Can We Stop Calling People Picky Eaters?Photo by Ashleigh Shea/Unsplash Food Features food culture
Mushrooms are too rubbery. Broccoli smells like farts. Celery is the devil’s vegetable. These are some of my unpopular food opinions that have, at one time or another, gained me the title of “picky eater.”
What exactly is picky eating? For most, it means being particular about food texture, flavor, temperature or touching on a plate.
As a vegan, I’m expected to love all vegetables because what else do I eat every day? I’m used to the comments and questions about protein sources, energy levels and the lack of cheese, but it gets a lot worse when people see how selective I am about what I do eat. It must seem strange to others: I’ve already reduced the amount of food I can eat by being vegan, so why would I choose to further reduce it?
Well, it’s not really a choice. Most people who are particular about their food are not trying to be awkward. Most of us would rather eat these things if we could. But for one reason or another, those foods just don’t taste good to us, and I don’t think that should make us targets for criticism.
For children, the worry is reasonable. From the time a kid is born, parents fret about their kid’s diet and nutrient intake. Their kid might not like certain foods, refuse to eat something especially healthy or reject an entire food group. Their bodies and brains are developing, so they need proper fuel to help them grow. But what purpose does it serve to call an adult a picky eater? Why does it matter to anyone else what we put into our bodies? As adults, if we are purposeful about what we choose to eat, we are called fussy, seen as annoying or accused of just doing it for attention.
The label of “picky eater” only serves to further stigmatize food and eating habits, topics that are already fraught for many people. Questioning what people eat or don’t eat could be triggering to those who suffer from eating disorders. There are also religious and cultural reasons why someone might not eat certain foods: Hindus don’t eat beef, and followers of Judaism and Islam don’t eat pork. This doesn’t mean they are being picky; they are just living by their morals. By calling someone out for not liking a popular dish or ingredient, we are trying to get them to conform to our way of being. What someone does or does not eat should have no bearing on us, yet some people insist on making others feel bad for not conforming.
It’s a way of forcing our choices onto others: If I have to eat this, then so should you. This goes back to childhood. Some of us were forced to eat everything on our plate, or we couldn’t leave the table. For many, this means that certain foods trigger memories of childhood, taking us back to a time when we had no autonomy over our own bodies or what went into them. Being in a scenario where your “picky eating” is called out can bring back the trauma, shame and frustration from childhood.
We need to stop calling each other picky eaters. It serves no purpose other than trying to get everyone to behave in the same way. So what if someone doesn’t like avocados because the texture is gross to them? There’s no reason to call attention to it or make that person feel self-conscious about it.
This says nothing of people who have diagnosable health conditions who have to restrict what they eat. Sure, lots of people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, but every time we roll our eyes when someone asks if a menu item is gluten free, we could be rolling our eyes at someone who has celiac disease. People are not obligated to disclose every food intolerance they have just so they don’t get judged. I often have to ask if a drink has sweeteners in it because I have a bad reaction to them, but I’ve seen waitstaff roll their eyes at my question, and it’s not a good feeling.
There is no moral superiority to eating all food indiscriminately, though many would have you believe differently. No one is a better person because they eat healthier or a wider variety of food. But we’ve attached morality to food. Some foods are good while others are labeled bad. Eating the wrong foods can lead to judgment, but even if you refuse to eat “junk” food, you’re labeled a snob.
Veganism can be seen as a type of picky eating; vegans are selective about what to eat based on our love for animals, the health of the planet and concerns for our fellow man. Why is this seen as a negative? Shouldn’t we all be concerned about what we put into our bodies? Why isn’t discernment about food seen as a good thing?