Garnish with the Remaining Parsley: Why I'm Not a Picky Eater

(Blue Apron's Pan-Seared Steaks with Green Peppercorn Sauce)

I struggle to come up with an answer whenever someone asks about my hobbies, but if I had to name one, it would be eating. I hesitate to classify my hunger as a hobby because I more human vacuum cleaner than “foodie”. I enjoy everything from McDonald’s cheeseburgers to dried-aged steaks. I love liege waffles, but I won’t turn down an Eggo. It’s not that I don’t have my preferences: my preference list just happens to be quite long and wide. Don’t ask me about any of the food in a buffet situation. The fact that I’m putting something on my plate doesn’t mean I know what it is. I don’t have food allergies, so I can afford to take a gamble. The odds are that whatever I put on my plate I will like or at least tolerate.

In short, I’m not picky about what I eat. I don’t understand why anyone—food allergies and intolerances aside—is a picky eater, and I suppose picky eaters don’t understand how I can eat so many different things. I am sure there are fascinating scientific explanations for both, but I have my own theories on why I eat what I eat, so I have decided to share them.

To begin with, I’m the youngest of three children: my sister is six years older than I am, and my brother is thirteen years older. When I was young, I couldn’t hope to do much of anything better than my siblings simply because I was so many years behind. At five years old I couldn’t read, ride a bike, or tie my shoes, but I could finish my dinner and ask for seconds. Do you ever see kids refusing to eat at restaurants or whining when it’s time to eat at birthday parties? I wasn’t one of those kids. In contrast, my sister was—and is to this day—a notoriously slow eater, and my brother needed to be “in the mood” to eat certain foods. The adults around us, particularly my dad and grandmother, simultaneously praised me for being such a “good eater” and admonished my brother and sister for not being more like me.

I don’t know why I was naturally inclined to eat more. If I did, I would likely have millions of dollars now from selling the ultimate secret to weight loss. What I do know is that praise kept me eating. My parents were able to give me all sorts of non-child-friendly foods—like octopus, squid, liverwurst, and goat cheese— just by saying, “Diana, do you want to try this?” They would not usually ask my siblings, who must have established their opinions on such foods long before, so being offered those foods was special. I ate goat cheese for years without even knowing it—I assumed it was regular cheese and couldn’t be bothered to ask otherwise.

This is not to say I was a parent’s dinnertime dream. I did go through phases of not eating certain foods: I didn’t eat red meat for a while because I thought avoiding it would help me lose weight (it didn’t). However, as I grew older my food quirks diminished and my tastes expanded. Now I can even let different foods touch on my plate! Sometimes I feel really smug about my open-minded eating habits. I think, Hey, look at me! I’m not grilling the server about tonight’s special and then not ordering it after all! But what makes me different from other people other than my constantly growling stomach and childhood desire to compete with older siblings?

Two things have given me some insight into my eating habits. One is watching The Food Network. Turn it on right now and see how long it takes for someone to say, “We eat with our eyes.” (Odds are Alex Guarnaschellli will be the first to say this as she glares in disgust at a Chopped contestant’s sloppily-plated dish). The second is hearing in a behavioral science class about “The Case of the Colorblind Painter”: an artist suddenly lost his color vision due to a brain injury, and afterwards he found food unappetizing because it all appeared to be gray.

Well, I don’t eat with my eyes—not the same way most people do, anyway. I don’t get excited over garnishes on food the way chefs do on The Food Network. When my Blue Apron instructions tell me to “garnish with the remaining parsley”, that parsley often sits untouched on the counter only to be remembered after I've shoved three quarters of dinner into my mouth. It’s not that I don’t find any food aesthetically pleasing: I do like to see glitter on cupcakes or the subtle sheen on a piecrust. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to tell you the color of the cupcake’s frosting or the pie’s filling. I have congenital achromatopsia, so I have always been colorblind: my food has always been “gray”. In my case, instead of finding my colorless food unappealing, I find that I’m not put off of any food due to perceived color bias.

(My sloppily-plated steak)

Color can be as much an indicator of taste as actual flavor. While some people may choose not to eat something because it’s an unfortunate shade of brown, or it’s flecked with green (a telltale sign of vegetables!), I don’t know the difference. I can’t be nitpicky about white versus yellow cheese. Is my burger a little too pink? I don’t know: what’s pink? Is that orange Jell-O or lime Jell-O? Well, it’s a good thing I eat both. You would think not being able to see colors would cause me to ask more questions about food than the average person, but I am far too introverted to quibble over the difference between turkey and ham.

As I type this, it sounds a little dangerous. I know being able to see the colors of food is a good indicator of freshness and safety. Rest assured that when I cook I use a thermometer, my Daredevil-like sense of smell, and my boyfriend’s eyes if anything seems questionable. I love cooking (mostly because it’s a road to eating more), but as far as I know I’ve only given food poisoning to one person. I don’t think that guy even had food poisoning. I think he was just being a baby.

So if you want to enjoy your food more, should you get a brain injury and then somehow learn to forget you could see colors before? I would say probably not. My brother is also colorblind and, as I mentioned, he was not the Frazao family champion eater. And my boyfriend can give vivid color descriptions, yet he’s right there with me eating foods without knowing what they are (often he pops something in my mouth to try to figure out what it is). So many factors determine why we eat what we eat, and clearly I don’t have all the answers when it comes to food preferences. I just wanted to share something about myself for anyone who has ever wondered how someone can eat vegetables or enjoy a visit to Taco Bell. Bon appetit!