I've never thought of myself as a picky eater. When I was a little kid my family travelled a fair amount and I was raised to try new things. My elder cousins have often told me that they used to dread their little cousin Sarah coming for a visit because that was when their mother would force them to eat all the icky green vegetables I was downing. I remember another family member, who will remain nameless for their protection, dunking each of their noodles into a glass of water to wash off the "green stuff" before they would eat the "plain pasta" ordered at a nice Italian restaurant. As a Brownie leader I've spent hours planning and re-planning meals with multiple options so that no parents could complain we had starved their child (aka the girl who turned her nose up at every single item we placed in front of her) at camp.
I won't eat anything and everything - for example I couldn't bring myself to try the Philippino delicacy of balut when I was there. (Balut is duck eggs with half-grown embryos inside, that have been partially cooked. When you slurp one down you get half-grown feathers, beak, etc...) But I don't turn my nose up at many average meals. Sure, I don't eat tomatoes, but that doesn't count as it isn't about not liking them but about what eating them does to my digestive system! I don't like pineapple, almond paste, coconut, raisins and sea urchin sushi. Not a bad list, right? A strange one, I'll admit, but not overly long, right?
Well, my first overnight with my new Brownie troop in Tokyo last summer was the first indication that maybe I wasn't so far away from being a picky eater. The menu for dinner? Curry rice (with tomatoes in the curry stock), with annin tofu for desert. I had been warned ahead of time about the curry, so had brought myself some soup. But the desert... an almond paste flavoured desert topped with fruit, in this case pineapple. Ugh. I ate it, but UGH!!! For breakfast? Raisin buns. I am not kidding. At this point I figured that the universe was making fun of me, trying to fit as many of my food dislikes into an 18 hour time period as possible. When annin tofu came up again as desert for a more recent Brownie event (this time I manage to avoid both the pineapple and the extra almond paste sauce, making the desert almost edible!), I began thinking about my apparent pickiness.
It occurred to me that it wasn't so much that I was picky, but that nobody else was. I realized that not once at any of the events I've eaten at with my Brownies has any of them refused to eat something. When we made the rice balls last week, a couple of the girls wrinkled their noses at the idea of cheese in a rice ball. But once they were made the girls all tried them and pronounced them delicious. This is likely due in some measure to the fact that elementary students in Japan eat a school-provided lunch every day, not a cafeteria lunch where they choose their food, but a set (and balanced) meal. Every day a few students from each class will dress up in a white apron jacket and hat and collect the food from a central location (schools in the bigger cities will have their food delivered by a service, but in more remote locations the food is made on the premises). The same students will then serve the food into equal portions for the number of students in the class. Not eating something is not an option. Does this simply force Japanese children not to be picky eaters, meaning that they will clean their plates without complaint whether they actually like what they are eating or not?
I have heard a number of Japanese friends say "when I was a child I didn't have likes and dislikes, but now I don't like..." Is this just that they are finally admiting that there are foods they like and don't like, and choosing to not eat them? I would have said the opposite about myself, I think that (with the exception of raisins, which I apparently used to like) I have come to dislike fewer foods as I have gotten older.
Oh, and yes, I am procrastinating from more translations! Sigh...