From a very young age, Allie Pasek experienced difficulty eating. Breastfeeding was difficult for her, so a doctor had Allie’s mother change her diet, labeling Allie a colicky baby, surmising that as the reason she cried and would not eat. This had no effect, so the "fussy baby lady" made several house visits to see if a baby massage would help - it did not. Neither did a satin crib sheet. Allie still ate very little and was unsuccessful with bottles and tiny cups. Her parents took her to a pediatric neurologist and psychiatrist; Allie was ultimately classified as "failure to thrive for medical reasons". A feeding specialist had to literally teach her to eat. She tried many tricks with Allie, including a device that would play music in her head if she sucked on a lollipop and having Allie’s parents brush her arms and legs before she ate. It was learned that salty, briny foods were her favorites and so her family dubbed her "Pickle Pasek"; in addition, she liked to eat by color and was especially drawn to foods that were red (strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, ketchup, beets). Unfortunately, as Allie would only eat tiny meals, she had to eat high calorie foods, such as cream. It wasn't until she visited her ENT that it was revealed Allie’s tonsils were the root of the problem and interfered with every bite and sip she took. Once her tonsils came out, the source of the problem was gone, but by then Allie had developed a "food aversion." She was used to eating small meals, and she remembers she had “texture issues” with food.
To this day, Allie is picky when it comes to food. She disliked foods with a slimy texture until very recently: for example, she only began to eat oatmeal when she was seventeen. She wrinkles her nose in disgust at any food that has, in her opinion, a foul odor. Thus, she refuses to consume any food that comes from the sea, even seaweed. Allie is not a huge fan of sweet foods, instead preferring salty and briny foods, much like when she was a child. Some may find it shocking, but one of Allie’s least favorite foods is chocolate. When anyone objects to this “strange” aversion, she merely exclaims, “There’s more for you then!”
Allie conforms to the food values and taboos of her peers (except for hatred of chocolate). She used to hate when her food touched, so instead of eating her sandwiches together, she would eat the ingredients separately. But her peers did not eat plain slices of bread at lunch, so Allie grew to eat her sandwiches together to be “normal” – or at least what is considered “normal” by her peers. And although it is less messy to eat pizza with a knife and fork, to be just like most Americans, Allie picks up her pizza with her hands. Although Allie loved eating watermelon dipped in ketchup as a child, she stopped eating it for it was seen as weird and gross by her peers. This is eloquently explained by Rachel Herz in her book That’s Disgusting: “Foods that we individually like a lot are very familiar with, and in themselves pose no challenge, are considered repulsive if they are mixed in the ‘wrong’ combinations” (p. 14) (like watermelon and ketchup). If Allie’s food combinations are thought of as repulsive or abnormal by her peers, Allie may also be thought of as abnormal by default. This could lead to her peers ostracizing her. In order to prevent this, Allie eats as her peers do, including the combinations in which they eat their food.
Unfortunately, Allie’s food intake is also affected by a force beyond her control: acid reflux. She cannot eat spicy foods (which she happens to like) and foods that contain onions and garlic without acid rising and burning her throat. She loves carbonated beverages like Diet Pepsi, but they too trigger her reflux. But what bothers Allie the most about her acid reflux is that she can no longer drink coffee like she used to. Allie loves coffee (especially black coffee) but she can only drink one cup (and sometimes not even that much) per day without feeling sick.
Allie may seem like a picky eater whose diet is limited, but her older sister Emily has an even more limited diet. Emily has been a vegetarian for ten years for moral reasons. In addition, she has numerous food allergies: she is lactose intolerant, and she is allergic to gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, and corn and soy (both of which are ingredients present in a vast variety of food). Allie and her family often adhere to Emily’s diet restrictions so Emily feels included in meals and is not uncomfortable. As a result, Allie eats and has developed a liking for some unconventional meals of rice pasta, meals hearty with vegetables, and meals abundant with beans. She and her family read ingredient labels to determine if the food item in question is safe for Emily to eat. It is difficult to find safe items because, according to the movie Food, Inc., most products on the market (not just food) contain at least one corn or soy ingredient. In fact, the movie states that “so much of our food turns out to be clever rearrangements of corn,” which greatly limits what Emily, and ultimately Allie, can eat.
