In Praise of Picky Eating

You know that restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally? No, not that scene. I mean the part where Sally orders her food prepared to minute specifications. I’m starting to do that. I suspect a lot of us are.

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I take no pride in being so high maintenance, and truth be told, I worry sometimes that ordering this way qualifies me as a first-class pain in the keister. I waited tables all though college, and while I was never much bothered by special orders, I know that some of my fellow waitresses didn’t take too kindly to ’em.

So every time I go through my little ritual — “Can I get X on the side, Y prepared this way, and can I get Z instead of what this normally comes with?” — I wince a little. I ask nicely, and I tip generously, and sometimes, when I feel I am being particularly picky, I blush. But I do it anyway. And so do a lot of other healthy eaters I know.

The thing is, the more we learn about what’s in most of the processed and prepared foods we’re served, the less willing many of us are to passively eat whatever’s put in front of us. It’s not that we like micromanaging our meals, or that we want to forgo all of life’s pleasurable indulgences. It’s just that we want to eat healthy and enjoy our food more. And out in the mainstream, that can be tough to do.

While traveling recently, I had breakfast at a small-town restaurant, where — piece by piece — I wound up rejecting virtually every component of my breakfast. First it was the little coffee creamers: They were some non-dairy substance made from hydrogenated fats and high- fructose corn syrup, so I had to ask for a little glass of milk on the side. Then it was the toast: I’d asked for whole-grain with butter on the side, but the waitress brought white bread by mistake. She did remember to bring it dry. But the “butter” on the side turned out to be little foil-wrapped pats of mystery margarine. That was all they had, she said.

I asked if I could get some oatmeal instead of toast, but they only offered the processed, instant kind, so I reluctantly passed on that, too. Bacon and sausage were out: I’m an occasional meat eater, but these days I’m sticking with organics whenever possible. Just on the very odd chance that this small-town diner was serving some locally grown pasture-raised stuff, I asked about it. No dice — all their meat was, as they say, from parts unknown.
The eggs? At this point, I was hungry enough to settle for nonorganic eggs. I really wanted mine cooked on the grill, but sensing they’d be fried in some less-than-wholesome oil, I opted for boiled. I still needed some carbs and fiber, though. “Any veggies available back there?” I asked.

So that’s how I ended up with boiled eggs and steamed green beans for breakfast, which made me feel sort of sad and frustrated. It felt like being on a diet — which I‘m not, goshdarnit, and which I have no desire to be.

But the fact remains, you can’t always get what you want. Take the various coffee shops, both local and national, where I ask on at least a weekly basis for a latte made with organic milk. I know most shops don’t carry it, but I’m hoping if enough of us ask often enough, they will start. And OK, I’ll admit it: I also get a kick out of how, virtually every time I request organic milk, the person behind the counter will say: “Um, we have soy?” Like soy and organic are synonymous somehow.

No matter. The point is, making the healthy choice — whether that’s eating a wholesome breakfast or making time for a workout — isn’t always particularly easy or convenient. And in some cases, goodness knows, the fuss just plain isn’t worth it. Still, taken collectively and over the long haul, it’s the sum of our daily choices that determines the quality and character of our lives.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to salute my fellow health-oriented picky eaters. Keep the faith, I say. And just as an experiment, next time you hit a coffee shop, ask for organic milk, and see what happens. Happy New Year!

Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life.

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