On a busy Monday at my local chain grocery store, in the prepared foods aisle, I overheard an interesting conversation. A young woman of twenty-something was shopping with her mom, obviously in a hurry to get the hell out of the grocery store. So far, I can completely empathize. The girl asked her mom to pick out some macaroni and cheese, telling her that she, “literally didn’t care what kind.” Mom hesitated. She asked Daughter a question. “Mom, I said I didn’t care. Just pick something.” Mom apologized, and said she was considering the price. Macaroni and cheese was selected, and they hurried on throughout the store, the woman probably not caring about dozens of other food items.
When it comes to food, I don’t think I have ever, in all my years and meals on this planet, said, “I don’t care.” It sounds nice. Liberating. Sadly, even when it comes to such such bland and listless fare as a box of macaroni and cheese, I will still care. One is assuredly superior to another, and care must be taken to read labels and consider brands and past experiences. A selection deemed to be inferior upon preparation will be disappointing, but will serve as a learning opportunity for the next shopping excursion.
If you’re exhausted just reading that, be glad you’re not me. As you may know, I have a picky eater on my hands. Actually two. Okay three, if you want to include me. The least picky person in the family is me, and ten years ago, that was saying something. Nowadays, it says a lot less (as in, I eat a lot more.) But there’s no dearth of discarded food in this household. Kids are generally picky anyway, but Sonja seems an extreme case, and after tiring of the questions as to why she has rejected such little kid staples as macaroni and cheese and juice, I came up with an explanation. She’s a super taster.
If you’ve never heard of it before, a supertaster is a person with more taste receptors than a medium taster. These receptors register bitter flavors especially strongly, and also register sugar as sweeter and salt as saltier. Supertasters make up about a quarter of the population, medium tasters about half, and another category called nontasters – those with the fewest taste receptors – comprise the last quarter. That person you know that will eat anything is probably a non-taster. Super tasting (as I’ve never heard it called before) is a genetic condition, which I figured my daughter had inherited from my husband. I have long considered myself a medium taster, as I like so many more foods than my husband and have a harder time discerning individual ingredients in a dish. (He is alarmingly good at this.) However, a little Googling turned up a list of three foods that a majority of super tasters dislike:
3) Rich Desserts
Oh, hai. Do you know how hard it is to explain to normal people that I don’t drink alcohol? Without a back pocket excuse like, “I’m pregnant!” or “I’m a recovering alcoholic!,” I’m not sure people really get it. “You mean never, like, never?”
I live near Seattle so the coffee thing is equally difficult to explain. “How can you not drink coffee, you live in Seattle?!?”someone will inevitably say. I usually respond tactfully with,”WHAT? This isn’t Hawaii? Dammit all to hell!”
Luckily, I have never had to tell someone that I don’t eat dessert. But there are plenty of ’em that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Fudge, anyone? Gack. Grk. Frosting? Blurg. No thank you.
If all that evidence weren’t enough, this line from the same article tipped my tasting scales, “Despite their sensitivity (to sodium), a 2010 study by Hayes found that supers can’t get enough salt. One explanation could be that salt blocks out the dreaded bitterness.” I am sometimes mindful of my sodium intake, but fact remains, I love salty foods. Chicken soup, for instance.
So it’s quite likely that I am among the 25% of the population that are supertasters. That makes me the pickiest person in any four person group that does not include my immediate family. Oh, what a dreaded word that is. Picky. It is a word that is said with a sneer, from a person peering down at you. Being picky is seen as some sort of sub-par lifestyle choice. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me this pattern of foods that I disliked, so it was confusing not to be able to just shut up and eat. I can’t tell you how many times I ordered salad – because I like salad – only to be served a bed of “baby field greens” that I couldn’t choke down. If you don’t think baby greens are bitter, you’re probably not a supertaster.
It’s evident that no one in this household will ever make a quick and jaunty trip to the grocery store. But I think the reason that the scene over the macaroni and cheese jumped out at me is because such a mindset is becoming ever more rare. Yes, being a supertaster influences my choices at the grocery store, but we are a culture obsessed with food, and we have been taught to read labels and choose carefully. We may not know what exactly we’re looking for, but dammit, we’re gonna look. Selecting mac and cheese all willy nilly is equivalent to signing your own death warrant. For God’s sake, there might be actual food in that package! Alas, that is a subject for another day.
Now that I have a better understanding of my palette, and any associated pickiness, rooted in bona fide science, I feel better about myself. As for my daughter, I still worry about the lack of variety in her diet. For a while, I was worried that I wasn’t modeling good eating behavior. However,if she really is a supertaster (and if my husband and I both are, then she has to be), then it’s totally not my fault for not presenting enough options, it’s just my fault for passing on bad genes.