Food Writing

Making Sense of Picky Eating with SUFFERING SUCCOTASH

It’s been awhile, but I still vividly remember the anxiety that was meatloaf night. I remember the gag reflex-inducing bowl of creamed corn on the dinner table. I shall never forget the Atkins Campaign of Terror that took hold of our house in 2002; I was no match for carb-free eggplant lasagna or my mother’s emotional upheaval during the two-week induction period of Atkins (when dieters withdraw from sugar and carbs and, hypothetically, might have threatened to kill the family dog).

We are the downtrodden, the nauseated, the nervous, the determined. We are picky. And now, we have a manifesto.

suffering succotashSuffering Succotash:  A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate is a mix of scientific study, academic research, personal narrative, and group therapy. Stephanie Lucianovic is a picky eating survivor who eventually delved into food, conquered her picky eating, went to culinary school, started a food blog, and has now shared her story with us in Suffering Succotash. This book, at once humorous and informative, provides a peek into the complex physical, psychological, and sensory world of eating.

Lucianovic, a new mom who was beginning to worry that her own son would develop picky eating habits, endeavored to better understand her own picky eating, yes, but also wanted to discover what makes some people picky and others not; what can be done (if anything) to treat picky eating; and how to reconcile ourselves to picky habits as adults.

While reading this book, I was amazed at new revelations about my own picky past. I learned, for instance, about texture aversion, the sick feeling you get from an unpleasant texture in your mouth (ahem, creamed corn). I learned about the emotional implications of picky eating, the internalized anxiety that cripples picky eaters, who are so often the subject of a family’s taunting at the dinner table.

I mean, who would be able to eat when they’re nervous and being made fun of and interrogated and there’s asparagus on their plate?

I very seriously considered photocopying sections and mailing them to my mother. In fact, at one point, I decided to send her the whole book, with key passages highlighted, a fluorescent message of “See? I think this proves I’m normal, thank you very much.”

But we would be wise, fellow picky eaters, to put down our swords. Lucianovic is quick to point out that she isn’t throwing her parents under the bus. To fully understand the picky eating predicament, it’s best to abandon the us vs. them dichotomy.

This book could almost read as part parenting guide, part self-help. As Lucianovic researched her book, she reached out to friends, and she was surprised to find that many of her friends who are now adventurous eaters were once picky. She discovered that picky eaters form a community all their own, with a broad spectrum of severity, and an equally broad range of adult outcomes.

Though there are no clear conclusions about what causes picky eating (the matter is still being researched), the conclusions that can be reached are simple:  no matter how lonely it was at the dinner table as a child, you are not alone; there’s nothing wrong with picky eaters; and we are far more likely to come around to food when we can come to it on our own terms. The same way that we discover for ourselves how we want to fold our towels or arrange our kitchens, we also learn how we want to handle our eating lives.

We learn that it’s possible to like shrimp or corn; we also learn that it’s okay that we’ll never like meatloaf (ever). We cut our parents a break and see that the kid at the end of the table who will not eat the creamed corn we made and who insists on making gagging noises to make her point clear (hypothetically) is, perhaps, a little infuriating. And thanks to Stephanie Lucianovic, we learn that we’re not alone. Those of us with a picky past can do what the author herself encourages throughout the book:  we can “stand picky, stand proud.”




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About Dana Staves

Dana Staves writes about food, books, and the writing life. To keep up with her antics and see gratuitous Instagrams of her cat and her food, follow her on Twitter @DanaStaves.

  • Tasha B. (heidenkind)

    This book sounds pretty fascinating. I don’t consider myself a picky eater, but I do virulently dislike certain things, and as I get older I find there are reasons for that. Food can be complicated.