Although her sister is a moral vegetarian, Allie and her parents enjoy meat too much to give it up. However, they still carefully choose what animal products they consume. They view the meat industry run by big companies as cruel to both farmers and animals. Allie’s father especially is suspicious of big-industry meat. He shares a similar viewpoint to the one in Food, Inc. which discusses how cows on corporate-run cattle farms are fed corn (which is unhealthy to cows), and they stand in their own manure in close quarters to other cows, and this can lead to beef being contaminated with resistant E. coli bacteria. Thus, Allie’s family only buys organic, grass-fed, humanely-raised, and free-range beef and free-range chicken and eggs.
Allie lives in a nuclear family, yet each member has vastly different food views and tastes. That a family is able to have and accommodate for such different food views is a relatively new phenomenon and a symptom of incredible abundance. Family members used to eat the same foods at mealtimes without the means or opportunity for each member to choose different options. However, as America has gotten richer and more families within it have become more affluent, access to a wider variety of food and information about food options has become more common. Thus, it is not uncommon for each member of a family to be picky about what they consume or eat differing foods at mealtimes. In addition, it is not uncommon for families to buy organic food or ethically-raised meat. It is not thought of as strange, at least in Allie’s culture, for Allie’s family to buy organic food, to consume humanely-raised meat, and for there to be a vegetarian for which they must accommodate.
Although Allie loves meat, she rarely eats meat at restaurants, and when she does, she only orders poultry. This is due to Allie’s experience with food poisoning at age eight. While she and her family were staying at a family friend’s cottage, they went to a local bar and grill for lunch. Allie ordered a beef hotdog, one of her favorite items to order at a restaurant. A few hours later, Allie was struck with an intense feeling of nausea and spent the rest of the night alternating between vomiting and laying down with a throbbing headache. Needless to say, this event turned Allie off from consuming meat not cooked by her mother, Allie’s trusted cook.
Allie often reminisces about her childhood Thanksgiving meals with her family. Every year until Allie turned twelve, her family celebrated this holiday at a country club. Allie would pile her plate high with fresh fruit, tender turkey, warm mashed potatoes, and salty green beans. She would finish her meal with a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with sugar-coated strawberries. She enjoyed dressing up every year for this day and laughing with her sister and family while a grand piano played in the background and a warm fire crackled in the fireplace behind her. Unfortunately, the club lost money and stopped having Thanksgiving dinner, but Allie fondly holds these memories in her heart.
Allie has become a much more adventurous eater in recent years, and her palate has become more sophisticated. She has developed a love for oatmeal, and she adores spinach. She used to hate coconut and peanut butter, but now she has no qualms with these foods. If her sister was not allergic to so many foods, Allie would never have considered eating gluten-free, but Allie now loves gluten-free foods. Although she still dislikes seafood, her “texture issues” in relation to food are all but gone. Allie is trying to live a more adventurous life and be open to new experiences, including trying new and exotic foods. With the world becoming a smaller place due to more communication and the sharing of ideas (including cuisines), and with the ability to travel to foreign countries, trying new and exotic foods is definitely becoming more of a reality for Allie and her culture of middle-class Americans.
Since taking the class titled Eating Industrial, Allie has begun to think of the food she eats as more than just food: she thinks about the origins of her food. This class has opened her eyes to the reality of negative health effects from eating a diet of processed foods, and as such, she has greatly reduced her consumption of these foods. She has also begun to purchase more locally grown organic foods in order to reduce her consumption of harmful pesticides and preservatives found in commercially grown foods that reduce spoiling. Allie, despite reading the book Eating Animals, has not reduced her meat consumption. She learned the health risks of eating commercially-raised meat pumped with hormones and antibiotics, and she learned about the animals’ horrible lives before slaughter. However, since her family rarely purchases this commercial meat and instead has and continues to purchase mainly ethically and family-farm raised meat, Allie has not felt the need to reduce her meat consumption. Overall, Eating Industrial has given Allie the tools to make smart, informed decisions about eating food in a modern world.