Confessions of a Former Picky Eater

Guys, I have a dark, shameful confession: I used to be a picky eater.

I was the epitome of the spoiled American child.

I never wanted to try anything new. I detested vegetables unless they were in a taco or top of a burger (preferably from an artery clogging fast food chain!). New textures scared the shit out of me. I don’t think I had clear beverage until I was like 19. Had my family been the sort of people who went on vacation to Europe, I would have been the ugly American ordering a cheeseburger in culinary capitals of the world.

Cheese! You know, preferably on top of burger or drowning a basket of fries.

Now please understand something. I’m not trying to blame my parents or excuse my behavior, but there were some additional variables in play besides me being a brat.

One contributing factor to my dietary reticence was my parents’ work schedule. They both worked stressful full-time jobs. For most of my childhood, my dad worked as a personal supervisor at a post office in a neighboring Chicagoland suburb. Except he worked the third shift. He went to bed around 5 or 6 p.m. and had to get up around 1 a.m. to go into work. That meant my mom would get home around 5 p.m. and have to feed my brother and I shortly thereafter–by herself.

Pictured: Some asshole, probably.

Now, I’ve heard there are other cultures, particularly in Asia, that don’t stand for whiny 8 year olds’ bullshit. You eat what you’re served, and you eat at the dinner table. And that’s a goddamn privilege. Subsequently, kids grow up eating a wide variety of foods and develop an interest in food and drink.

I suppose that’s all well and good unless you’re trying to feed two growing boys with no back up. I think my mom’s main concern was just trying to get us to eat something–anything. I’m sure she, doing an informal cost-benefit analysis, figured it was easier to feed me dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets instead of arguing about the merits of broccoli.

My other issue was literally my stomach (technically my gastrointestinal tract if you want to be a nerd about it). I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 12 and showed signs of it even before then. I’m not going to go into a long explanation of what living with it entails. You’re perfectly capable of using Wikipedia.

While I genuinely enjoyed the few foods I ate, I also learned that dinner was a crap shoot (ha!). Meals become a lot less fun when you go into them knowing there’s about a 50 percent chance your stomach will hurt or you’ll potentially have to make a break for the bathroom.

So what changed? I’m assuming you’ve gathered my culinary predilections have changed based on the title. Right?

Well, for one thing, I started a treatment that actually controls my Crohn’s. For the first time, I could eat spicy food without fear, which opened up and entire world of food to me. I was finally able to gain weight, too, which meant my appetite increased considerably.

But I think the more germane change was independence. Once I was living by myself, I had to buy groceries and cook for myself. Something funny happened, though. To my surprise, I liked cooking. It didn’t seem like a chore. Instead, it was meditative.

Therapeutic.

In a world where fewer and fewer people know wood working or any other trade skills, it felt like I had accomplished something.

Idol.

Anthony Bourdain also had a significant impact on me. I couldn’t put his first book, “Kitchen Confidential,” down. I think I read it in a few short days when I should have been studying toward the end of college. I also started to watch his show “No Reservations” religiously.

Suddenly, I was interested in the “weird” foods I would have refused as a boy. He made them look good. He made them seem important. Not only that, I think he reminded me that cooking and food are soulful things that deserve respect. They’re gateways into other cultures and, in my case, wanderlust.

I mean, I wasn’t making anything extraordinary in the beginning. It started with a few dishes that I kept making over and over (a whole roasted chicken, lasagna and a braised pork roast) until I could cook them in my sleep. And my interest only grew from there.

Soon I was trying the recipes featured in my issues of “Esquire,” and I actually went out of my way to eat vegetables instead of picking them off my plate. I gradually built a healthy spice rack. By the time I moved to North Carolina, I was excitedly buying cookbooks and finding excuses to cook for people. One summer I even started a container garden, which I’m happy to say thrived!

So good on a cold day #ramen

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I was cooking things the way liked them, and I was doing it well. I’m not kidding when I say I thought I didn’t like chicken for a long time. It was because (and no offense mom and dad, I know you were doing the best you could at the time) I was often served bland, dry chicken that didn’t taste like anything except for the barbecue sauce I slathered it in. But now? Now, I can name five chicken recipes off the top of my head that would make your mouth water.

Carne asada torta with some #epsilon tequila. #food #stl #saintlouis

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My newfound interest even started to become academic. I started reading about chefs and restaurants in different cities. Every time I had the opportunity to travel, you bet your ass I knew the best places to eat and drink. I would research obsessively to find the perfect lunch or the perfect dinner or the perfect cocktail.

Leg of lamb for @stlmikey and @alliadolphson's going away dinner. Nailed it. #forkyeah

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At this point in my life, it’s finally come full circle.

Now, I guess I’m what people would consider a “foodie.” I subscribe to “Bon Appetite.” I take pictures of meals. My Instagram is full of food porn. I can talk about tasting notes in wine. I know what blanching is (and no it doesn’t involve “The Golden Girls”).

Trust me, I enjoy doing those things, but the term makes me cringe. The funny thing is, I don’t care. You can make fun of me all you want for being too precious about food.

There’s no way I’m going back to eating like an 8-year-old kid.

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