Is being a picky eater inherently bad?

Some of us are adventurous eaters- we’ll try anything and everything that comes our way. Some of us are picky. I knew a man once who rarely ate anything other frozen pizza and orange soda. We all have our likes and dislikes, but some of us are at home with the world’s cuisines, while others rarely stray from the tried or true. Whenever board discussions about food choice come up, there is always one underlying question that never seems to get fully addressed. Now is the time- is being a picky eater inherently bad?

For me, I will say “yes.” I do believe being a picky eater is inherently worse than being an adventurous one. Why?

The first is that it is the sign of a small comfort zone with an unwillingness to step out of that comfort zone. To me, that seems like a sign of an underlying problem- perhaps it’s a lack of intellectual curiosity. Perhaps it is some kind of anxiety that makes you uncomfortable with new things in general. Perhaps it is just plain laziness. The truth is that food revulsions are easy to overcome- the common wisdom is after giving a hated food seven good tries you will end up being okay with it. So what is keeping picky eaters from getting over that? It seems to me to be an unwillingness to push limits. And I really think it’s better for people to keep expanding their comfort zone as they learn more about the world around them.

Sure, maybe you like grilled cheese. But that guy who only ever reads Star Trek novels also really likes Star Trek novels. Wouldn’t you all live a richer fuller life if you branched out a bit?

The second is that it DOES hold you back. Maybe you don’t even notice it most of the time. But I’m in China right now, and several of the new foreigner in town are picky eaters. This has a huge effect on their life- they are always having to worry about this thing, to make excuses about why they aren’t eating, etc. It’s starting to limit where everyone else can eat. Indeed, in most cultures food is a way of expressing friendship, and if you start refusing that food, you are going to lose a lot. You lose a lot of the world when you won’t eat their food, and that is a shame.

And that’s not just true for foreign countries. I lived with a picky eater and it was a pain in the butt all of the time. He kept me from enjoying many of my favorite things, and it was just always a problem. Wouldn’t you want to, for the sake of your friends and family, work on the things that make you high maintenance and difficult?

I don’t say this lightly. I was a picky eater as a child, and as an adult I was vegetarian for ten years for no better reason than meat squicks me out. I decided that not eating meat was holding me back. So I learned to deal. Now, living in China, I’ve had to learn to eat a lot of pretty disgusting things- like congealed blood and duck throats. It’s not always easy. But I recognize that I will become a better person the more I learn to eat (and even enjoy) these things, and so I keep working on it whenever I can.

Depends how picky you’re talking I suppose. I for one would never eat insects or eyeballs.

If a person’s picckiness is affecting where you can go with them as a group socially, then a line is crossed. If they can’t find something they can eat on the entire menu, and thus are ruling out that venue for the whole group, it becomes a problem. If they are happy to find something on the menu, and thus are not limiting the group, then no foul.

There is nothing worse; they are like a giant wet blanket. It affects where you go out to eat, what you make at home, it’s awkward at parties. They are almost as bad as the vocal food snob who disparages everything you eat.

People: food is one of the great joys of life and a huge part of human culture. Open your minds.

I honestly don’t see a correlation between eating (possibly disgusting) food and being a better person or being a good person. How does one relate to the other?

I don’t think being picky is inherently bad, unless it is to a compulsive or unhealthy magnitude. If one is so picky they will eat only one or two foods there are bound to be health consequences as well as the inconvenience of possibly not having the preferred foods available. Other than that, I think pickiness is more annoying than “bad” or wrong.

I am not what I would call an adventurous eater, but compared to some threads here I am re-thinking that. I do eat a variety of foods and there are only a few that I will not try under any circumstance (congealed blood and duck throats would be right up there!). My pickiness is both cultural and idiosyncratic…for example I simply refuse to eat cute animals. I make exceptions of course, but deer, sheep, rabbit and anything I deem too cuddly simply is not food to me.

I can always find something that I will eat (and enjoy) in any country I visit, any restaurant etc. and I am willing to try new preparations within my limits (meaning not cute, not bugs, not too slimy, and not made with blood, etc.) but I don’t think that speaks at all toward my character one way or another.

