Everyone is entitled to their food likes and dislikes. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Brussels’s sprouts, although I’ll still eat them, if in smaller quantities than things I like better on the plate. But when food preferences become very expansive or quirky, you can be sure that it’s about a lot more than the food.
One acquaintance would only eat boiled chicken and white rice if she were anywhere outside her own home. Whether in a restaurant or invited to dinner at friends’ homes, she would either eat nothing at all, or you knew there had to be boiled chicken and white rice on the menu.
Another acquaintance would never eat anything she or her mother hadn’t cooked. At a restaurant with a group of friends, she would only drink water.
And still another, proudly regaled us with stories of her trip to India with her now ex-husband, where she managed to eat only at the American hotel where she was staying or McDonald’s. Strangely enough, her daughter, a corporate executive, recounted the same story about herself after a recent buying trip to India. So, food nuttiness does tend to run in families as kids absorb the behavioral strategies of their parents.
I always ask people with food restrictions, “why?”. One lady of our acquaintance avoided shrimp at a group dinner. I asked if she didn’t like shrimp, to which she replied she had never tried one. “How come?” I asked. She replied, “I might be allergic”. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, have you had any allergic reactions or been tested for a shrimp allergy?”. “No”, she replied, “But I still might be, so I avoid them”.
You might be surprised that even many hardcore vegetarians or vegans have difficulty explaining (even to themselves) why they pursue their restrictive lifestyles. For many, it’s a nebulous cloud of morality, environmentalism, health, etc., without any intellectual integrity to back it up.
Food is so primordial to the human experience that it is deeply interwoven with our psyche. Freud described the first stage of human psychic development as the “Oral stage”. We learn very early on that we have the potential for great power if we use food to manipulate others. And for many, this pattern doesn’t change through adulthood; food becomes about power (the ability to make others dance to our food quirks) or about love (prove to me that you love me by submitting to my food rules).
Marketers of course know all about this – there are likely more psychologists working for corporations and ad agencies than there are in hospitals. Pulling mom and dad’s strings to make them accommodate a junior food terrorist can be very profitable. Here’s a particularly egregious example from Kraft in the video below.
Our kids were brought up with two simple food rules:
1. You have the right to not like something, but you have to at least taste it once before making that decision.
2. If you don’t like what’s being served, you can wait till the next meal and see if there’s something you like then (strangely, a little hunger seemed to make most previously disliked foods quite palatable).
Unfortunately, the situation shown in the ad is neither unique nor uncommon. It may largely underlie the obesity epidemic among children, so rampant in North America, i.e., the preference for junk food, heavily laden with salt, sugar, fat, and obesogenic additives.
And while Kraft promotes this Frankenfood as a healthful option with no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, see the ingredients below for the 3-cheese variety:
Pasta (wheat flour, freeze-dried cauliflower), cheese sauce (dried whey [from milk], cheese (cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, blue cheese), milk ingredients, salt, modified corn starch, sodium phosphates, natural flavours, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, citric acid (acidulant), lactic acid, annatto (for colour).