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Fussy (too fussy?) about the foods we eat

Uploaded: May 18, 2019
I happen to be one of those “eat to live” kinds of people, rather than a “live to eat” type. But for either, I love to cook. Most of the time.

So having family and friends over for a holiday dinner was always a fun opportunity. But my, oh my, has it gotten more complicated lately.

Not so many years ago, a hostess would gently ask her guests in advance, “Are you allergic to anything?” Most of the time, people said “no,” or “only peanuts.” Not a problem.

But now people, especially millennials, are strongly asserting their eating preferences. And cooking for their various needs is becoming an escalating demand and time-consuming effort.

Take my own family and all their kids. It was time for an Easter dinner so I asked them, “Lamb or ham? Which do you prefer?

“Lamb,” my husband clearly announced. “Either,” one of my sons replied. “I’ve become a vegetarian,” his wife said, so just a lot of vegetables would be great.” “I eat only chicken or fish, because they are the healthiest,” another son declared. “I’m on a diet, so nothing with fat, please,” my daughter-in-law said. “If you serve ham, no cloves or cinnamon, and no horseradish or mustard.” “I don’t want to eat beef, and I guess lamb is as bad as beef, so I want ham,” a 15-year-old grandson ordered.

Allllllright. Chicken (and tofu) it is! – for Easter?!

One of my neighbors really had a much bigger problem. She had to take care of her 16-year-old granddaughter for a week, who thinks killing animals is cruel, so she’s become an insistent vegan. “No compromises, grandma.” But she also insisted on only organic -- nothing that any pesticide came near. And she is convinced she has a gluten problem so only “gluten free.” And she also is lacto-intolerant, she declared.

My neighbor, Sally, called. “What on earth can I cook for her? Help!” Her granddaughter's mother was out of town so my neighbor was on her own. She diligently went to a gluten-free bakery and bought bread and dessert; she went to Whole Foods to ensure every vegetable she bought was organic; she got almond milk for breakfast and organic raspberries.

Her granddaughter, Ann, arrived and Sally said, “I’ve got dinner ready for you, honey. Sit down and we can eat.” Sally put a steaming plate of organic, vegan, and pesticide-free food in front of her. Ann looked at it and said, “I’m not very hungry. I am going upstairs to read.”

Aaarghh!

We now place great demands on the foods we are willing put in our collective mouths these days. There is the Atkins diet, Dukan diet, lemon detox diet, Ketogenic diet, Zone diet, Paleo diet, Baby food diet, and the Cabbage soup diet, as starters. I am sure there are other new new diets on the way/

Not only that, people declare they are lactose free, want no carbs, no fats, no dairy, no antibiotics, no BST in the milk, free-range chickens, no sweeteners, sugar-free only (“I am pre-diabetic!”), and no artificial color.

I looked up the 10 “ickiest” foods – most disliked foods: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, fish, turnips, beets, liver, spinach, avocado, cottage cheese and eggplant. This list of dislikes, I want to assume, reflects the tastes of East Coast and Midwest residents. Certainly not Californians. We like our vegies, don’t we? (I don’t like cottage cheese, I admit -- but that's not a veggie!)

All I can say to those not locally grown people is you are just going to have to learn to eat these so-called “icky” foods. They are good for you and if you cook them right (which is easy), you too will like them!

But underlying all these likes, dislikes, choices, options, and insistent demands is my question: Are we getting fussier about our food? Too fussy? Alas yes, that is sad and bad.
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Comments

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 18, 2019 at 2:31 pm

When I was growing up, there were two options. Take it or leave it.

I don't ever remember going to be hungry, but if I didn't like what was on the table then that was it. As a society, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to food. It is fairly cheap compared to what it used to cost our grandparents to feed their children. Then they had to eat with the seasons, just what could be brought to market that was locally grown. Grandparents often grew vegetables themselves to supplement what was bought, to save money to spend on important things like paying the bills. Children were also expected to do chores and many of those chores involved helping with meals.