This is the main problem of being overly picky. Food has a pretty strong social dimension, and when people are picky it can kinda throw a wrench in social occasions. I sometimes invite co-workers over for dinner, but its getting to be so I’m starting to think of excuses to not invite all the extremely picky eaters, the Vegetarians and Vegans and glutin intolerant people rather then have to make a bunch of different variations of the same meal so that everyone can eat.

Not really sure what the solution is, especially since in some cases the reasons for avoiding some foods are health reasons that they don’t have much control over or belief systems that I wouldn’t want to discriminate against them for, but on the other hand, it really isn’t workable to adjust menus to deal with three or four differing dietary restrictions.

Not sure I agree with this part. I know some very adventurous eaters who in other aspects of their lives are homebodies with set routines and are unwilling to venture out to something new, while others are globe-trotters who nonetheless just like one particular type of thing for lunch and aren’t going to stray from it.

I think everyone has some area of their life that they just don’t want to change, but that that doesn’t necessarily translate to a general unwillingness to step out of routine.

Perhaps that is the “truth” for you. You’ve got to realize that you are lucky that way. For me, that is completely untrue.

For me, the common wisdom is wrong. For me, eating a hated food seven times means I’ve had seven extremely unpleasant eating experiences when I could have eaten something, anything else. And time number eight (through time number 50 through time number 503) will be just as bad as time number one.

I’m not going to go out of my way to have foul (to me) food. That’s just stupid. If I’m served something as a guest, I’ll eat it. But I’m not going to choose food I don’t (and won’t like) over food I will like when it’s my money, my time, and my option.

I don’t think it’s an issue of being adventurous, picky eaters are they types where it’s easier to list what they do like rather than what they don’t.

This is true, but that is not really a matter of “pickiness” but one of social graces. A person who knows they are picky (or unadventurous if you prefer) eaters should not inflict that upon their hosts nor should one group members preferences be the deciding factor for restaurants etc.

A person with good social skills (or even basic politeness) should be able to find something they like or can eat when out with a group or invited to someone’s home, even if that means a few mouthfuls of food they dislike. If they are so picky that they know that will be impossible, there are polite ways to bring your own food to such occasions without insulting the host.

Of course gluten intolerance, food allergies and (to a lesser extent) vegetarianism are exempt from the “social graces” aspect and those issues should be prioritized over simply not liking what is served.

No it doesn’t, unless there’s some requirement that everyone in the group must stay together. The group is allowing that person or persons from going out. There are two of us in our lunch group that are picky eaters, we sometimes get problems from the rest of the group. I’ve always told them, I don’t want to go there, you go. I used to get crap about not wanting to try new things and such and how I was limiting them. I always told them to go and enjoy their own lunch, I’m a big boy and can take care of myself.

Again it wasn’t him that kept you from enjoying your favorite things, you were allowing him to do so.

I’m a picky eater, partly because I don’t like a lot of things, and partly because I have to be. I can not eat onions, most garlic, and other types of things in that family. I can get sick, ranging from a bad upset stomach to the craps. I’ve been avoiding them for years when I can. I also can’t stand the taste of certain things, any artificial sweeteners leave a really bad aftertaste in my mouth, even the ones that say they don’t. Cilantro is horrible, really really horrible, but yet you say I need to get over it?

Food is only one aspect of life. Do you, generic you, ride a motorcycle, if not why not? Have you ever tried to do something in your favorite form of exercise that is hard? A marathon or more for runners, a 100 mile bike ride, a 5 mile open water swim? If not then the same could be said of missing out on parts of life that others enjoy.

I think there’s a difference between having distinct preferences and not being adventurous. I’m really picky about my fruit not being the least bit bruised or weird looking, but I am willing to try new things. If I absolutely hate something, that’s it, though. Like, seven times of trying milk–you’ll have a projectile vomiting Freudian Slit, not someone used to it. Partly it’s because growing up I was (possibly am?) allergic but mostly it’s because of the taste aversion that developed from vomiting it up so much. There’s no way I could ever learn to even tolerate the stuff.

