I don’t like eating out. It’s stressful. There are two scenarios where eating out is not met by reluctance on my part, only two situations in which I can breathe a sigh of relief: one is a buffet restaurant (more about that later) and the other is if I were to simply dine by myself. No 'food inspectors’ or commentators on what I do or do not order.
Why, you may ask? It’s because I am judged. By my friends, by my family (my 'poor’ mother in particular, with whom almost everyone sympathises because of my behaviour). Those around me are judge and jury and I stand accused, I have been tried and convicted and sentenced to a lifetime of stares, gasps, and comments of derision: I am one of those 'fussy eaters,’ (cue shock from appalled foodies everywhere). But I can’t help liking what I like and disliking food that I don’t like. After all, we’re all different. And I for one would like people to start accepting me for who I am, not what I do or do not choose to eat.
My name is Emma and I am selective with food.
It’s my firm view that my unwarranted and unwanted label of being a 'fussy eater’ is harsh. People shouldn’t judge me based on what is on my plate. Everyone has a list of foods they don’t like and mine is simply a little longer than theirs. So what’s the problem? Why do everyone and their granny think they have a right to have – and voice – their opinion about my dinner? I resent that my eating habits are referred to as such, as a habit: I am not a smoker – that is a (bad) habit; nor do I take drugs, another bad habit which is detrimental to one’s health.
So perhaps the issue is not with me but with everyone else and the choices they make. I admit I choose to eat things I like (why would anyone choose to eat foods they don’t like?), maybe, just maybe, there are too many decisions to make nowadays. I am judged for requesting plain chicken in breadcrumbs yet I have no issue with the person next to me who would prefer their chicken to be stuffed with haggis, wrapped in bacon and covered in a whisky liqueur sauce and elaborately titled, 'Chicken in the Heather'. (Chicken in the, what now?) But it makes me ask, when did food – no, when did life – become so complicated? Why does chicken have to be disguised in this way? Why can’t we all just enjoy the simple things in life? Why are things – chicken, people – trying to be more than they are? Whatever happened to the good old, cheap and cheerful chicken nugget?
Today, people want to reach for the moon – or in this case the ridiculously-described-expensively-priced chicken from the a la carte menu. However, look for just a second at the children’s menu. There you’ll find the humble nugget. It is probably from the same supplier and it’s accompanied by side dishes which are included in the overall price. Yet the adult menu can require side dishes to be ordered separately or at an inflated cost. What’s the point in paying for more just because it sounds nicer/fancier? Why complicate what should be so simple? How many people get what they expect today – from a restaurant or in other parts of their life? On a serious note though, if we consider the chicken nugget once again – a children’s staple and firm favourite – this simple food item speaks volumes. Because it is simple. Children like simple things and children are happy. How many adults can truly lay claim to this in today’s world of must-haves and bigger and better?
I’d like to return to the aforementioned love of mine: the Buffet. A capital B should indicate the high esteem in which I hold these food-heavens. They should be proper nouns. Buffet restaurants offer infinite possibilities – plates laid out, stretching as far as the eye can see, offering the perfect meal. Heaven on a plate. What I find most appealing about Buffets (capital B, remember) is that they do not judge me. The Buffet says, 'come on in and choose what you like, a little of that or a lot of another – it’s up to you!’ I am, in these situations, free! Free to grab some chicken nuggets and pair them with a large helping of tomato pasta, if I so wish. Free to opt for a generous helping of sweetcorn, perhaps a bit of salad. But just…free. No shocked or disapproving glances, nor am I on the receiving end of a bombardment of offensive questions such as, 'are you really eating that?’ or 'why don't you try some chips?’
Yet I am very aware of the injustice of this – I refuse food while others have none. There’s always the guilt: the ever-present feeling that I refuse what others do not have and would kill for. Our television screens are flooded with news stories about frail, starving children in underdeveloped countries who would do anything for even a scrap of the food that I pass up. So I have a plan: when offered food I abhor, instead of sending it back to the kitchen, I’ll parcel it up and send it to those who are hungry. In this way, my sacrifice will be appreciated rather than judged. Is it my fault that we in the west have the majority of the world’s wealth and that those who go hungry in our midst are few and far between in comparison to developing countries? I may be 'difficult' according to some, when it comes to food choices but the blame for world hunger cannot be laid at my door and those of my fellow 'fussy eaters’!
I’m Emma. Blame starvation on our governments, please – not me.
Emma Vance, 16, of Our Lady and St Patrick's High School, Dumbarton, was joint runner-up in the Scottish Schools' Young Writer of the Year competition