Stand Picky, Stand Proud: Lucianovic Demystifies Picky Eating In New Book

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GG: Even as a non-picky eater (I really fall more into the garbage disposal camp), there are still a couple of foods that make me gag even just thinking about them. What was it like to work on the book and to recall those moments when you really couldn't swallow something or had to confront foods on your banned list?

SL: It wasn't as difficult as you might imagine, since I've had a good grip on my gag reflex for going on 10 years now, but I will admit that thinking about certain foods I still won't eat or thinking about eating foods that have been cooked in a way I wouldn't cook them for personal consumption did make me shudder a bit. Recalling the squash incident didn't make me gag, but it did get me all outraged that parents could do that to any child. Being able to get that incident published probably therapied all those bad feelings away. Like: "You did this to me and, look—it gave me something to write about!" I've also long been able to laugh at past incidents, which also helps keep the gag reflect in check; just like a boggart out of Harry Potter.

Fortunately, none of it made writing the book difficult, it made it...interactive. In fact, there was another incident that didn't make it into the book that had me really struggling hard to control my gag reflex. It happened while I was interviewing an occupational therapist at Stanford, and I totally exploited it for the purposes of the book. I really dug down and kind of let myself fully experience the horror of what she was telling me.


The sad absence of Vulcan mindmelds in today's society means we never really get to know what our kids are thinking or feeling, especially when they're not able to explain it themselves. Marianna has found a way to paint a very vivid picture for parents of picky eaters. She tells them to imagine getting a vanilla ice cream cone on a hot day. "And as you started to eat it," Marianna continued, "A big hair came out of it. Now for some of us, we would gag..."

I did gag. Right there in the occupational therapy offices of Lucile-Packard Children's Hospital on the Stanford Campus, I gagged hard and shuddered just thinking about "a big hair" in an ice cream cone. Of course, then I let my imagination take me on the path of, "Just what is it about hair in food that makes us gag?" It can't just be the thought that that long strand dipping in and out of our food belongs to someone else—someone with unknown grooming habits—because I can't stand the thought of eating my own freshly-washed hair, either. I think the gagging results because we know can happen when a hair gets in our mouth. Usually, half of it stays in our mouth while the rest of it has already traveled down our throats. If it were easy to swallow, we probably would swallow it, however as soon as we feel that hair's presence we scrabble at our mouths and do our best to yank the hair out. The touch, the feel of that hair pulling out of our throat automatically triggers a gag. And after writing that detailed analysis, I have committed myself to a state of perpetual gagging and shuddering for the next three hours.

Blissfully unaware of my disturbed state of mind, Marianna continues calmly, "...and maybe some people would throw that hair away and continue to eat..." Yeah, whackjobs would! It's a HAIR in your ICE CREAM! Bleaaargh! "...but the majority of people aren't going to eat it; they're going to throw it away, and I can almost guarantee you the next time they come to that ice cream parlor, they're going to say, 'Uh-uh, they have icky food there.' So that's what's happening with our children," Marianna finished. Clearly, it's a very effective analogy."

See? Sometimes out of great gagging, inspiration comes. (Even if it doesn't ultimately make it in the book.)

GG: You talk a lot about picky eaters' attempts to stay under the radar. Do you think that those of us who identify as non-picky eaters might be in the minority rather than the majority?

SL: Yes, I think that must be why so many adult picky eaters bury themselves deep rather than be discovered. If we were legion, what would we really have to fear from a freakish minority who doesn't see anything wrong with eating potentially poisonous fish or toxin-filled organ meat? (I kid about the freakish part, but you guys really are strange for eating that stuff!)

What I hope is that getting more adult picky eaters openly talking about their picky eating and what they're dealing with will make them realize they aren't alone and don't need to feel ashamed or embarrassed by something that is beyond their biological grasp. Additionally, I hope to foster tolerance and empathy among the walking garbage disposals to take the place of the eye-rolls and rebukes that picky eaters are high maintenance, xenophobic, or closed-minded.


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