will put anything in their mouth, once. Me, I grew up with foraging wild foods and hunting and fishing and so the concept of trying foods from outside the box doesn’t phase me at all. But even so, there are things I refuse to even try. Balut, Hakarl, and this stuff.
I got lucky with the First Reader – who will eat whatever I put in front of him, as my readers know from the Eat This While You Read That! series – and for all the issues of my first marriage, it did teach me how to cook and how to cook different cuisines. I approach food like anything else in my life. I research, look at the science, and am amazed at how much food says about us. Food anthropology is really cool… but that’s a post for another day, because I need to go fix some breakfast (I have steel-cut oats, yummo!) and then do some fiction writing.