Travels with a Conservative Eater

While visiting family recently in New England, I came across fresh figs at the grocery store. I’ve never had a fig that wasn’t dried, or turned into paste. I was surprised at the color and intrigued by the shape and so bought a couple to try. Mo was intrigued too. She’s become more loquacious, lately, for her I mean. She’s still not in danger of talking anyone’s ear off but she liked the look of the figs and was happy to talk about them, ask some questions, and watch me eat one. Naturally, she didn’t want to try one, herself.

I say naturally because Morgan is a naturally conservative eater. I spent a good deal of time explaining that on our travels, since she doesn’t eat things most people associate with kids her age – not pizza or sandwiches or homemade mac-n-cheese. Most kids go through a conservative stage, but by 8 they’re usually coming out of it.

Mo’s a bit more sensitive to looks and textures than average, and that has a lot to do with her conservatism. She still has a fairly narrow range of foods and the tend to be light and fine: cereals and pale pastas (no whole wheat, please), tortillas and pancakes, cheese and tofu, chicken nuggets, bananas. There are a few other things, but you get the idea. Milk and juice form a big part of her diet, so we don’t cheap-out on juice, we get 100% and try new flavors whenever we can. She’s most open to experimenting where juice is concerned, but she rarely samples new fruit. Like I said, texture is an issue.

It was nice to talk with other people on my travels who have been down similar roads, either as parents or as conservative eaters, themselves. It was refreshing to hear tales from George’s mom of her passionate, strong minded children, of Liz liking things just so and George coming apart at the seams if his hotdog was cut in the wrong number of pieces. Good to know Morgan doesn’t just get it from me!

I was the proverbial picky eater. I recall there were foods I did like as a child, but most of my actual memories of dinnertime revolve around a sense of disgust as I would steal myself, over and over, to lift the fork to my mouth. I sometimes wonder how much of my vegetarianism comes down to being finally able to avoid all the foods I despise in one fell swoop. Certainly when I go to vegetarian homes and potlucks and feel a sense of nervousness at an unfamiliar dish, I can dispel most of that with a simple reminder to myself: its okay, its vegetarian. Its amazing how much that relaxes me. I don’t recall ever being disgusted by a mouthful of vegetarian food, even if the flavor didn’t appeal to me. I’m sure there must be some, but they don’t stand out in my memories.

Food is such a personal issue. Some people seem to be able to eat anything. Ray has always been able to eat foods he dislikes. He may complain about them, but he doesn’t struggle to eat them. I’ve watched Mo struggle to try a food she thought she’d like only to have the actual experience prove different than she’d hoped. I’ve seen her on the verge of tears when a food at a restaurant wasn’t what she expected. We ate out a bunch on our travels, something we rarely do at home, and I did a good bit of explaining and negotiating with wait-staff as a result. They were all very helpful, even found ways to charge me less for, say, a plate of “nachos” with none of the meat, salsa or guacamole listed in the menu. One waitress brought Mo all the popcorn she could eat at no charge at all. That was sweet.

It was wonderful to overnight at another unschooling house on the way home. I’m always nervous meeting people I only “know” via the internet, and we hadn’t really talked about food with this family. But Faith was perfectly happy to walk Morgan through their cereal collection even though we’d arrived at dinnertime, that was great. And despite eight hours in the car I was ready to do a happy-dance at the sight of real home-style vegetarian food on the stove (its okay! Its vegetarian). And its good to get back home to where Mo doesn’t have to ask if she isn’t in the mood to talk, where she knows where everything is and the microwave is conveniently located for little people. Good to get back to George’s home-style vegetarian cooking every night. Even if I can’t get fresh figs around here.

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