Adult Picky Eaters UK

For Picky-Eating Adults in the UK and worldwide

Some notes on understanding September 30, 2008

Filed under: General — Claire @ 12:56 am

I’ve just revisited an old discussion on another website, which was a post by a non-picky eater about the concept of picky eating.  In the discussion I made a valiant effort to try to explain.  I do not think I was successful.  But I really don’t know what it is that is so hard for people to understand about picky eating.

If people know what trauma is, and I say “This traumatises me”, what is so hard to understand about that? What about it is so difficult for people to just accept?  Does it really undermine their own unquestioned beliefs about themselves and the world so much that they really can’t go there?

In a way, I don’t really mind if people don’t understand it – I don’t really understand it myself.  What bothers me is people’s refusal to accept it, just because they don’t understand it.  That strikes me as blinkered, narrow-minded, arrogant and self-centred in the extreme, not to mention a massive failure of empathy and meta-representation.

If I was blind, people wouldn’t go around saying “why don’t you just open your eyes?”, would they?  They wouldn’t go around complaining about my inability to see, as if I were doing it just to annoy or inconvenience them.  They wouldn’t for a moment betray the belief that just because they can’t understand the mechanism or cause of my blindness, that it must be in some way self-inflicted or attention-seeking or childish.  And they certainly wouldn’t keep harping on about how much I’m missing out on.

If I say to a pianist “I can’t play the piano”, he probably won’t say “you non-pianists are so annoying, what’s your problem, why don’t you just try?”  So why is “I can’t eat fruit or vegetables” so difficult for people to take on board?  It’s very simple.  I genuinely don’t get it.

People must be able to understand the concept of not being able to bring yourself to do something.  For instance, I would find it very difficult to betray a friend.  I would find it very difficult also to walk over hot coals, or throw myself off a cliff, even with a rope attached.  Other people don’t, but I personally would.  And it seems to me that the people who would have no problems doing such things don’t tend to interrogate and judge the people who’d prefer not to. 

To me, it is equally difficult to put a non-food in my mouth.  What’s not to understand?


17 Responses to “Some notes on understanding”

  1. Z Says:

    A pianist might wonder why you refused even to touch the keys – but I’m not disagreeing with the spirit of what you say. I take your point, although I can’t understand it. I can understand people disliking a great many foods or being unwilling to try anything new, but it’s a fairly big jump from that to being literally incapable of putting something in your mouth. But to say that I don’t understand it is not to say that I don’t accept it, and I do understand the feeling that if you try to eat a non-food, it may make you gag and that in itself would be enough to stop you.

    What I really don’t understand is people who think they have the right to try talk you out of it or even to question your way of life. How is it any of their business, and what are they likely to say that you haven’t already thought of or been told? And surely, if you ever try a new food it would be by yourself and very cautiously, not in the company of someone burning to say ‘I told you so’.

  2. Claire Says:

    Bonjour z.

    I don’t mind touching the keys, and I can play chopsticks perfectly well. I just can’t play anything else.

    You are right that it is a big conceptual leap from not liking something to not being able to even to try. But that is how it is. It’s very different from most people.

    Final paragraph: hear hear!

  3. Robert Says:

    I think party of the problem may actually be the title of the website, picky eating, which rather implies a large degree of choice in your eating habits. Reading the piece above, it looks as though choice has very little to do with it, just like a blind person or someone who is tone-deaf.

    If it is a choice, however, then I think it is legitimate to question that choice, especially since eating food has strong social and cultural aspects too. In that case, the analogy would be similar to that of vegetarians, who are always interrogated and told “you’re missing out”.

  4. Claire Says:

    Yes, Rob, and we have, on this very blog, discussed the finer points of what name to call this thing, precisely for the reason you mention.

    But other than the title, if you’ve read anything here, either in the posts or the comments, that tells you it is a choice, I’d like to know what. Because if you’ve read here at all, you will read over and over again how it is not a choice. The above post is not by any means a first.

    In any case, I would query your point about the legitimacy of questioning other people’s choices about what to eat. What I choose to eat is surely no-one’s business but my own, barring ethical considerations. And what I choose to not eat, is even less anyone else’s business.

    Vegetarians are not “always interrogated”, as you claim. Some of them are even supported by religious communities, ancient ones at that. They are accepted as a group, and catered for, albeit with varying degrees of effort and goodwill. The same is not true of picky eaters. If people really thought picky eating were a choice, why is there one rule for vegetarians and another for us?

