Fair warning: this is going to be one of those columns in which I complain, yet again, about how hard it is to put up with picky eaters. Not how hard it is to feed them, mind you, since I stopped trying to feed my own picky eater years ago, but simply how hard it is to live with them.
Allow me to explain. When my daughter, Clementine, finally reached the point where she had managed to vote every single food off of her own personal “Survivor Food Island” (except for Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt), I stopped trying to cook for her at all. This, for me, was a wonderful change. No longer did I have to make two versions of dinner every night: one with flavor, color and texture, and one without. Once again I could cook what I wanted, secure in the knowledge that, as long as I could find a reliable supply of Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt, Clementine was not going to starve. This worked like a charm for at least a year. I’d make a big pot of chili; she’d peel back the lid on a container of Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt. I’d make falafel; she’d peel back the lid on a container of Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt.
And then she started to branch out. Foods that had already been tried once before and then rejected were invited back onto the island, for all the world like wayward boyfriends being taken back on the condition that, this time, they be better behaved. And apparently, they were: where once there was only Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt, now there was a whole food pyramid (or at least a food cylinder) of things like plain mashed potatoes, noodles with butter, and ramen. In the alphabet of food, it was everything from A to B. But at least it was a start.
The thing about being a picky eater, though, is that pickiness is a dominant trait. And while you might temporarily drive it into submission through either force of will or desperation, it will still always be there somewhere, just looking for a way to get back out. And the way it got back out in my house was by mutating into Paranoid Eater.
What this means is that the Picky Eater who would once only eat a plain bagel and cream cheese will, when confronted with a cabinet full of plain bagels and a refrigerator full of cream cheese, change into Paranoid Eater. What’s the difference? Well, where Picky Eater will carefully check each bagel to make sure a stray poppyseed didn’t wander onto its surface, Paranoid Eater will carefully examine each bagel for mold spots. Then, finding none, Paranoid Eater will sniff the cream cheese, declare it “old,” and put it away in disgust. (It used to be “throw it away in disgust,” until my shrill protests convinced her that the lesser evolved members of the family were perfectly content eating tainted, yet already paid for, food.)
Picky Eater and Paranoid Eater often work together. Picky Eater will cook an entire pot of plain noodles and slather them with a whole stick of butter. Then, when Picky Eater steps out of the room (perhaps to check on that shipment of Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt), Paranoid Eater will step in, see that the noodles have been sitting in the pot for more than five minutes, and pronounce them too “old” to eat. This pattern continues until I finally declare that enough is enough, and that while those noodles don’t have to get eaten, nothing else may be consumed until they are. Which, then, brings about yet a third mutation: Pissed Off Eater.
Fine by me: as long as she’s okay with Yoplait Thick and Creamy Vanilla yogurt.