Serious Reads: Suffering Succotash, by Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic

Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

When I was a kid, I developed the habit of separating the foods on my plate. If dinner consisted of three or four items, I would determinedly push them around with my fork until at least a half-inch of space buffered the runny chili from the mashed potatoes, or the peas from the pasta. If items on my plate touched or—heaven forbid—mixed, there would be hell to pay.

But then there are the truly picky eaters: those unable to stomach certain foods, who create a fuss at any dining occasion. And some people don't grow out of this phase for quite some time. Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic shares her story of a lifetime of picky eating and, how she overcame her fears to become a food writer, in Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate.

Lucianovic was determined to find the root cause for her picky eating. Do certain foods emit undesirably odors only detectable to picky people? Are picky eaters supertasters, and more aware of bitter or sour flavors than non-discriminating eater? Was picky eating a result of some childhood trauma?

To find the answers to these questions, Lucianoivic consults the experts. She works in a DNA analysis lab to figure out if she has an unusually adept sense of smell or taste (she doesn't). She takes diagnostic tests to rate her level of pickiness (the researcher thinks it's pretty low). She tries to dig into her emotional past (no major traumas). Perhaps the lack of a particular reason behind her picky eating was why she was able to overcome it as a young adult.

Determined not to be outcast from her social circle or come across as a total nut job, Lucianovic comes up with tricks for eating out, at other people's homes, and with non-picky eaters. These tips include reading a restaurant menu in advance, feeding undesirables to the cat, and hiding food in your cargo pants pockets (that one I don't quite believe). She also developed strategies to improve her own cooking, with the belief that many picky eaters are picky because they grew up with food that was, well, just not that great. Improving her recipes led to a love of cooking, which eventually led Lucianovic to culinary school and a career in food writing.

While I'm certainly empathetic to those with particular (and perhaps peculiar) food preferences and specifications, this book was a little neurotic. Frankly, it's hard to relate to a picky eater if you've never experienced that level of selectiveness with your food. I admire Lucianovic's drive to overcome her own picky eating, and to shed light on the plight of picky eaters who struggle to cope in polite dining settings. If you are a picky eater, you will certainly find refuge in her honest and humorous book. But as a non-selective eater (apart from the separating thing), I'm not sure I can quite relate.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.