Funnily enough, obesity was not a problem back then either.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Eat Well, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 18, 2019 at 4:47 pm

@Diana,
For some perspective, you might wish to read this Scientific American article about what humans did/should eat and why:
Web Link

If someone else is seeking a way of eating that makes them feel healthier, this does not make them "fussy", even if that way of eating is different than what would make you feel healthier (per the above article). That also doesn't excuse the utter rudeness of your neighbor Sally's granddaughter, but on the other hand, that is not to say she should have forced herself to eat. (But she could have been more polite about it.) Next time your neighbor could get the ingredients and have her granddaughter cook with her, instead of having a lot of expectations after cooking in a way she wasn't comfortable with.

I lived my entire adult life with horrifically painful endometriosis, which medicine in general just does a horrifically bad job helping women with (despite it being such a common problem). I discovered that if I stopped eating meat, especially poultry, and eggs, my next cycle was considerably less painful (still horrifically painful, but only just somewhat worse than labor and delivery, not way worse), and if I gave into temptation at all and ate meat that month, the pain was never worth it. I never figured out why, I don't even have theories. (Tofu caused clearly increased bleeding, so it was out, too. Discovered that the hard way.) But I became a vegetarian and grew to love vegetables, because I too live to eat rather than just the other way around.

The fact that it was so hard to eat in a way that would allow me to stand later that month when we visited relatives in certain states meant we stopped visiting them. There are some parts of the country where vegetables are rarer than the meat they serve as their main foodstuff.

People are way more aware of how diet affects health nowadays. Back in the day, it was just too bad if someone else's cigarettes or whatever processed stuff went on top of the Wonderbread made you sick.

By the way, I also went totally organic, on the theory (from a doctor) that the hormone analogs in the food contributed to the endo pain, and whether that was why or not, this also improved things noticeably (though it coincided with eating even better vegetables, so who knows).

I went to a retreat recently in which the chef (and she did deserve that title) prided herself on being able to offer good tasting food that everyone could and would eat. And she did. The non-vegetarians were often over at the veg line which was not just a side line, because the offerings were even more yummy there. The GF desserts were just as good or better, and sometimes the only option. When it was time to go, the attendees SANG to the kitchen staff and gave a massive thank you for the great food that no one felt left out of.

I think Michael Pollen had it right: eat in moderation, mostly vegetables. Find good-tasting options along those lines and mostly you won't have to deal with "fussy" eaters.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on May 18, 2019 at 7:58 pm

I am very much into health but I'll eat fast food, non-organic, I eat pretty much everything to test what my system can handle. Its not a big deal because I exercise so much that I detox and metabolize very well.
I believe that exercise is extremely important so if people eat well, more power to them but they shouldn't neglect exercise. Being a perfectionist about your diet alone won't keep you healthy, there's more to it than that including mental health, financial health, relationships, etc.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 19, 2019 at 10:44 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Eat well --
If someone has health problems, of course that person should eat whatever will help them, and they are not fussy. I am in no way criticizing those who have actual problems with foods, such as celiac disease and gluten intolerance. But some who declare themselves as needing to be on a gluten-free diet do so because that's become a popular fad. So eat what you need to eat.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Common sense, a resident of another community,
on May 19, 2019 at 11:16 am

Common sense is a registered user.

"But now people, especially millennials, are strongly asserting their eating preferences. And cooking for their various needs is becoming an escalating demand and time-consuming effort."

Preamble I'm one of your live-to-eat types, cooking constantly, diversely and experimentally, since childhood, and often focused on food. That includes noticing shifting norms, preferences, pundits, countercultures, and fads for the past few decades.

What you described in those quoted words hardly began with millennials, even if they took up the cry loudly. Throughout your lifetime and mine there've been trends and fashionable food notions; reading of past eras shows that these things long predate us. The family names of past health-food gurus Sylvester Graham (1794"1851) and James Salisbury (1823-1905) still adorn US food products even if Salisbury's conception of health food -- "diet of coffee and lean chopped beefsteak" -- is out of fashion. For now.

