I don’t eat a wide variety of foods, including many leafy, green vegetables, sushi, mayonnaise, most fish, all shellfish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Thai cuisine. I’m also allergic to mustard and can’t stand any salad dressing, which is fine, because I don’t eat salad, either.
Despite the opinion of many of my friends (who often feel the need to act like my mother at the dinner table), my food preferences are not made by choice. I am often called picky, but again, picky implies that I have a choice in the matter. A person cannot choose the foods that he or she finds palatable. It is not a person’s fault that he or she may not like the taste of many foods, and it is not something that he or she can control.
In fact, if I had choice, why wouldn’t I choose to eat the foods at an all-you-can-eat salad bar? Healthy and available in unlimited quantities? Nothing sounds more appealing. I find it amusing that the same people who claim that my food preferences are a matter of choice also have foods which they cannot eat, but because the number of foods that they detest is smaller than mine, it’s not a matter of choice for them. As if the quantity of food that one dislikes somehow correlates with the validity of their dislikes.
I’ve discussed this issue with my doctor and have done some research on the subject, and what I’ve discovered is that people who do not like many foods tend to have a heightened sense of taste. In essence, we do not like many foods because we taste them more effectively than most people. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true.
Human beings are born with about 10,000 taste buds on their tongue, but by the time they reach the age of 50, the average human only has about 5,000 taste buds left. This is why as we get older, we tend to like foods that we once found unpalatable at a younger age. It has nothing to do with developing a more sophisticated palate (an argument I hear all too often). It’s simply that more foods become more palatable with a decreased sense of taste. Older people do not taste as well as they once did. This is also why they begin to prefer spicy food as they age, or begin using salt and pepper more often. As one becomes older, food becomes blander. Ways must be found to spice things up. This also explains the decrease in appetite experienced by many elderly people. Eating just isn’t as fun when you taste less than half of what you tasted when you were younger.
The reason that people like me find so many foods unpalatable is because we taste these foods to a greater degree than the average person. Either through a greater number of taste buds, a superior sense of smell (also critical in the taste process) or by a combination of the two, I am probably able to taste foods better than someone with a so-called sophisticated palate.
People with so-called sophisticated palates are probably genetically inferior in the taste bud department, or they likely smoked when they were young and/or continue to smoke now (an excellent way to kill taste buds). Yet they continue to stick their noses in the air at me around the dinner table and insist that I “just try” the broccoli. “Give it one more chance,” they plead. I have no doubt that when I am sixty-five, there may be enough dead taste buds in my mouth to allow me to consume broccoli without gagging, but until then, I invite these people to keep their Neanderthal-like sense of taste to themselves.