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‘I don’t eat this’
Parents of fussy eaters, please teach them not to be rude in my house, requests Karin Schimke.
How do you get this mother’s hackles raised? Easy-peasy. Say: ‘I don’t eat this.’

Not from my own children. They have learnt that those four words will bring down the wrath of Demeter like very little else can. Don’t eat it? Tough, because this is what’s being served.

Then I have gone on to empathise with them about the long and solitary martyrdom of childhood, when one is required to eat what is served without undue fuss, and to visit boring grown-ups who have no children, and to kiss thin-lipped papery great aunts, to bath at least once a week, to go to bed even as the world continues to be exciting, and to listen to your parents’ long lectures on childhood martyrdom.

My favourite story of childhood suffering is the time I had lunch at my best friend’s house. Liver was served. I was a fussy child, somewhat sensory defensive in the area of food textures. I have largely outgrown that and now consume enough vegetables to make up for all the ones I managed slyly to avoid as a child. But on that -
The Terrible Liver Day - my abhorrence of innards was cemented for life.

Somehow, by mixing in the peas and carrots and potatoes, I had managed to get the piece of liver down.

‘Did you like that?’ asked my friend’s mother and I nodded politely as I tried to get the last nauseating morsel down without gagging. Before I could say a thing, another ghastly slice of liver had been placed on my plate. The heroism of my liver-eating feat was crushed in a gesture of loving generosity in one fell swoop, and both my wasted heroism and my friend’s mother’s kindness made me want to put my forehead on the soft grey meat and weep.

The experience had used up every ounce of childish good manners. I was crushed and exhausted. It was terrible.

Learning to eat everything

But all the other things I had to eat at other people’s homes – because I had been taught to eat what was served regardless of my personal preferences – generally turned out to be, if not good, than at least not as traumatic as liver.

Most of us can get most things down our gullets – I managed peas, mangos, Marmite sarmies and Rooibos tea at other homes. I wasn’t traumatised and I didn’t die and in fact it made me much clearer about what exactly I liked and didn’t like. I still don’t eat peas, mangos and Marmite or drink Rooibos as an adult, unless it is served to me in someone else’s house. But at least I know that I won’t keel over and pop my socks from trying something that looks or smells or feels a little horrid to me.

So. Here’s my request to the parents of the world’s fussy children: indulge them all you want at home. If being a short-order chef rocks your boat, cool. If you don’t mind cooking six kinds of vegetables every night to make sure that everyone gets something they like, knock yourself out. If you jump up from the table when someone whines ‘I don’t eat this’ to find something that your snookums will eat, I honestly don’t care if your food gets cold.

But please, please, please have the forethought to teach them not to use the words ‘I don’t eat this’ in my house. I find it unbelievably rude.

Is it rude not to eat someone’s food in their house?

Read more by Karin Schimke

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