11 December 2018

Would You Eat THAT?

All my life I've been a picky eater. When I was very little, my mother tried to force me to eat foods I didn't like in order to encourage me, I'm sure, to not be so picky. But after I vomited beets all over the kitchen floor, she let me make my own choices.
Fast forward to adulthood. I'm still a picky eater--less so than in childhood but more so than many other adults. I know this from dining out with friends, though the point always hits home whenever one of those food quizzes comes up on social media. You know the ones: How many of these weird-sounding foods have you tried? I always surprise my friends (well, maybe not some who know me really well) because I score soooo low. Despite knowing I'm picky, the extent of it always seems to surprise people.

For instance, I once took a quiz about vegetables; how many had I tried? The grand total: 18 of the 110 vegetables listed, putting me in the lowest two percentile for the quiz. (Eighteen was actually a higher number than I'd expected.) I also took a quiz about Jewish food. I'd tried 38 out of 100 of  'em. Friends had thought I'd score higher on this quiz since I'm Jewish, but 38 was pretty darn high for me.

Oh, no! It's Mr. Bill! (You see it too, right?)
But those are specialized quizzes. What about overall pickiness? Here, Buzzfeed came in handy. They had a quiz to look at just how picky I am. All I had to do was check the foods I wouldn't touch, and there were a lot of them: hard cheese, soft cheese, blue cheese, goat cheese, cottage cheese. (You must be thinking I don't eat any cheese, but it's not true. Grilled cheese, good. Pizza, good!) And there were more foods on the quiz that I find it hard to believe anyone would eat, because I sure wouldn't. Bone marrow. Nuh uh. Tripe. No way. Sweet bread. Are you kidding? Blood sausage. Just the name makes me queasy. Bull testicles. Oh, come on! And last, but not least, the evil cilantro. No way, no how. Not gonna happen. At least soap doesn't pretend to be a food group.

Yet even as I write this, I know there are people out there who have probably tried all these foods and asked for seconds. I know this because I am friends with a particularly adventurous eater: author Catriona McPherson. She and I have a game we play. She tries to find normal foods I've actually tried or will eat again. I try to find a weird (at least to me) food she hasn't tried. A round might go like this:

Catriona: "Have you tried a pear?" She's probably thinking, I've got her here; everyone has tried pears.
Me: Buzz. As I do the Rocky dance, I proudly proclaim, "I have never had a pear. That's a point for me."
Now it's my turn.
Me: "Have you tried bull testicles?"
Catriona: "Sure have. Yum! That's a point for me, and the round is tied!"

Actually, I don't recall if I've ever asked Catriona about bull testicles. Catriona, get ready for the next round.

It's usually difficult for me to score any points off Catriona because she is so adventurous. That vegetable quiz, the one where I had tried 18 of 110 vegetables--Catriona had tried 103 of them! I once asked her about a whole bunch of Jewish foods, but she had once attended a seder, so she trounced me in that game. And she's Scottish, so she's eaten all these foods I'd never even heard of before I met her--foods I wouldn't go anywhere near now that I have heard of them. (Tripe. Really, Catriona?) Amazingly, I've found one food she's never tried but I have: candy canes! Not that I like candy canes. I don't think I'd ever eat another one. And I'm sure I only had a bite of the one I tried in the past. But I tried it!

The beauty of being a picky eater is I read a lot of article about food. Not to learn to make them, of course, since cooking is something else I don't do. But I'm fascinated by foods other people will eat that I won't go near with a giant fork. And learning about foods sometimes gives me story ideas. That is partly how I came up with the idea for my most-recent story, "Bug Appétit," which appears in the current (November/December) issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  It involves what I would deem weird food, but not everyone agrees (based on my research), and that makes for an unusual plot (and unusual Thanksgiving dinner!).
Bug Appétit!

If you want to read "Bug Appétit," it's not too late. The current issue of EQMM should remain on sale until around Christmas. I've seen copies at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. And you can order digital copies through Magzter. Or you can subscribe to the magazine, in print or electronically, here: http://www.elleryqueenmysterymagazine.com/.

As to the quizzes I mentioned above, here they are, in case you want to try them out. For the vegetable quiz, click here. For the Jewish food quiz, click here. And for the Buzzfeed overall pickiness quiz, click here. But I wouldn't put a lot of stock in the Buzzfeed quiz. After I answered all their questions, they told me, "You're not too picky." They clearly don't know me at all.


  1. Barb, you had me laughing through the whole piece. I thought I was a picky eater, but compared to you I think I'm adventurous. That said, I am a picky eater and we share some of the same pickiness in common. My wife, Amy, is a very adventurous eater, always trying new things. But I like the tried and true. 99% of the time if I go to a restaurant I order the same thing - hey, I know I like it.

    And congratulations on your story in EQMM!

  2. My father was in the army and we lived in different places, the nicest Verona, Italy, where the food was magnificent.

    One year my father was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. I went to junior high school in Junction City, Kansas, where we dissected a crawfish in biology class (they called them crayfish) and I mentioned how good crawfish tasted. It grossed out the class. Thankfully, the teacher was quick enough to correct them as he had traveled to Louisiana and had eaten the "delicacy." He did not convince all the students who spread the word that I ate bugs.