    But the example of vegetarians is an interesting one, when you compare how they are treated socially and culturally, with how picky eaters are treated. You do not get facebook groups abusing vegetarians. And the irony is that vegetarianism is a deliberate choice, whereas picky eating is not. It’s a fucking disability. And I speak as one who knows.

  5. cctxt Says:

    As you say Claire it’s always really hard to get people to grasp how it feels to be a picky eater faced with the prospect of putting “a non-food in my mouth.”.

    Again, I’d suggest, as a way of explaning how it is to us the dog shit analogy – would you put it in your mouth if it seemed as much like food to you as dog shit ? I don’t think so.

  6. Jack Says:

    I’m tired of peoples attitude also.
    But I don’t understand my self either.
    So why expect anyone else.

    I always have hidden way way back in my noggin that I could change if I wanted, but I don’t and can’t but I could….maybe…

    Lately I hate everybody. Saturday night my sister-in laws boyfriend made a joke about me because I orderd a dinner specifically the way I like it. He did this in a group, something about a “nice dinner for a 6 year old”…..
    The old fool is lucky to be alive. This is a man that takes his shoes and socks off in public to ‘air them out”…..but do I make jokes that would embarass him?……wait till next time you old goat…

    Sorry for getting off topic….

  7. Z Says:

    I feel sort of guilty coming here and commenting, when I’m not a person this website is for – all I can say is that while I don’t have the difficulties the rest of you do and I can’t fully understand them, I do entirely accept them and I have had the experience of looking after someone who became an increasingly picky eater in old age and accommodating her needs.

    I just wanted to mention that, for some, vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice, for others it is a manifestation of picky eating too. I read a website on veganism recently where it was apparent that the writer, while saying he was governed by moral issues, was evidently physically revolted by the notion of putting any food derived from an animal in his mouth and he refused to accept that honey bees have any environmental benefit, as he so hates the fact that honey is produced through their bodies. And I’ve a friend who nearly starved to death rather than eat an animal product – she would only eat fruit and vegetables and that’s not enough to live on.

  8. Robert Says:

    Hi Claire – I take the point about choice and disability. However, when you say:

    What I choose to eat is surely no-one’s business but my own, barring ethical considerations. And what I choose to not eat, is even less anyone else’s business.

    … this looks like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it (is that a good or a bad idiom on this site!?). It seems odd to argue on the one-hand that you’ve got a disability, an affliction you would rather not have if given the choice; and then on the other hand, assert that your right to make choices is being comprimised.

    And as to whether it is anyone’s business, I’m afraid its not as black-and-white as you suggest. As we’ve discussed before, there are social and cultural aspects to cooking and eating, which may mean that others are offended by your unwillingness to (literally) break bread with them. Personally, I don’t think that cultural norms should always trump personal choice, but nevertheless there is a case to answer. The affliction of picky eating only really becomes a problem, and a cause of anxiety, when in social situations. Many of the discussions and sentiments on this site seem to suggest that the problem is not just a lack of understanding between ‘normal’ and picky eaters. The premise is that us ‘normal’ eaters are owed some consideration too, hence the conflict.

  9. Claire Says:

    No, Rob, I was saying that both your arguments are flawed. If you think picky eating is a choice, then you do raise the question of why we are not treated with the same respect as vegetarians.

    And in any case, your argument about the legitimacy of questioning that choice is highly dubious. My right to choose what to not put into my own personal body really is no-one’s business but my own. You maybe want to go and read at Devil’s Kitchen about the patheticness of “being offended”. If people choose to be offended by other people’s very personal and highly intimate choices about what they do not wish to eat, then maybe they need to take a look at themselves and realise that those choices have nothing whatsoever to do with them.

    A man might be “offended” if I don’t wish to sleep with him, but does that trump my right to choose? I think not. Listen to what you’re arguing for!

    If you had any idea of what picky eaters put themselves through out of consideration for ‘normal’ eaters, you really wouldn’t be harping on about what you’re ‘owed’. It is out of consideration that we’ve kept quiet about it, tolerated the insensitivity, the insults and the lack of respect, and shouldered the burden of shame our whole lives. I for one have had enough of that.

