by Larissa Zimberoff
What was the moment when it struck you to write a book about your history of being a picky eater?
It wasn’t so much my moment as it was my husband’s. We were eating at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants (NOPA in San Francisco), and I commented that, since there was a time I despised cooked vegetables, I couldn’t believe I was getting so much pure joy and comfort out of the amazing brothy vegetable soup I ordered. “Let’s talk seriously about you writing a book,” was Mark’s response.
Are there still foods you steer clear of?
Most certainly, and here’s my list from the book: succotash, raisins, bananas, oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, polenta, the skin of tomatoes, caviar, offal, innards, feet, ears, flan, tofu, red peppers, yellow peppers, cooked green peppers, string beans, some fish, figs, dates, most melon, stews, braises, gelatinous desserts, things with heads, rabbit, veal, dill, black licorice, tarragon, lemongrass, coleslaw, mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise, rice pudding, some leafy greens, cooked cherries, and more.
If I had to, I’d be able to eat those foods. I just prefer not to.
As a past picky eating child, and now a mother, do you push your son to eat a wide range of foods?
I don’t push him, but I introduce him to foods. If he’s not interested, fine. I try very hard not to make it an issue, but I also don’t decide to never offer that food again. It will show up on another day. I’ll usually fill his plate with 3-4 things, one of which I know he’ll like, the others being more of a crapshoot.
But with kids, it’s so up and down. For instance, just last night he finished his entire serving of roasted broccoli (the recipe is in Suffering Succotash). What you should know is that I’ve made this for him multiple times, and he’s taken one bite, two bites, and left the rest. He’s also had nights where he hasn’t taken any bites. For him to finish every last smoked paprika-drenched floret on his plate was unprecedented and I was thrilled. However, I know there will still be nights when he doesn’t do that. Kids have moods and they’re largely not in control of choosing what they get to eat.
In the book we learn of several possible reasons for children (and adults) picky-ness, and you say at the end that you don’t know why you were picky. Now that you’ve had some distance from writing the book, do you have any further thoughts on your picky eating provenance?
I really don’t. As I said in the book, I know that my picky eating came from a variety of factors and that there wasn’t just once source alone. I do think my dislike of vegetables was heavily influenced by eating mostly frozen vegetables. However, frozen vegetables are what was available back then and no amount of butter or salt can mask that blandness. I firmly believe that having access and knowing the best ways to cook fresh, in-season vegetables has made a huge difference in my life.
I remember the one time my mother was able to coax a few tomatoes out of our Minnesota garden. I ate them sliced with salt and though I thought I hated tomatoes, those straight-from-the-garden specimens were the best things I ever tasted.
Now that your picky eating secret is out, do your friends treat you differently at dinner parties?
Some have teased me about serving a raisin-filled dinner and needing to check their bookshelves after I leave.
Have you heard from any famous picky eaters?
Gosh, I can’t even think of any famous picky eaters except Anderson Cooper, though I’m sure they’re out there! But no, I haven’t heard from Anderson Cooper directly, though I did make an appeal to him in a column I wrote for CNN where I told him I could help him rewire his neural pathways which could help him like more vegetables.
I also heard through the San Francisco foodie grapevine that Dave Eggers is known to be a picky eater, but he hasn’t come to me with any secret confessions.
What are you working on now?
Preparing my son for pre-school and enjoying the hell out of not having a looming 60,000-word deadline!
Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate
By Stephanie Lucianovic
Perigee Books, Published July 3, 2012
Larissa Zimberoff is a freelance writer living in Manhattan. She is currently working towards her MFA at The New School. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Untapped Cities and The Rumpus.