Frances Lappé was motivated to write "Diet for a Small Planet" specifically by malnutrition she saw in people on faddish (but badly deficient) 1960s "macrobiotic" dieting. Yet even while they malnourished themselves, people I saw on those diets in those days fairly radiated self-satisfaction and self-righteousness. A New Yorker cartoon of the past decade parodied this factor, but with updated details: A woman tells her friend over lunch "I've only been gluten-free for a week, but I'm already annoying."

A sober and inclusive examination of this topic must acknowledge such factors.

It's long been clear to anyone who observed much of it that even reality-based diet concerns become embraced with special eagerness by some people, for whom a perception of dietary sensitivity may fill an emotional need. Insisting on restaurants modifying dishes for them might or might not be really necessary, but it also implicitly expresses individuality, specialness. (The obsessive yet narcissistic 16-year-old granddaughter described in the blog story is almost a parody!)

None of this is to diminish real physical constraints, which obviously exist. A tiny fraction of the US public, for example, has physical gluten enteropathies causing acute physical problems if they eat grain gluten even unwittingly. A far larger population jumped onto a dietary bandwagon (already discernibly fading) by avoiding gluten, urged on by diet books from celebrity physicians like David Perlmutter, who became a best-selling author by selectivity with his facts (as other physicians have been pointing out since). Many of those who fashionably eschewed gluten are alive because gluten nourished their ancestors in daily diets. But the best punchline to all that came from a neighbor with genuine celiac sprue: Even if many people avoid gluten just because it's trendy, she said, the resulting accommodation in restaurants and food labeling are a godsend for those with a real physical need.

(Memo to vegetable fans: Belgium's capital city for which the little cabbages are named is, in English, spelled "Brussels," not "Brussel.")


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of South of Midtown,
on May 20, 2019 at 11:43 am

Resident is a registered user.

I've gone through my share of eating trends, but my one cardinal rule was always, “if you invite me to your house and cook for me, I will eat anything." I've tried to train my boys (who can be fussy) to just eat what they like and leave the rest, but don't make a fuss and thank the chef for dinner no matter what. Unless you have a medical condition, one night of non organic or whatever is not going to hurt anybody.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 20, 2019 at 5:42 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

I like your attitude! I feel people were somehow standing up for their own preferences and therefore you must serve what I can eat. I've been raised the way you have -- you eat what is in front of you, and if you don't like it, gently push it aside -- but not demand everyone eat whatever "you" (guest) want to eat.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Wholley Moley, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on May 20, 2019 at 5:47 pm

Has anybody informed you they will eat only grass-fed beef fed a particular variety of grass?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Eat Well, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 20, 2019 at 8:25 pm

@Diana,
"I am in no way criticizing those who have actual problems with foods, such as celiac disease and gluten intolerance. But some who declare themselves as needing to be on a gluten-free diet do so because that's become a popular fad."

I often wish that we taught power literacy in schools so that people studied the power subtext among groups in our society.

First of all, why would anyone try gluten-free foods strictly unless they were already trying to problem-solve their health or had some health consequence? If someone is taking antibiotics and finds (like most people do) that eating GF makes it less likely they'll deal with yeast infections, they're not going to tell their host. I know someone who discovered her migraines got better when she went GF. Someone like that already has their fill of pointless and degrading unhelpful visits to the doctor. A lifestyle change helped - it is often the case that people with chronic kinds of health problems have to become self sufficient because of how abysmally the medical profession deals with those kinds of problems -- what kind of friends are we if we can't be supportive of that? It's really not that hard to cook for guests with some awareness of that, especially if you ask.

How gracious is it to treat your friends, by assuming they're just following some kind of ridiculous "fad" rather than giving them the credit that they are being sensibly proactive about their health (and that the doctor who started the new fad of being sweepingly judgmental about those who eats GF may not be omniscient, either)?

