I have always been a fussy eater; my mother wrote so in my baby book. She mentioned that I was particular from which breast I drank, and that I threw most of it up. I would love to say that things got better from my infant days but I would be lying. They got worse, much worse.
Take fast food for example; quick, easy, simple, everyone loves it, right? Well, yes and no. I loved McDonalds cheeseburgers but only if you took off the pickles and the onions. I refused to eat at Wendy’s because the meat was square and it just didn’t fit the nature of what it meant to be a burger. Burger King? I was in college before I ate at a Burger King and that was only out of necessity coming back from an art history field trip.
Surely, there were no problems eating a Taco Bell? Well yes there were and don’t call me Shirley. I loved the burgers that Taco Bell had and when they discontinued them, I was lost and needed to be found. There were tacos and I ate them, only after editing the contents. I had to remove every piece of lettuce from inside of them and then put the insides carefully back inside. My mother would order extra meat to compensate for my odd habits, but we rarely got extra meat. Eventually I learned to just drench the contents with taco sauce and save myself the wasted time.
Well, it doesn’t get weirder than this does it? Of course it does, otherwise there would be no reason for me to write in and tell my tale. It didn’t matter if the food contained the same ingredients, I would still find a way to find a problem with it. Take spaghetti and lasagne. Both of them are basically the same thing, just in a different shape and way that the contents are organized, so I should be able to eat both of them, no? No. I could and would eat lasagne but not spaghetti, which I had to eat without the sauce for some reason.
My eating eccentricities were so bad, that on the first day that I spent with my future father in law and his family in Central America, the first thing that they did was take me to a McDonald’s so that I would feel at home and be able to eat.
So what changed my eating habits? I periodically wrote for the local newspaper here, and entered a contest about being a lousy. The food editor, knowing what my habits were like, told me that I should challenge myself and try 40 different things before my 40th birthday. I took the challenge and tried 40 things rather quickly and wanted to do more. It was at this time that my father was in the hospital being treated for cancer. One day, they brought him some lunch and he took one bite of the tapioca pudding and asked how they could ruin tapioca (it was, we found out, because they gave him sugar free). This rather innocent comment stuck in my brain and when he passed away a few days later, it began echoing inside my head. I knew what it was that I had to do, and that was to continue to eat things as a way of remembering my father.
Every time I saw something new or odd or limited edition, I had to eat it, not because I wanted to, but because I felt compelled to do so, as a way of remembering my father. The only thing he didn’t like was spinach, but he ate spinach lasagne once that my wife made and enjoyed it.
What makes the story interesting is that I went from eating burgers, to eating anything I saw. I found myself eating Thai food that was too hot, which came with a warning on the menu. I entered a gigantic 5-burger challenge at a local restaurant just because I could.
I went to the local state fair and ate ants on a stick and cricket nachos, earthworm jerky, and turtle spring rolls. I found myself eating deer, and wild boar and kangaroo and eels and pythons and rattlesnakes. I found myself drinking pumpkin soda and eating lemon goat cheese. Ever see the thanksgiving dinner jellybeans? I ate those too. I ate normal food too, food that other people take for granted, like eggs over easy and sushi.
And being me, I had to experiment and try things that shouldn’t be put together. Ever put peanut butter on a pepperoni pizza, ala Scooby Doo? I did. Ever order a pizza with the following toppings: taco meat, pineapple, sauerkraut, and jalapeños? I did that as well. Then there was the grilled cheese on which I put peanut butter on one side so it was a grilled peanut butter cheese sandwich (I do not recommend it).
So had I not been challenged on my 40th birthday and had not been present when my father made an innocent comment about tapioca, and had not passed away days later, I might be a nearly 50 year old man eating Mac ‘n’ Cheese and burgers for life.
Cover image courtesy of liborious via Flickr