“Come over. I’ll make us brunch. With bacon!”
As much as I love bacon, my friend’s offer made me shudder. I was glad the invitation came via text, not a phone chat, so I could hide my revulsion.
“I want French toast. :-(” I texted back like a spoiled brat.
My friend is gluten-free for medical reasons so I knew French toast wasn’t on the menu–and thus a good excuse. It was a strategic choice. I wanted to have brunch with her, just not at her place.
My French toast argument was only part of the story. You see, I grew up a picky eater.
As a kid, the list of foods I would not eat included salad, onions and plenty of other vegetables, mushrooms, any form of seafood and dishes I couldn’t tell what was in ’em. For starters.
My peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had to be crust off. I would only eat cheese if it were completely melted on a grilled cheese sandwich. The notion of eating spaghetti sauce made by someone other than Mom was truly upsetting.
Even with dishes I deemed edible, I picked them apart. Picture me eating the peas, corn and carrots out of vegetable soup and rejecting the onions, celery, tomatoes and whatever else I found and deemed inedible.
Back then, I was constantly torn between wanting to have friends invite me to their houses and feeling dread about having to eat someone else’s food.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the home of my parents’ friends, the Joneses. But no matter how many play dates I had with the Jones kids, the terror of eating meals there never faded. Their son, who was around my age, thought nothing of eating day-old spaghetti and meatballs served cold. When they ordered pizza, it was with no concern for my stance on onions and chunks of tomatoes in the sauce. And horror of horrors: fish was often on the menu.
What kept me sane throughout meals at the Joneses? The promise of dessert. Mrs. Jones could be counted on to deliver quality treats like cupcakes with sprinkles and cold pudding pressed between graham crackers like ice cream sandwiches.
Sidebar: more people should make these. They were good.
Once I graduated from college and moved to NYC (the first time), I started feeling ashamed about my food hang-ups. My pickiness wasn’t based on bad experiences with food; it was completely in my head. I had to start trying new foods. At a minimum, I wanted not to be embarrassed at business lunches. Even more, I wanted this one part of my life to jive with how I perceived the rest of myself: open-minded, not easily scared and adventurous.
It took alcohol, a good amount of it, to get me to try seafood for the first time. Fortunately a wedding offered both. After a large quantity of wine I had a fellow bridesmaid pop a forkful of crab cake into my open mouth while I waited with my eyes squeezed shut. When I didn’t immediately keel over and die, I was forced to acknowledge that the food I had dodged for twenty plus years didn’t even taste foreign.
Over time, I have been able to add more foods to my diet* but I still think of foods in terms of Things I Want To Eat, Things I Can Eat and Things I Still Won’t Eat Unless It’s For $1 Million And There’s No Vomiting Penalty.
As such, when friends invite me to their homes for meals, I still feel…I don’t know. Squirmy? I never consciously thought about why and how it could negatively impact my friendships with great people.
Recently a good friend said “Come over. I’ll make us brunch. With bacon!” generously inviting me into her home and I rejected the idea right off the bat.
Next time, I vow to say yes. Even if I know there won’t be French toast.
*More on this to come.