There are many reasons people would try gluten-free foods that don't require a pass key from expensive and time-consuming doctor visits. I have a friend whose celiac wasn't diagnosed officially until she was in her 60s and almost died of anemia. She felt better when she stayed a few years in our home because we ate GF just for cultural reasons. Years late, when my parents' diets evolved, my mother returned to eating GF because her joints ached noticeably less. It has never made sense to me that a difficult biopsy is required to diagnose celiac when people could just try eating GF and see how they feel. It's not that difficult, especially now that more people are eating that way.

Are you really going to ask someone for their official rubber stamp from a physician before you think it's okay for people to be in charge of their own health? It wasn't that long ago that we really started appreciating the role of diet and the microbiome (which diet affects) in health. And it has been even more recent that people fed up with the truly abysmal way the medical profession deals with some kinds of health problems and needs, and with certain populations (like women) and have started looking to technology and lifestyle to avoid needing the doctor altogether for those kinds of problems.

I am guessing it's having an effect because I personally have experienced a new phenomenon of absolutely pointless referrals where I'm told one reason I need to go, make the appointment, and it's just a degrading waste of my time and money. I would personally do a LOT never to have to go to most doctors again. There are already movements where people are turning to technology in order to solve their own medical problems and avoid the doctor, and it's because people hate being treated with so little respect and their time and money wasted to boot. Don't get me wrong, a good doctor is priceless, but technology is poised to negatively affect the medical profession, too, as patients are empowered to have nothing to do with the more degrading and unhelpful aspects. Being personally proactive about diet can be one avenue.

This is one of those power things. People have been experimenting more and more with wellness, and some doctors are trying to reassert their ascendancy by dismissing people who engage in that kind of behavior. It's going to backfire, but we are only on the cusp of the patient-centered medical revolution - I think radiologists may be the only ones worried about whether they will have jobs in 10 years.

Anyway, if you invite people over and you ask their dietary needs, I think it's ungracious to complain. Learn how to cook so that you can handle most of the common concerns. I do, and it's really not that hard, often it's more healthy. I'm sorry if I sound harsh, but when you go through a chronic health problem like the endometriosis that so devastatingly affects your life, and you get such benefit from making dietary changes (from personal experimentation), it feels really awful to think people (who ask no less) would be so judgy.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 20, 2019 at 8:52 pm

Apart from family and some very close friends, I can't remember the last time we were invited to someone's home for a meal.

I think more likely people will invite us to go out for a meal and I suspect that the trend is because it is getting more difficult to host people because of all the various food intolerances nowadays.

We occasionally invite guests and always have something vegetarian as well as several side dishes and occasionally someone does quiz us about the ingredients and then tell us they can't eat it. It has never, as yet, been the case that a guest can't eat anything other than lettuce and water, but the way these things go it wouldn't surprise me. No wonder then that people are much more likely to eat out than cook for guests.

I suppose the restaurant industry can deal with these preferences much more than the home cooks. Perhaps dinner parties are dying out for a reason and home cooks have given up the dishtowel in defeat.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eat Well, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 20, 2019 at 11:42 pm

@Residdent,
For us and most people we know, we would all have guests more often if it were easier given how small our homes are and how difficult it is to clean up for guests AND cook(dietary restrictions are not even among the top 10 reasons).

We get invited a lot more than we are able to go. We try to organize groups at restaurants so no one has to clean up or host. If I had been able to build a room off the back porch like we envisioned, we would have guests all the time like we did when we had a reasonably sized home elsewhere.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eat Well, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 20, 2019 at 11:42 pm

@Residdent,
For us and most people we know, we would all have guests more often if it were easier given how small our homes are and how difficult it is to clean up for guests AND cook(dietary restrictions are not even among the top 10 reasons).

We get invited a lot more than we are able to go. We try to organize groups at restaurants so no one has to clean up or host. If I had been able to build a room off the back porch like we envisioned, we would have guests all the time like we did when we had a reasonably sized home elsewhere.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Ms. B, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 22, 2019 at 9:33 am

The neurotically picky eating is a sign of our affluence. It would be sadly, but instantly, cured by another serious depression such as the US experienced in the 1930's.
This exact scenario of picky eating has played out in my family. It's infuriating.


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