I won’t give a long backstory with every contribution to the 365 Dinner Project, but this seems like a good time to set the stage for what might be a depressingly limited range of pastas, skipped meals, eating out (or ordering in), and pints of Ben & Jerry’s.
I don’t like food. I recognize that I need it, and there are some foods and tastes I’ll even admit I like, but on balance, food causes me way more stress, annoyance, and even embarrassment than it does pleasure. If there were a pill or shot that I could get that would satisfy all my nutritional needs, in exchange for giving up actual food, I would do it.
My distaste for food does not arise from body issues, like worrying about how it makes me fat. It doesn’t come from food being used punitively in my childhood, like being either withheld or forced to eat. As far as I can tell, my distaste for food comes literally from distaste. It is not with any sense of pride or accomplishment that I share this, but it’s like my palate stopped maturing around the age of 12. I still hate most veggies, pretty much all seafood, a lot of meat if it’s chewy or fatty, and the list goes on.
When I say I hate those foods, I don’t mean like if you tell that stubborn 12-yr-old to force it down or else it’s no Xbox for a week, he can do it. I mean that I have tried to eat foods I don’t like, sometimes again years later in hope my tastes have changed, and it’s like one of those bug-eating competitions on Survivor or Fear Factor. I may not be able to swallow or keep it down and it’s almost impossible to not only keep it down, but look like I’m enjoying it. Such reflexive disgust makes for a high degree of social awkwardness and anxiety, especially if I’m an invited guest where the host or hostess has prepared a meal. It has also been a source of stress during travelling, which I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of, but I dread being in places (or worse, homes) where the only option will be the local cuisine. One of the hardest meals I ever had to eat (and pretend to like) was as an 18-yr. old exchange student when my Spanish host-mom made paella just for me. That’s basically seafood soup. I have feigned being full or sick in such circumstances to try to avoid either embarrassment or insulting my hosts, but somehow I managed to get through a bowl that time.
If I could control my tastes by will power, I would have by now. I can’t defend what I like or eat on nutritional grounds, and if it’s supposed to be some maturity thing I’ll grow out of, I wonder, at age 45, how many more years I have to wait to hit culinary puberty. Meanwhile, I still eat way more like an adolescent than is respectable to admit. I eat lots of pasta, prepared foods that you nuke or heat up in a skillet, too many snacks and sweets, and that sort of thing. There’s a lot of fruit I either like or can tolerate, but I don’t eat as much of it as I should. There are fewer exceptions in the vegetable category (like corn, peppers, spinach in small amounts, and lettuce that isn’t bitter), but most of the veggies regularly cited as nutritious may as well be grubs or Madagascar hissing cockroaches. About the only vaguely healthy eating habit I can claim is that I rarely eat fast food and only occasionally drink sodas, both of which I couldn’t claim up until about my mid-30’s.
Given what I eat, it’s surprising even to me that I’ve manage to go my whole life so far without ever being overweight. I consider those days numbered if I can’t find some way to improve, because there’s a lot of obesity on both sides of my family. Some of it is probably dumb genetic luck, but I attribute it to two factors: 1) Even though I haven’t always regularly excercised, I’ve had extended periods of doing so, including about a 5-yr. stretch right now during which I’ve played hockey 2-3 times a week. 2) I skip a lot of meals. I do not skip to stay thin, or even consciously decide to skip, but when you don’t have a strong appetite, ideas about what to eat, or a passion (or simple ability) to cook from scratch, it’s surprisingly easy to just not eat as often as most people. While it’s not my standard routine, it’s not at all unheard of for me to slide through the morning without breakfast because I didn’t think of or need it, end up having a late lunch around 2pm, not be hungry yet at “dinner time”, and end up not having dinner, all without feeling famished. Maybe I’ll have half a can of Lays Stax when I get in bed to watch tv and realize I’m hungry.
Speaking of appetite, I understand what it is and occasionally have one, but mostly what I experience is the annoyance of being hungry and having no idea what I want, even if I could make it. An awful lot of my meals are decided by expedience (e.g. ordering in or boiling up some pasta to pour Prego on), and some of my skipped meals happen the same way – “Oh, I’m hungry? Meh. It’s late and I don’t have any ideas so I’ll just sleep that off and eat in the morning.”