Eat It or Wear It: The Broccoli Yuck Factor

Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

I am sure everyone who ever lived could name one food they dreaded seeing when they sat down at the family dinner table. Where I grew up, we had to eat everything on our plates. Mom did not cater to anyone’s fussiness when it came to eating.

And Dad enforced that, oh yes, he did.

My most abhorred food – heading the list even before liver in any shape, form, or way – was broccoli. On  the other hand, my brother hated peas, but he couldn’t leave the table until he’d eaten one for every year of his age. Not a bad bargain if you’re only four.

“Eat it or wear it!”

That’s what my Dad always yelled whenever he spied me pushing the sodden, olive-green broccoli spears to the side of my plate. What I really wanted to do was to quickly thrust that disgusting vegetable under the side of my plate and inch my napkin just so. That way, I could grab it and wrap it all up and look like I’d eaten it. Even our dog Spaulding wouldn’t touch the stuff when I tried to slip it to him. If Spaulding, essentially a vacuum cleaner on four paws, wouldn’t eat it, the food was bad. Like really, really noisome.

I knew better than to smart-mouth Dad back, although inside my head beat a refrain I longed to say out loud, “But how would I wear it?”

Perhaps he meant it would look cool as a corsage? Or maybe tucked behind my ear like a hibiscus, à la Carmen Miranda? It still perplexes me.

Dad couldn’t watch me all the time, since he needed to keep an eye on my three siblings’ plates, too. So sometimes my little napkin did the trick.

But when I couldn’t get away with it, I invented a way to eat broccoli without tasting it. First of all, I filled up my large purple aluminum glass with milk. To the brim. Then I speared the broccoli with my fork and tossed it to the back of my throat. Grabbing the glass of milk with my left hand, I poured in as much milk as I could swallow without choking and down the broccoli went. I realize now that my mother’s method of cooking it turned out to be a blessing, because the broccoli was so mushy it could easily have been turned into a purée with a few wallops of my fork.

To tell you the truth, I still cringe a bit when I see the huge displays of broccoli at the grocery store. I rarely buy it, except perhaps when I make a stir-fry or possibly broccoli with Mornay sauce, the rich cheesy coating masking the bitter taste. Even though broccoli might be a nutritionist’s dream come true, I agree with a friend who said, while thumbing through a lavishly illustrated book on French cuisine, drooling over the fatty pastries and plump soufflés, “I just can’t get as excited about the pictures of salads!”

Me neither.

I suspect that taste sensitivity to bitterness affects my, and others’, reaction to broccoli and vegetables like radicchio rosso from Treviso.

All the talk these days about fresh this and artisanal that seems to ignore this primal taste factor.

But maybe nobody ever shouted “Eat it or wear it!” Maybe that’s it?

For more on taste sensitivity, see:

Bitter receptor gene (TAS2R38), 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) bitterness and alcohol intake

Food Likes and Their Relative Importance in Human Eating Behavior

Genetic Taste Markers and Food Preferences

© 2012 C. Bertelsen


One comment

  • Jim will love this! I happen to like broccoli, but rarely bring it in the house, because I know his reaction will be much the same as your photo of the little girl.


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