Food idiosyncrasies are both personal and cultural

huevos rancheros casserole 

There are basically two kinds of eaters in this world: those who eat each item of food separately and those who combine items together with abandon. Amy Fleming of The Guardian explores these disparate personalities in a recent article that explains some of the psychology between the two camps.

Of course there are gray areas, but you likely relate more to one of these categories than the other. Researchers have studied these behaviors, even giving a name to those at the separate eating extreme. Brumotactillophia is the fear of different foods touching one another, and is seen as a holdover from being a fussy eater as a child. Usually we grow out of this stage, but for some people it gets worse as they get older. You might be surprised to learn that Yotam Ottolenghi prefers to keep his foods separate. He admits that, like his small child, he likes each food item on the plate to be apart from the others. “Possibly even served in a sequence and not all together. I love tasting each item and then moving on to the next one,” he says.

Another “militant eating category” involves people who exhibit extreme delayed gratification. These people make it a point to save the very best bite of each food for last, and sometimes even put all of them together for one final burst of flavor and texture. This is in contrast to those who prefer to eat the best first. To exemplify this category, the article describes the habits of Chef Marcus Wareing, who eats foods in order of what he likes best. For a Sunday roast dinner, he will follow this progression: “potatoes, sage-and-onion stuffing, crackling, pork, with the poor old carrots and cauliflower left to the lukewarm end.”

What shapes these and other food idiosyncrasies? According to researchers, cultural influences play a large role. Eating customs vary from region to region, and what is acceptable in one area may be taboo in another, and societal outlooks can also have an effect. For example, studies show that more Americans are delayed gratifiers than ‘eat the best first’ types. Psychologists surmise this is due to the idea of the American dream that working hard will bring a reward later, or to use the researchers terms, “Americans prefer a rising sequence in life.” There doesn’t seem to be as much consensus on what makes someone a stacker versus a separatist, however.  

Are you a stacker, or does the thought of foods touching, like in the Huevos rancheros casserole from Alaska From Scratch pictured above, give you the heebie-jeebies? Do you save the best for last or do you eat your favorites first?   

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One Comment

  • ellabee  on  June 23, 2016

    As a child I was a classic "foods shouldn't touch" case, and also ate items sequentially. My parents noted the habit critically, but I declined to submit to micro-management of my eating, and they backed off to mild mockery. Their attempt to intervene was especially unwelcome because uncharacteristic: they had refreshingly few rules for meals beyond basic table manners; at home, they didn't make me finish my plate, or even eat particular things (once given a fair trial). This contributed to an overall lack of food neuroses. Somewhere fairly early on in the many intervening decades, it became fine for foods to touch and even to be eaten together. That egg-avocado-and-toast looks pretty good right now…

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