Tasting the difference
Balking at bacon and other stories: how a fussy eater became a food lover.
If as a child I’d have been allowed to eat Coco Pops three times a day, I would have. As I couldn’t persuade my parents to let me have this daily diet of air-filled chocolate rice, my dinner time was often spent sat in front of food I feared, pushed aimlessly around the plate while I held out for the moment mum gave up and took it away. Yes, dear reader – I was a fussy eater.
To imagine now the tears cried over a plate of fish fingers, a bowl of ratatouille or portion of broccoli inflames embarrassment – how could one work themselves into so much upset over eating? It was a trait that continued partly into my early adolescence (minus the tears), where a wrinkled nose, um’s and ah’s and an unwillingness to try prevailed over mealtimes. I’ve concluded it was texture, rather than taste, that provoked the endless chewing and a tightness in my throat which made me want to vom.
I don’t remember when the gagging order on my digestive system stopped; when I began trying more and worrying less. But it was somewhat a miracle when my taste in food finally evolved past playing with the plate until it looked like tasting had been attempted. Nevertheless, it’s a personal history I don’t forget, but I often wonder how and why it all went on.
Vegetables, fish, meats, and pulses all emerged onto my radar. No longer did I fear bacon, or did eating lamb remind me of old slippers. Olives, most surprisingly, were never again an experience akin to chewing rubber bathed in brine. Now it was simply a delectable experience of tongue-sucking saltiness. Originally dubbed an ‘acquired taste’ by relatives when I’d first spat them out as a child (and quickly filed under ‘don’t dare eat again’). And acquire it I did. Eating had become utterly enjoyable, and the prolonged feelings of anxiety at dinner were gone – now I was enjoying the conversation and the food.
After moving to Australia nearly five years ago, there was more exploration coming my way. Browsing the central market in Adelaide and walking among the freshest of produce was an inspiring way to spend an afternoon. For the first time I ate kangaroo, crocodile, squid, and bush dukkah, and became fervently at one with avocados. My adolescent self would never have believed it.
Pregnancy, illness, or bad associations are other major taste-altering factors that can have long-lasting or permanent effects on your preferences. My pickiness, however, seemed deep-seated in some sort of fear; a childhood phase which I thankfully grew out of. But taste is equally known for its malleable nature, and can change during your adult years where it’s often perceived your palate is fixed. But it can be changed and trained. After a year-long sting of salt- and sodium-free food (not by choice), my palate morphed into the tongue version of a bloodhound’s nose. The slightest crystal of salt could not go undetected and tasted like an immediate overload, and yet the unsalted food I was eating tasted perfectly flavourful. Reintroducing salt was a somewhat slow experience.
And so it was that I came to enjoy cooking, experimenting and savouring a dish. I realised food wasn’t to be feared (how could it possibly be?)
They say it’s not the destination, but the getting there that counts. In this instance though, I’d say the destination wins out.