People make allowances for fussy eating when you’re a child. It’s much more problematic when you’re an adult

Confessions of a fussy eater: please know it’s not you, it’s me

I hate ketchup. The sight and smell of it makes me gag and I try to avoid even sitting at the same table as people who are eating it.

I’m not much better with mayonnaise. Disgusting stuff, all of it. Or at least I presume it is, because as someone who eats with her eyes, these are just two of the many foods (if you can call them that) I’ve never tried, consigned to the very, very long list of “things I don’t eat”.

10 years of Irish Times Food Month

I’ve always been a fussy eater, since I was a small child. People confuse this with having a small appetite – I don’t. My two main food groups are potatoes and chocolate. My mother claims I’m a carbohydrate addict. My father rejects my argument that humans weren’t designed to eat meat. I think Spider on Coronation Street may have mentioned that on some occasion when I was a child. Anyway, someone did, so I used that to argue against most meat too.

My mam took me to the doctor when I was a child about it, because I didn’t seem to be growing out of the habit. Years spent sitting around the diningroom table refusing to eat my peas. (I love them now incidentally). I’d go hungry rather than eat them. And indeed the same went for any new food they tried to introduce.


The doctor said I was grand, to leave me alone. “But she’s so thin,” my mother said. I was very slight. “She’s grand,” the doctor reiterated, giving me some sugar-coated shortbread. He always gave me those biscuits when I went to visit him.

But whatever about people making allowances for your fussy eating when you’re a child, it becomes much more problematic when you’re an adult.

For one, you spend your time trying to avoid occasions that are centred around food. Lots of adult occasions are centred around food. And, as I’ve discovered over the years, the adults who make the food for these occasions can be pretty darn precious about it. I’ve had palpitations at the table of fancy restaurants wondering how I was going to explain to the waiter that the problem with the food was, well, I just don’t like that type of food and, yes, I’m a grown-up and not a three-year-old, but really could I just have a plate of chips and chicken goujons and no judgment please.

Or worse still is the visit to someone’s house where they’ve gone to the trouble of preparing something for you to eat. Even sandwiches can result in the fear. How do you explain to another adult that you really prefer to make your own because then you’ll know the butter wasn’t in any way melty and nothing has touched off the cheese? And while I’m here, cheese on its own is a perfectly acceptable sandwich. Lettuce, the same.

I have trust issues when it comes to food. I blame my parents. It seems the mature thing to do.

Years of telling me the green mash I was served every Sunday contained no peas has left me instinctively suspicious. An omelette you say? Have you used free-range eggs or checked there wasn’t even the teeniest, tiniest speck of blood in the egg when you cracked it, wonder I. Could I even tell the difference by tasting, one way or the other, asks you.

No is the answer – but I’m taking no chances.

Recently, a friend asked us to dinner around at his new gaff. “I’m making paella,” he texted, as if this was supposed to be a good thing. He knows me for years. I had been to birthday parties, Communions, Confirmations and lots of other celebrations at his house, all of which had centred around food. It appears I am the master of distraction, because somehow, he managed not to notice that I never ate anything more than bread on these occasions. “Grab a plate there’s food in the kitchen, help yourself,” he’d say generously, referring to the feast fit for a president. “Oh thanks a million, and absolutely I will, I just want to say hi to John/Mary/Marmaduke the cat (delete as appropriate) first,” I’d reply before disappearing to the back garden, with no intention of returning to kitchen.

I realised I was going to have to come clean. There would be no opportunity to avoid the paella, with a set meal for four planned. “Did you really never notice I never ate anything, on all those occasions?” I asked, quietly proud of my secret service-esque abilities to avoid difficult food scenarios. He confirmed it had completely bypassed him and kindly made me something else to eat.

So, to anyone I’ve ever offended with my reluctance, please know it’s not you, it’s me.

Just give me some spuds.