“Nobody really likes sushi. It’s just a fad.” This is how a picky eating coworker of mine once described the centuries-old Japanese culinary tradition. Sure, I get his basic point. The popularity of sushi among young Americans has risen dramatically in the past decade and is, to some extent, a trend. But come on. It ain’t Krispy Kremes and cupcakes. Sushi has been popular with people my age since I started college in 2002, was popular before then, and will continue to be popular into the long term. I don’t really care about that debate, though. What got to me, what really drove me up the proverbial wall, was it’s just the sort of thing a picky eater would say, and picky eaters are, as they say, the worst.
There are three kinds of relationships people have with sushi: either (1) they love it; (2) they’ve never had an opportunity to try it; or (3) they’re overgrown children who never eat anything outside the spectrum between white bread and mac & cheese. What makes the third category “picky” eaters is that modern sushi ain’t just yellow tail sashimi. It’s tempura. It’s hot sauce. It’s rolls so Americanized they’re named after American cities (believe it or not cream cheese isn’t an authentic Japanese ingredient). To say you dislike sushi is more akin to saying you hate a whole class of food than it is to saying you dislike one type of food. But still, it’s not just that they dislike sushi that bothers me…
It’s a common misconception that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Bullshit. Legally, we’re entitled to think stupid, baseless things, but my respect for someone’s opinion is dependent on how they arrived at that opinion. That’s not to say that just because I disagree with your opinion means I disrespect it. There are plenty of horrible opinions whose existence I can at least appreciate and tolerate because they have a logical underpinning (see Ayn Rand). The thing is, picky eating isn’t one of them. Picky eating is more a state of arrested development than it is a real opinion. We all start our lives as picky eaters. I myself used to hate half the grocery store. Then came my eighth birthday and I realized that seemingly icky things with foreign sounding names and strange colors could actually be pretty good if I gave them half a chance. And that’s just it. Picky eaters don’t give things any chance.
Don’t get me wrong here. Just because you don’t like some foods doesn’t make you a picky eater. Everyone has a few things they just can’t stand. For me, that’s creamy goat cheese (feta is fine). It has this barnyard-y taste I just can’t like no matter how many times I’ve tried it. And I have tried it dozens of times. I want so badly to like it. That’s the key. I’ve given it a real chance. Having an opinion about something doesn’t make you picky. Having a baseless and/or unreasonable opinion makes you picky.
For picky eaters it’s their way or the highway. In fact, the unifying trait of all the picky eaters I’ve known has been that they’re generally close-minded and demanding about everything, not just food. Picky eaters are that asshole who won’t even give three seconds of playing time to a song before declaring they hate it. They’re that asshole who has one or two entertainment venues they’re willing to go to. They’re that asshole who will never move more than a hundred miles from their hometown even for the opportunity of a lifetime. They’re that asshole who has to be coddled into playing any new game and will have a tantrum if not good at it immediately. Picky eaters are certain of everything. They follow the most popular religion in their region. They hold all the most common opinions. They know what is right and what is wrong without having to think about it. They are supremely confident and think anything else is evidence of error. Most of all, they can’t understand why anyone would want to be any other way. It’s all so obvious to them.
Once again, don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain breed of picky eaters who claim to be picky because of their unusual sensitivity to flavors, the so-called “supertasters.” I really can’t comment on this. It’s clear that such people do exist, but I don’t know how common they really are. All I can say is that making that excuse for picky eating seems similar to an obese person claiming it’s a glandular problem. Sure, I think such people exist, but for most it’s probably just a convenient excuse. That said, most of the self-proclaimed supertasters I’ve met don’t exhibit all the typical picky eater pathologies. For one, they’re usually apologetic about being a picky eater. True picky eaters don’t feel bad about being picky; they resent people who aren’t, like my sushi-eating coworker. True picky eaters proudly proclaim their allegiance from the rooftops and bitch and moan any time everyone else wants to hold a group lunch at some place that isn’t cheese pizza or chicken fingers. Secondly, supertasters have usually given the foods they don’t like several chances. When pressed, many picky eaters will admit they’ve never even tried the foods they hate, and when they have it was usually half a bite, one time, a decade or so ago.
Which brings me to my final point. Some of you are probably thinking “Why do you care so much? Live and let live, right? It’s not like they’re making you be a picky eater. Isn’t it kind of like them to have such a strong, certain opinion about picky eating? It doesn’t affect you, does it?” Okay, sure. I get what you’re saying. If I were reading this about a subject I’m neutral on I might have the same reaction. But see, the thing is it does affect me. Constantly.
Every time 95% of us want Chinese or Chipotle but we have to go to Applebee’s because Frank doesn’t eat “ethnic” foods, it affects me. Every time we have to order a goddamn cheese “pizza” because Debbie refuses to pick the pepperonis (or god forbid vegetables) off her slices, claiming she can still taste it, it affects me. It affects me when, instead of Subway or Quiznos, we have to go to Burger King for the 10,000th time because Bob hates “health food.” It affects me when the office snack closet has nothing but potato chips and candy bars because as a child John’s parents never made him eat anything that couldn’t be bought at a gas station. There is nothing group-related that they do not try to affect.
Unless you have a legit medical condition or a conscientious or religious objection (e.g. you’re vegetarian, have Crohn’s disease, don’t eat pork because you’re Jewish or Muslim, etc.), you have no right to always demand the majority change its food choice to suit your tastes. What’s ironic is that people who have legitimate reasons for wanting to eat something else are usually more accommodating than they need to be. I’ve seen many a vegetarian not make a fuss over having to order French fries for their whole meal because no vegetarian entrees were on the menu, and yet some spoiled child of a picky eater will bitch at Italian food because they don’t like tomatoes.
And that’s just it. Picky eaters are usually like that because they’re used to getting their way. They’re overgrown brats. Spoiled 25 year-old toddlers. When other parents were telling their kids to shut up and eat their damn broccoli, the picky eater’s parents were back in the kitchen cooking up an alternative their little prince wouldn’t cry over.
This attitude, the type of person who is absolutely unwilling to compromise, causes half the world’s problems. Civilization is the product of many compromises. If everyone were as intransigent as picky eaters, society would crumble into anarchy. Just look at all the problems America has had in the past decade because Republicans and Democrats have had difficulty compromising on even basic stuff. A good compromise means nobody gets exactly what they want, but no compromise means nobody gets any of what they want. Picky eaters introduce this stubborn unwillingness to deal into our world and the chaos and suffering that comes with it.
Let me close with a message to the parents of the world: picky eaters are made, not born. It is up to you to end the scourge of picky eating. When your kids complain about the Brussels sprouts, smack ‘em upside the head. When they refuse to eat, let them go hungry. The French say hunger is the best spice. Maybe your kids will think sushi tastes better after a foodless night spent pouting in their room.