I’m not a picky eater and never have been. My mother was very restrictive with food, so, as a child, I was always searching for an opportunity to try something new, just because it was forbidden. My mother forbade processed sugar and I would sneak PopTarts from my best friend’s house at every opportunity. Consequent to my rebellion, there are very few things that I won’t try, and a fairly short list of things that I don’t like to the point of refusal. So the phenomenon of picky eaters—children or adults—has always puzzled me.
My children aren’t particularly picky, but lately the list of things they “don’t like” is getting uncomfortably long: mushrooms, raw tomatoes, apples, tangerines, raisins, grapes, carrots, nuts, really? I’m seeing the theme—plant foods. But they love broccoli and cabbage and beets and Bell peppers and greens of all sorts. Go figure? I’m sure that there’s something in that list at which you would turn up your nose. But none of these things are really distasteful in our culture. And it is said that no healthy child will starve to death in the presence of food.
So here’s the puzzling bit: The pickier child was complaining of being hungry, then starving, then suffering from great pangs of hunger that had her doubled over and near desperation. But we were out and all I had to offer her was a raisin and nut mix or an apple (review the list above). No granola bars, no crackers or cookies, no bread of any sort. She pouted and refused. After a few moments, the moans of hunger resumed. No other snacks had miraculously appeared in my bag. I offered the gorp and apple again. Nope. And the cycle continued until we arrived home to a cheese sandwich.
I can remember times when I was that hungry—coming in from the field, when I was pregnant or fasting. And when allowed to eat, I would have tucked gratefully into liver and eggplant (not my favorites)! So what was my child’s “hunger” about? What was the mental calculation that happened between refusing the undesirable snack and moaning about being hungry? I’ll have to ask her but in the meantime, I have two ideas.
First, hunger is so unfamiliar to my pampered children that even the slightest twinge brings on panic. (I’ll also confess that there’s a fondness for drama there too.) Mind you, I wasn’t the mom who always had 2,000 calories in my bag when we left the house or who assumed that my children couldn’t sit through a church service without a bag of crackers. However, they are well fed. Perhaps the norm for them is a full belly and an empty one so foreign as to be frightening. We live in a culture where we feast all the time. So much so that we have forgotten what “normal” should feel like and fasting—hunger—is frightening.
Another possibility is “hungry” doesn’t actually mean hungry. We have lots of code words. “Would you like to ______” for the command. “I couldn’t possibly…” for “I would really love to….” and sometimes even “no” for “yes” and “yes” for “no”. Hungry could mean “I feel like eating something, what do you have?” Since I tend to look down on eating just to alleviate boredom on seek comfort, the answer would likely be “not much”. But “which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9) So, my children have been trained to use the code.
I reckon there is some of both. Hunger is foreign to my pudgy 10-year-old. She has never gone without food and, as she reaches the age where she can mentally place herself in the shoes of others, the possibility is foreign and frightening—something to read about in books but to horrible to imagine living. There may be no line between herself with a rumble in her tummy and the children she reads about who waste away in some far-off land. She has also learned that as a basic need, hunger is something to which the adults around her will always respond.
So maybe it isn’t enough to show my children—and myself—the hunger of the world. It may really be necessary to live it a little…maybe a lot…before we can feel true compassion. And before we can also lean that being hungry, once in a while, isn’t the end of the world.