I also don’t see why it makes you a better person to force yourself to eat stuff like congealed blood if it’s genuinely creeping you out. But I guess I don’t necessarily see food as an adventure, and more as fuel. (And no plans to live in China!) I’ve never really gotten the mentality of people who act as though eating in the really uber authentic restaurants and who brag about the disgusting food there, like having bizarre fare means it’s a sign of good eating.

Bad? Of course not. And since we don’t socialize much (or bond over food when we do) or travel, the fact that both my boyfriend and I eat the same foods (though we have totally different diets) all the time has no effect on our lives.

I’ve never been a picky eater but I currently have a very limited diet (in terms of what people around me usually eat, not in terms of actual variety of foods) for health reasons. However if I was to eat out there is always something I can order and enjoy (unless it’s a vegetarian restaurant). Food is fuel to me, although I do have preferences.

My BF is and always has been extremely picky. Food is more emotional for him and he’ll get physically ill from eating something he doesn’t want to. I totally don’t understand where he’s coming from because I can choke down anything no matter how bad it tastes, but I can understand that we are different people and that he really can’t help being ‘picky’. IME those who think people can just ‘get over’ food aversions are being very short-sighted and/or have never lived with someone who would gag and vomit uncontrollably just from eating something they didn’t want to…

My vote is that it’s usually a bad thing. One thing I’ve noticed is that picky eaters usually don’t have, for example, only broccoli and brown rice as their preferred foods. It’s stuff like hot dogs, mac & cheese, PB&J . . . not terribly healthy stuff if that’s all you eat, and the sort of thing you would typically find on a children’s menu.

My parents used to brand me a picky eater because I didn’t like a lot of the stuff they cooked: big, slimy onions and green peppers in everything, lima beans, split pea soup, plain oatmeal. Now they (well, my mom, who’s still alive) turns up her nose at the things I like to eat now: various ethnic foods, vegetarian options . . . once I got out of their house I found all sorts of things that I did like. And I’m much more willing to try new things than my mother is; to her, if it’s not meat-and-three, it’s scary. I’ve made meals for her and had to insist to her that “There’s not a thing in there that you don’t like!” Sound familiar?

Personally, I think it’s the people who make a big deal out of someone politely saying “no, thank you” when offered food, or who take it as some sort of personal rejection, who need to get over it. Maybe that person doesn’t like that particular food, or maybe they’re just not hungry. Their reason for not wanting to eat right now might have nothing to do with you or your cooking.

I don’t think anyone should ever have to do this. “I’m not hungry” should suffice.

I think this is a problem. I think most people in the world, myself included, need to learn to not eat when they are not hungry. That’s not a good habit to have in an environment where food is abundant, as current obesity rates show. We shouldn’t be expecting people to eat to be polite or sociable.

I think a lot of our food customs go back to a time when food was scarcer. Those of us who live in the developed world don’t live in that world any more, and we shouldn’t try to pretend that we do.

If you’re a parent of a minor child, it’s your job to try to expose that child to a variety of foods. But it’s not your job to try to coax other adults into eating something they don’t want to. They’re grown-ups, they get to decide what they will and won’t eat. That means no sneaking ingredients into foods or lying about ingredients of foods, either.

Being a picky eater (or having food restrictions) is going to affect your options for socializing, yes. But so does every other interest or lack thereof. You wouldn’t ask someone who you know does not enjoy golf if they want to play golf with you, would you? Their lack of interest in golf is affecting their social opportunities, there. How is that different from how I wouldn’t ask my parents to go to a sushi bar with me?

I’m not sure I’d say being a picky eater is a bad in terms of characterizing someone’s personality. It isn’t like being fussy at the dinner table is akin to being a liar, a thief, an manipulator, or some other fundamental character flaw.

However, it can be damn hard to be friends with a picky eater - whether they are simply locked into their preference for bland food or they are a strict vegan - because meals get to be such a damned hassle. If you invite someone to your house to eat, matching up intense likes/dislikes with what you’re able to cook well is a pain. A suggestion to go to some type of restaurant often gets to be less “let’s get together and have a nice evening” and more “how to cope with a wet blanket on restaurant decisions.”

