*Trigger warning – this post will talk about a fussy relationship with food*
All my life, I have been the fussiest of fussy eaters. My mum used to call the kitchen ‘Janet’s Cafe’ because she always had to make me something different to everyone else at every meal time. If everyone else had meat and potato pie, I had potato pie. If everyone else had steak, I had a pasta dish. My mum’s a great cook and a patient woman, but I can’t imagine making an entire dish from scratch every night for one person who refused to try anything else was easy.
Apparently my weird relationship with food all started when I choked on an apple when I was little. From then on, I almost became scared to eat in case it happened again. My parents eventually got me eating again, but my diet had changed. I would only eat foods I thought were ‘safe’. These food habits have stayed with me throughout my life.
I don’t eat meat or fish and the only exception to this rule is my mum’s spaghetti bolognese – no one else’s, just hers. I’ve tried to eat meat in recent years, but the taste is too strong for me. I would never eat the first or last biscuit from a packet. I flat out refused to try goat’s cheese just because the idea of cheese from a goat made me shudder. I don’t like peas, leeks, mashed potato, BBQ sauce, yoghurt, chopped tomato, Wheetabix, honey… the list of random foods that I say ‘no’ to is long and bizarre.
It’s been hard work growing up with such a strict set of food rules. Eating at restaurants was always a chore because before we went we had to check the menu and see if I could actually have anything. If a dish has red onion in or has been cooked with onion, I can’t eat it because all I can taste is the red onion. I remember once going to a friend’s house for tea and her mum having no clue what to make me – she boiled pasta and I was served a bowl of plain pasta.
Recently, however, I’ve started to push myself when it comes to food. I honestly think that it came from travelling and thinking ‘why not’ about new experiences. For the most part, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. I still don’t eat meat and just the thought of red onion makes me gip, but I am less inclined to say ‘I don’t like it’ without trying things now. I tried sushi at an airport when we were travelling and liked it. My friend Sarah took me to Chinatown in San Francisco and I went for my first proper Chinese meal. I ordered mushroom dumplings in Cairns and loved them. In Canberra I went to a Japanese restaurant and adored every single bite. I tried mustard for the first time in a burger the other week – yes, at 25 I tried mustard for the first time!
It’s not just eating out that has been great for me when it comes to trying new foods. This is the first time Jack and I have lived together and luckily for me Jack adores cooking. He is brilliant at it, too. He does all he can to try new things and to make the vegetarian diet full of new things. He cooks everything from scratch and knows what what seasoning to use in what dish and experiments with new flavours. This week he made a chilli tofu stir fry. He’s the awkward eaters dream, really.
I have to say that I have absolutely loved this food journey I have been on recently. I look forward to mealtimes and going out for new foods. I’m learning so much from watching Jack cook and have a new appreciation for eating. I almost feel sad for my old self and the food I must have missed out on back in England!
But more than anything I feel proud. It’s not easy to break habits. I remember when I was younger my Great Grandma used to be angry with me every time we went out for a meal and I didn’t finish my food or didn’t like what I had ordered. She’d tell me about the war and how people had rationed and I’d feel terrible, but I still couldn’t force myself to eat something I didn’t like. I remember trying to once and feeling so incredibly poorly. To break negative cycles and thought processes when it comes to food isn’t easy and whilst I may have only just started at 25, I am still proud of myself for doing it. There’s a certain happiness you feel when you overcome something, especially something like that this that has dominated so much of your life.
If you identify with anything I’ve said in this post, then welcome to the awkward eaters club. I promise that trying new foods isn’t as bad as you think and even if you don’t like the taste it’s not the end of the world. Some of my favourite foods are foods I would never have tried 6 months ago – dumplings I am looking at you! But let’s try new foods and tastes, broaden our experiences and take a bite of something new. You might just end up breaking the habit of a lifetime and discovering a love for something you didn’t expect.