I've been musing a bit about food likes and dislikes after reading a Facebook post questioning who was a picky eater. It included a list of mostly everyday foods (okay, except maybe for kombucha), and asked readers to add up those on the list that they didn't like, giving themselves one point for each. The list included foods like avocado, olives, tofu, mushrooms. I couldn't tick any except perhaps for kombucha, which I haven't tried. But to my surprise many people ticked off quite a few.
Disclaimer upfront: children under ten are excluded from this discussion. They're in their own universe these days. As someone who grew up in the days when you sat at the dinner table until you cleaned your plate, or went to bed hungry, I have views on the current situation. I attribute it to a school of parenting, and the fact that kids today know who the bosses are: them. I used to prepare beautiful "adult" meals in an effort to expose grandchildren to new foods, only to have meals end in heartache (mine). I now make things that I know they'll eat, with an occasional random victory. We have grandchildren who won't eat fresh tomatoes or lettuce, for example. I let that wash over me, with just a few cleansing breaths. John has enforced a rule that what goes on the plate must get eaten or no dessert. Palates can and will evolve with age and life experience.
At our house John won't eat goat cheese. Even the smell of it evokes shudders and memories of smelly billy goats who must have terrorised him as a child. I tested a salad with chevre once that was a complete write-off. I've managed to coax him out of his aversion to silverbeet/swiss chard, which stemmed from finding a grass grub in it once a long, long time ago. I've promised we will always wash our greens thoroughly to remove wildlife, and have stuck to that promise (mostly).
As for me it's certain types of offal. My mother used to cook and eat calf liver and kidneys. No one else in my family would touch them. I remember the stench in the kitchen from the kidneys boiling away on the stove in particular. I do eat pate, foie gras, and chicken livers. A few years ago I went out with friends Laura and John to their favourite tapas bar in California, where we sampled a smoked tongue dish that John raved about. I'm embarrassed to say that I popped some in my mouth, gagged, and promptly spit it out in my napkin. Not terribly ladylike, but I simply couldn't swallow it down. Must have been a tongue thing.
Like most things, we can probably blame all this on our mothers; on what and how they cooked. It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, we're all a product of or a reaction to our mothers. I'm amazed I love vegetables given the mushy, overcooked tinned and frozen veggies I grew up on. I only discovered fresh broccoli when I went off to college. Brussels sprouts, the most universally disliked vegetable, are largely so because everyone's mothers served them boiled and mushy in the day. It takes a brave soul, or another generation, to learn that they taste amazing when roasted, caramelised and nutty.
Common thinking is that we eat with our senses: sight, smell, and taste in particular. But we also bring along to the table our memories and emotional baggage.