All Tea No Shade with Andrea Lo.
The other day I was at dim sum with two friends, L and N, when our siu mai arrived served with liver.
“I don’t really eat liver,” L said, and N and I proceeded to interrogate him. “Why don’t you eat liver? Don’t you eat foie gras? What’s wrong with you?”
Yes, L replied, he does eat foie gras — he’s just not keen on “most organs.” “You are so basic,” N and I said.
The topic turned to the foods we don’t eat. There has to be something that you don’t like, L said.
I started thinking hard about what kind of foods I don’t eat, and drew a blank. The truth is, there really isn’t anything I wouldn’t touch. I can’t even think about a whole lot of foods I dislike, other than red bean soup dessert — and even then I eat it anyway just to be a good Chinese girl in front of my relatives.
In Chinese culture it is considered rude to refuse food you are offered, and worse, not appreciate your food. My nondiscriminatory eating habits have led me to despise picky eaters. I’m not talking about vegetarians or vegans — that’s a story for a different day — or those with special dietary requirements due to allergies or religion. It’s folks who choose not to eat something as simple as sausages. Meat with bones attached (newsflash: meat comes from animals with bones). I remember a girl at school who only ate plain pasta with cheese, every single meal. Shudder.
These days there’s nothing that annoys me more than to have to sit next to diners picking apart their food in disgust, or pipe up about going gluten-free for 35 days. At a seafood dinner, someone at my table didn’t eat seafood. (Why are you here?)
The thing is, I wasn’t always like this. I was conditioned to become someone who eats everything.
Growing up, I was taught to eat every last grain of rice in my bowl. Threats were made: “If you leave a mess on your plate, that’s what your future husband is going to look like.”
Still, I didn’t like everything. I hated steamed fish served whole on a plate, or marinated meats my dad first used to worship Guan Yu, the god of loyalty, then served at dinner (the meats were eaten for luck, but had a really smoky aftertaste).
Then I went to school abroad, and everything changed. The fish, marinated meats and huge bowls of rice were no longer. I was stuck with stuff I hated even more — flavorless thick-cut chips, unidentifiable meats drenched in sauce — and I ate it because I had to appreciate my food. Also, I didn’t want an ugly husband.
It made me miss what I had. Eventually, I became that person who doesn’t say no to any food.
So maybe the solution to fixing picky eaters all over the world is to take their food away from them. Parents, stop tolerating your children’s refusal of vegetables. PRs, cease inviting bloggers on diets to your tastings. And people everywhere, accidentally-on-purpose forget to add the picky eater in your life to the dim sum WhatsApp group. One day they might just learn to appreciate what they’re missing…
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