  3. I'm glad to know I was not the only childhood picky eater. I don't think of myself that way now, I think of myself as someone who is confident about what she likes. The Bug Thanksgiving story was funny.

  4. Fun post, and loved your EQMM story, as I've said! I usually score pretty good on these quizzes—not a crazy adventurous eater, but willing to try things, so points in my favor. :-)

  5. There are 110 vegetables?

    I was a really picky eater as a kid, probably because my mother was such an unadventurous and unenthusiastic (see me bending over backwards to avoid the word "bad?") cook. When I got to college, I started eating a lot more salad and fish because some of the other choices looked older than I was.

    I'm a lot less picky now, but still nowhere near intrepid. Considering how I love to eat, that's probably the only thing that keeps my weight moderately under control.

    And I loved "Bug Appetite."

  6. I am a picky eater and/but(depending on your view), I love to cook.I did not realize that they went hand-in-hand until Adam Arkin's character on "Northern Exposure" had a conversation close to this with a bunch of under-skilled cooks, "WHY DO I BOTHER TO COOK?" One answered, "Because you're hungry?" He had the same momentary revelation as I did:"YES, because I'm hungry and I want to eat MY food, not YOUR lousy food." I bad food.
    But I will try many foods...not Rocky Mt.oysters; not brains, or any bug or anything bug-like. NOt rat, in fact, few animals, and if I think of it, I'll go vegetarian or even vegan.
    But I try most foods and play with veggies and spices.
    By the way, I don't like any pears but Bosc.
    I have very strong senses of taste and smell, yet Joe-the-husband seems to have about 10 active taste buds. I was angry for years with him putting hot sauce, (or any sauces), on my fine-tuned dishes. Finally I realized that he was having trouble tasting them, so I kicked some foods up a notch or I make HIS food stronger. I love a challenge!
    You have me,I'm going to take the tests!

  7. Getting pickier as I learn what I prefer and "increasingly efficient metabolism" means I eat smaller portions, so best not to waste them.
    I have tried much that I'd opt not to have again . . . but much more that I love. My CSA shares introduced me to the many varieties of greens, kale, chard, collards, etc. Now I feel deprived without them. I was excused from lima beans as a child and still don't like them. Much, much later, Mom laughingly asked if I knew why she let me skip them and told me, "They are my favorite, and we didn't have them often. If you didn't eat any, I'd have some for lunch the next day." Anyone who wants can have my share of limas (and hot sauces).

  8. I used to eat anything and everything except dairy (lactose intolerant), mint (allergy), bugs and bull testicles. Now I've had to cut out hot food and beans because - well, as we age, our digestive system gets even pickier than our taste buds.
    And I love Bosc pears - I bake them with brown sugar and apple pie spice and we have one every morning for breakfast. (Warmed in the microwave) Great...

  9. I love almost all Jewish food but I went to a bar mitzvah one time & ate gefilte fish, without knowing how horrible it could be. I thought I was going to die.

    Husband is diabetic & also on coumadin which means he can't eat spinach, broccoli, & a few other things. We cook all the time. I'm a better cook than he is & I let him be the sous chef, while I do the stove work.

  10. Hey, Paul. I do the same thing--have a regular order in each restaurant. I know what I like at each place, so why vary? Back when I lived in Maryland, whenever I would call my then-regular take-out Chinese place, as soon as I started placing my order, the owner would cut me off and say, "Goffman, right?" And then she'd tell me what I was going to say. It was nice and a little embarrassing at the same time.

    O'Neil, your story just goes to show that what is a delicacy for someone is strange (at best) for others. In a lot of the world, bugs are standard dinner fare. But not at my house!

    Janice, I like that: I'm not picky; I'm just certain of what I like and only want to eat those things. And I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. I had fun writing it.

    Hi, Art. I have never been one to try new things easily. I think I was in the third grade before I had ever seen pizza in person. Thank goodness I got up the courage to try it since I grew to love it so. And thanks again about the story. :)

    Steve: I know. 110! That seems like a lot. Though some people who took the test told me they thought there were some repetitions, that some vegetables appeared multiple times under different names. Imagine: vegetables have aliases! And I'm so happy you loved my story. Yay! Thanks for letting me know.

    Tonette, I had completely forgotten about Adam Arkin's character on Northern Exposure. Thanks for the reminder.

    Mary, thanks for sharing your mom's lima beans story. That's funny!

    Eve, I hope when you said you can't eat hot food, you meant spicy, not extra warm. Having to eat only cold food would be difficult.

    Elizabeth, thank you for the gefilte fish laugh, though it sounds like you weren't laughing at the time. Hindsight, right?

  11. I'm reasonably adventurous with my dining choices, but if I don't like something the first time, I might not try it a second, and the problem may not be with the item but with how it's prepared.

    One thing I like to do, on those occasions when I'm a guest speaker at a conference and am asked my dining preference, is to ask my host to take me to a local restaurant (not a chain!) and recommend menu items that best represent the local cuisine. I've experienced several good meals this way.

  12. Barbara Selznick11 December, 2018 21:10

    Barb, you're a picky eater? I never noticed. Great post!

  13. Michael, you are way more adventurous that I would EVER be.

    And Barbara, I'm shocked, shocked, that you are aware of my pickiness!


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