Posted September 11, 2021.
My family teases me about how, as a kid, I would never quite eat my whole meal. I regarded most vegetables with fear and loathing. But even when I liked the food, I’d always leave scraps. Not only did pizza crust and bread crust go straight into the trash, I was also prone to designating some little remnant of my steak or half-bite of a chicken nugget as “the crust” and refusing to finish it. I’m not sure if I managed to eat an entire order of french fries by myself until my late 20s.
There also just weren’t many things I would eat. My diet was mostly cheese pizza and chicken. At a five-course formal dinner in college I resolutely refused to have even a sip of my soup, on the grounds that it was soup. Or a bite of my salad, on the grounds that it was salad. In fact, “tasted lettuce” is another milestone I’m not sure I reached before age 25.1
I’m far less picky now. But I’m still kinda picky. So, dear reader, I hope you’ll recognize that I’m being very vulnerable with you right now as I make a request that’s very close to my heart:
Please don’t try to make me eat that.
Whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. If I said I don’t want it, I don’t want it. Please just let me have some peace (by not having a piece).
You’re actually right that I might like it if I try it. I don’t dispute that. It’s just irrelevant. This isn’t about taste. This is a deep-seated aversion. Just thinking about eating that is seriously stressing me out. If I eat it and it tastes good, that won’t make up for the stress. Moreover, even if I like how it tastes, the idea of eating it again will still be really stressful next time.
Because taste isn’t the issue. Cough syrup tastes bad, but I have no problem drinking it. Conversely, I’ve eaten some delicious things that I never plan to order again, because some insane part of my brain recoils in dread at the thought of allowing them into my body, and I really prefer my dining experiences to involve as little emotional trauma as possible.
To ask me “if you’ve never tried it, how do you know you don’t like it?” misses the point. The fact that even thinking about trying it suffuses me with fear is precisely the thing I don’t like about it.
Yes, I know it doesn’t make any sense. My policy of "I don’t eat liquidy foods except for the ones I do" was not adopted as the result of some process of rational deliberation. It’s just an annoying fact about my brain that I can’t easily or quickly change. You’re not going to be able to reason me out of it, because it never had anything to do with reason in the first place.
I do apologize. I assure you this is at least as inconvenient for me as it is for you. Please understand that my refusal to put that in my mouth is not at all a commentary on the quality of your cooking. You being a lousy chef is a totally orthogonal issue.
1. I remember standing in a grocery store one fateful day and having a sudden intuition that if I didn’t bring something green home with me I was quite possibly going to die. So I learned to eat lettuce. I like to imagine that this was the culmination of years of heroic effort on the part of my downtrodden, malnourished gut brain to forge a communication link with the right part of my cerebrum so it could finally make its needs heard.