Known Johnson

January 30, 2009

Have it your way

Filed under: Eating picky — Tom @ 4:36 pm

It didn’t use to be this easy, you know. It’s almost – almost become acceptable to be as picky as I am in restaurants. For a long time, however, walking into any restaurant and asking for anything “plain” resulted in awkward exchanges or, at worst, meals sent back time and time again.

One of the things I’ve seen with picky eaters is that they often prefer fast food. It’s not just because it’s convenient and they serve simple food. I think it’s also because they have embraced the “choose your own adventure” philosophy of eating that we prefer. Think of how many fast food places emphasize their easily customizable menus and compare that with any experience in a regular restaurant trying to modify a menu item. It’s just more difficult, even at some place like Chili’s, to get a plain, “dry” hamburger, than it is at Whataburger. In fact, it’s pretty rare that I even get the mistakenly decked-out sandwich from a fast food place than from a restaurant. Even better, I don’t have to deal with the chefs who have made up their own definition of the word “plain.”

You see, while I have always had to struggle with getting food ordered plain, getting it that way is never really all that hard at fast food restaurants. Years ago, before they actually added “plain” as an option on their registers, it would take some explaining, but once explained, the sandwiches generally came out plain. At restaurants, however, even if the waitstaff explicitly defined PLAIN/DRY on the order, some chefs would define that as “with cheese,” or any number of other condiments that I don’t want anywhere near my mouth or burger. And so it goes that when ordering in a restaurant, it isn’t as simple as saying, “I’d like a hamburger, plain.” No, it has to be, “I’d like a hamburger, plain – dry, nothing on it. Just the meat and the bun.” And then the waiter will ask, “Just the meat and the bun, nothing else?” to which I have to repeat, “Just the meat and the bun, that’s it. Plain and dry.” It’s rarely easier than that.

I am fearful of weird things winding up in my foods, so I am very kind and generous to waiters. If something comes out wrong, I resist the urge to get upset, even if it’s the second time that it was wrong, and sometimes if whatever is wrong is minor, I just live with it. I don’t want weird things in my food, and I think you know what I mean. You make someone upset, and you wind up with a little special sauce. Smile, say what is wrong, and repeatedly say, “It’s no big deal,” and live with it. I realize that I am one of the few that places these demands on waiters, so when something comes out not quite right, and I can’t simply eat it that way and have to send it back, I have to make like I’m not upset about it. If I get upset, I will spend the rest of the night worrying that I just ate someone’s snot, feeling around in my mouth for every unusual little thing that I can’t immediately identify. Trust me, there’s enough I already worry about with food as it is.

It sounds worse than it really is. Once in a while it is a hassle, but I know, as I stated before, that the world isn’t built for us. I have to make do within the confines of a world made for people who will happily gulp down anything put in front of them. Were it my choice, everyone would have to declare what they want on every meal they order. Really, wouldn’t that kind of be perfect? How many times do you get exactly what you want? You could have it your way.

January 28, 2009

Eating picky

Filed under: Eating picky — Tom @ 12:32 pm

I took a bite from the apple and knew instantly that I was in trouble. Soft. Mushy. Not good. Maybe it was a bad spot. I turned it and took another bite, hoping it was just one bad area and the rest would be fine. It was a good looking apple – shiny, smooth, deliciously red like its name suggested it would be. It was not. More grainy mush inside. Bad . . . for me. I think, however, that most people would probably have been able to eat it just fine. I have issues, you see.

I don’t talk about this much and I don’t know why, but as I attempted to eat that apple it crossed my mind: “Why don’t I talk about being a picky eater more often?” I’ve mentioned it before but never really bother to expound on it, and that’s a shame because I’d say that this is one of the bigger issues in my life. I’m extremely picky, Alissa is a confirmed supertaster (I thought I was one too until we took that test.) It’s a big deal. It affects nearly everything in our lives that involves food, and how much of our lives doesn’t involve food?

I wanted to eat that apple yesterday, because I like apples . . . basically. But I’m very finicky about the particulars of apples. No bruises. None. That’s very hard to find. Sometimes I have to give in to a few minor divots, but if there’s any kind of soft spot, well, that apple is out. And if I bite in and anything is off, that apple is out. Apples have to be crisp. They need to have that sharp snap. If they’re even remotely mealy inside, I can’t eat it. And a lot of apples are like that. Others are too fragrant, almost flower-like, making my eyes water and my gag-reflex kicks in. I spend a lot of time at the store picking out apples.

The thing that boggles people’s minds about this is that I enjoy what I eat the way I eat it. I eat all sandwiches plain. Hamburgers? They consist of meat and bun, no condiments. I frequently eat peanut butter sandwiches – no jelly, no thank you! I even often have spaghetti with no sauce, just some butter, but I happily will eat spaghetti with sauce. I eat a from a limited menu, and that’s okay to me. It would probably drive most people insane, but I don’t really care – most food simply grosses me out. I shouldn’t have to apologize for this, and I don’t, but I also don’t feel like I should feel so self-conscious about it, and sometimes I am. The world is not built for the picky, but that doesn’t mean you all have to gape and stare when we ask for everything on the side. And, trust me, I see it all the time.

Just a short while back, Food Network aired a show about picky eating adults (because we know that kids just go through that phase and emerge on the other side as normal eater.) We are out there and there are more of us than you realize. More than that, I have no reason to hide this. The more I talk about it, the more normal it becomes for you, the “normal” eaters out there. It’s one thing for me to sit here knowing what foods are fine and why, but another to get upset when “normal” eaters express disdain at my disinterest in certain foods . . . without explaining why I can’t eat them. I may not be responsible for people’s rude reactions to me, but as Mahatma Ghandi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If I explain my reactions to food, perhaps others will have kinder reactions to all of us.

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