Are You a Picky Eater, or Just Crazy?

Like most writers who eat for a living, I don't have any food hang-ups. In the last few weeks, I've happily devoured duck tongue, pig uterus, blood sausage, egg-topped pizza, beef hearts and goose intestine.

I know many eaters are considerably more particular about what they put on their plates. I just don't understand why.

Turns out researchers have been similarly baffled by the picky eater phenomenon, partly because nobody's yet conducted a comprehensive study of who's refusing to eat what nationwide. Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh are now hoping to address that void with a national public registry of finicky eaters. The registry, which went online this month, is designed to collect information on respondents' eating habits -- which could help doctors craft new treatments for aversions that make socializing difficult.

According to a Wall Street Journal report on the registry, "selective eating" may show up in the next edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the leading psychiatric reference book. If added, the descriptor won't apply to adults who refuse to eat dark meat or shudder when salad dressing touches their steak: Pathologically selective eaters limit their diets so drastically -- typically citing offending textures or odors -- that they're at risk of developing serious health problems.

But selective eaters and their plain pasta dinners represent the far end of the spectrum. What of eaters like my husband, whose list of approved foods is pretty much limited to Caesar salad, fried wontons, spaghetti with clam sauce, steak, chicken lo mein, sunflower seeds, pizza and French fries? What's up with his preferences? Are they normal? Could he be treated? (OK, that last question's of more interest to me than him. It's no fun enjoying foie gras and oysters alone.)

Picky eaters, please help us perplexed dining partners out. Go to Duke's website, and fill out the survey so researchers can get cracking on this topic. Try it. You'll like it.


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