Quite simply, it’s hard to be friends with someone whose interests are so rigid. And I’m imagining it is no picnic to be a picky eater, either, considering that they may not like picnics at all.

It’s always hard to be friends with someone whose interests aren’t the same as yours. That’s true of someone who loves to cook new foods and a picky eater, same as it is true of a basketball fanatic and someone who doesn’t enjoy watching basketball.

Obviously not everyone needs to go to China and chow down on pig’s blood. But if you do go to China, I’d hope you would be prepared to try some of the less offensive stuff. And I’d hope your food preferences wouldn’t be something to keep you from going to China if you were otherwise interested. It’d be a shame to miss out on so much great stuff simply because you can’t part with mac’n’cheese.

My picky-eater friend did have a number of issues, that also seemed tied into his pickiness. He had social anxiety issues and a lot of trouble doing anything that was vaguely unpleasant, up to finishing school or finding a job. It did hurt our relationship- sometimes we’d go out for a meal together and end up eating alone in separate restaurants! Anyway, I believe it was all related to something underlying that he should probably seek professional help to address, because it is affecting his life. And honestly, that’s my experience with most picky eaters. I don’t know many of them who aren’t also difficult and high maintenance in other ways.

And that seems pretty common. You don’t meet a ton of gregarious, sociable, adventurous, flexible, easy-going picky eaters. Most of the picky eaters I know are relatively anti-social, have trouble changing their routines, and tend to get wound up and uncomfortable pretty quickly. And they seem, in many ways, a lot less happy than they could be.

Anyway, I guess I personally don’t like having stuff I can’t do. I took up running specifically because I didn’t like it, and I wanted to learn to do it despite that. I try all the foods I hate now and then, just to see if I can get over it. Because I’m offered food a lot, and I’d love to be able to accept all of it graciously. Once a month or so I go out in heels, even though it hurts like hell, because I really hate that I can’t walk on them. Life isn’t about being 100% comfortable 100% of the time. A life where you never push yourself is a life that is smaller than it would have been if you had.

Only on the Straight Dope.

“Why should it matter to you whether someone is fat or not? How does it affect you?”

“Picky eaters!”
“Yeah! Fuck these dysfunctional, immature chicken finger-eating overgrown kids! Sure, what they eat doesn’t affect me, but fuck them for not being as open-minded and adventurous of an eater than me! Pass the goat eyeball soup, please.”

Coming up next on the Straight Dope: a lovely debate on circumcision. Or cat declawing.

Oh, they exist, we just call them rabid vegetarians, and they certainly do get their share of vitriol directed their way.

Picky eating isn’t about food, it’s about making a statement about control, whether it’s a childhood comfort food fetish, rabid veganism, extreme foodie-ism, or conspicuous consumption of nothing but red meat and single-malt. It’s a way to stick your banner in the ground and say “I use food to demonstrate my control in a social situation.” It’s possible to dine with picky eaters but you must first recognize that they are children, and be prepared for everything that entails.

Except that everybody eats, not everybody is a sports fan. With picky eaters, the more analogous activity might be, “not everybody likes to talk.”

You do have a point, but I think it is misplaced when it comes to food pickiness.
Life is not about being 100% comfortable but at the same time not wanting to do something or not doing something you do not enjoy is okay too and makes life no less “full” and no less satisfying.

I hate running, I will not run, I do not want to run. Forcing myself to run will not make life any more pleasurable but will only make me miserable because I hate to run. What’s more, I do not want to like to to run, so I don’t. Neither of our attitudes (you doing it because you dislike it and want that to change and me avoiding it because I do not like it and do not want to change that) is superior and neither makes either one of us a better person. It only means we have different interests (when it comes to running) and there really is no reason either of should want to change that or feel forced to change it or even encouraged to change it. Bluntly, it simply doesn’t matter.

I wear heels routinely. I don’t find them painful at all and I can walk better and more gracefully in them than I can in flat shoes. But if they caused me pain at all, you can bet that I wouldn’t do it just for appearances- that is just silly (IMO). Life shouldn’t be about staying in your comfort zone all the time necessarily, but it also shouldn’t be about intentionally causing yourself pain or discomfort for no good reason.