    Of course, all this is academic in the case of picky eating though, because as I and others have said it is most definitely not a choice. That is why it is a problem. I am unable to eat the things I would like to. I am missing out on a very great deal, through no fault of my own. And a blind person does not, in my view, ‘owe’ terribly much to sighted people in the way of not “offending” them by virtue of his blindness. If you’re ‘offended’ by other people’s disabilities, count yourself lucky you’re not saddled with it yourself. Ooh, this makes me so mad, Rob.

  10. Anna Says:


    “The affliction of picky eating only really becomes a problem, and a cause of anxiety, when in social situations.”

    You seem to say this as though it’s no big deal, oh, it’s “only” social situations, not a problem. But there are people who don’t GO to social situations because of their problems with picky eating. It’s difficult to go have dinner at someone else’s house when you don’t know if you’re going to be able to eat anything that they serve, so it’s easier to just not go. I’m fortunate in that I can generally find something to eat at a restaurant, but there are people who can’t even do that and so going out to eat isn’t even an option for them.

    “And as to whether it is anyone’s business, I’m afraid its not as black-and-white as you suggest. ”

    I don’t see why not. If vegetarianism, veganism, keeping Kosher, various allergies and intolerances, and all the other different eating habits and issues are accepted and dealt with, why shouldn’t this be accepted and dealt with just the same? I would never DREAM of having someone to dinner without first asking them if they liked (and ate) what I was planning to serve, and if they didn’t like it, I would make something else, no questions asked.

    I don’t ‘owe’ anything to ‘normal’ eaters. That is unbelievable rubbish spoken from the position of privilege. You can walk into a party with a buffet or a restaurant and get food you not only can tolerate but likely enjoy, and not just a few things but many different choices. I walk into that same party and I look at the twenty different dishes on the table and try and find one or two things that look edible. I look at a that restaurant’s menu and see if I’ll be able to special-order something in such a way that I’ll actually be able to eat it. WHAT exactly are you OWED?

  11. Claire Says:

    Hi Anna,
    I’d also like to add to the points you make. Picky eating actually is a problem outside of social situations, because, as people are so keen to point out, we are “missing out”, and we don’t get to freely choose what we eat. I think other people take this so much for granted, that maybe they can’t imagine anything else.

    Also, z, you’re very welcome to comment here, as is anyone with a benign interest, picky or not. Some picky eaters can’t eat meat at all, but I wouldn’t necessarily group them with vegetarians, who, by definition (in my mind) make a choice.

    Also, a big hi to Jack – sorry to hear about your recent debacle. It’s weird how insensitive even the loveliest of people can be about this topic. Feel free to vent at any time, that’s what we’re here for.

  12. Nathan Says:

    This is great, what you have written! I am going to print it out and tell people to read it when they ask me why I can’t just try other foods, or “You don’t know what you’re missing”
    If that doesn’t shut them up, I’ll make them eat the paper.

  13. Claire Says:

    Hi Nathan! Nice one. Let us know how you get on 🙂

  14. Jack Says:

    I get that “you don’t know what your missing” alot also.
    And they are right, I don’t know, and thats the way it is.

    I often regret my situation and wish it were different.
    Especially when I see other couples enjoying a meal together.
    I do feel that in someways I have been a major burden to my wife of 35 years. I do feel that because of me we have missed out on alot, and “I don’t know what I’m missing”…..

  15. annie Says:

    I just stumbled upon this blog randomly and am not a picky eater. I am, however, a vegetarian. I admit to not understanding the severity of picky eating you all seem to exhibit, and I wonder if it’s something of a disorder? I don’t mean it to be rude, it just seems pathological. Is it a control issue perhaps?

    However, I reject most of your vegetarian comparisons. Surely some vegetarians hate meat or are grossed out by it. Most of the ones that I know, including my husband and me, are vegetarians for ethical reasons. I know filet mignon is delicious, and ate it joyfully before I became a vegetarian. However, I find the concept of murdering another living, breathing , intelligent creature for me to eat recreationally when I can easily get all of my nutrition without killing to be morally repugnant. It’s a choice for me because I choose not to have an animal die for me. I also choose not to support factory farms and slaughterhouses. There is nothing humane about the way those poor animals live. It’s not a choice made because bacon isn’t delicious.

    Also, I realize you’re in the UK where vegetarianism is much more prevalent, but here in the US, we endure MANY Facebook groups about how eating meat is superior and vegetarians are idiots.

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