Why some people are picky eaters

 broccoli and brussel sprouts

We all have at least one friend or relative who we find difficult to please when making a meal. The list of items he or she doesn’t like seemingly goes on forever, and we can’t understand how some of the foods got put on the ‘dislike’ list. It may make us wonder how the person got to be such a fussy eater. If you are interested in learning more about the subject, visit NPR’s The Salt, where anthropologist Jane Kauer and Here & Now co-host Jeremy Hobson discuss the science and culture of picky eating.

One of the biggest questions they discussed was whether we are all blank slates when it comes to taste – would five people raised in the same way end up with the same likes and dislikes? Kauer said there are both cultural and biological influences. “We have a preference in infancy, at birth, for sweetness. We have a dislike or strong aversive reaction to bitterness. We have a slight preference for slightly salty things, but not much of a preference, and a slight preference for moderate to low sour things. But the sweet and the bitter, we all come in with that, so we’re not a total blank slate. Otherwise, it is mostly experience – personal experience, cultural values, everything that affects us in just the same way about clothing and all that.” she explains. 

The discussion also covered the topic of how people tend to treat picky eaters. In many areas, a person wouldn’t feel comfortable critizing someone else for his or her choices. But food is a different story. Says Kauer, ” I would never get on you for wanting to wear gingham shirts … but we do seem to feel that we have the right in the public domain to talk about each others’ foods.” She goes on to note that while people are mostly well-meaning in trying to get someone to try a particular food, it’s easy to cross the line into judgment and moralization. 

Pictured above, a picky eater’s nightmare: Easy stir-fried broccoli and Brussels sprouts from Serious Eats

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