Monday, August 13, 2012

Q & A with author Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic

I "sat down" last week (aka sent questions via email) to author Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic about her most recent book,  Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. Read her answers to my nitpicky questions below.

LZ: What was the moment when it struck you to write a book about your history of being a picky eater?

SL: It wasn’t so much my moment as it was my husband’s. We were eating at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants (NOPA in San Francisco), and I commented that, since there was a time I despised cooked vegetables, I couldn’t believe I was getting so much pure joy and comfort out of the amazing brothy vegetable soup I ordered. “Let’s talk seriously about you writing a book,” was Mark’s response.

LZ: Are there still foods you steer clear of?

SL: Most certainly, and here’s my list from the book: succotash, raisins, bananas, oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, polenta, the skin of tomatoes, caviar, offal, innards, feet, ears, flan, tofu, red peppers, yellow peppers, cooked green peppers, string beans, some fish, figs, dates, most melon, stews, braises, gelatinous desserts, things with heads, rabbit, veal, dill, black licorice, tarragon, lemongrass, coleslaw, mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise, rice pudding, some leafy greens, cooked cherries, and more.

If I had to, I’d be able to eat those foods. I just prefer not to.

LZ: As a past picky eating child, and now a mother, do you push your son to eat a wide range of foods?

SL: I don’t push him, but I introduce him to foods. If he’s not interested, fine. I try very hard not to make it an issue, but I also don’t decide to never offer that food again. It will show up on another day. I’ll usually fill his plate with 3-4 things, one of which I know he’ll like, the others being more of a crapshoot.

But with kids, it’s so up and down. For instance, just last night he finished his entire serving of roasted broccoli (the recipe is in the book). What you should know is that I’ve made this for him multiple times, and he’s taken one bite, two bites, and left the rest. He’s also had nights where he hasn’t taken any bites. For him to finish every last smoked paprika-drenched floret on his plate was unprecedented and I was thrilled. However, I know there will still be nights when he doesn’t do that. Kids have moods and they’re largely not in control of choosing what they get to eat.

LZ: In the book we learn of several possible reasons for children (and adults) picky-ness, and you say at the end that you don't know why you were picky. Now that you've had some distance from writing the book, do you have any further thoughts on your picky eating provenance?

SL: I really don’t. As I said in the book, I know that my picky eating came from a variety of factors and that there wasn’t just once source alone. I do think my dislike of vegetables was heavily influenced by eating mostly frozen vegetables. However, frozen vegetables are what was available back then and no amount of butter or salt can mask that blandness. I firmly believe that having access and knowing the best ways to cook fresh, in-season vegetables has made a huge difference in my life.

I remember the one time my mother was able to coax a few tomatoes out of our Minnesota garden. I ate them sliced with salt and though I thought I hated tomatoes, those straight-from-the-garden specimens were the best things I ever tasted.

LZ: Now that your picky eating secret is out, do your friends treat you differently at dinner parties?

SL: Some have teased me about serving a raisin-filled dinner and needing to check their bookshelves after I leave.

LZ: Have you heard from any famous picky eaters?

SL: Gosh, I can’t even think of any famous picky eaters except Anderson Cooper, though I’m sure they’re out there! But no, I haven’t heard from Anderson Cooper directly, though I did make an appeal to him in a column I wrote for CNN where I told him I could help him rewire his neural pathways which could help him like more vegetables.

I also heard through the San Francisco foodie grapevine that Dave Eggers is known to be a picky eater, but he hasn’t come to me with any secret confessions.

LZ: What are you working on now?

SL: Preparing my son for pre-school and enjoying the hell out of not having a looming 60,000-word deadline! 

Q & A originally published on The Inquisitive Eater.

Book Review: Suffering Succotash

Until I read Stephanie Lucianovic new book, Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, I didn’t quite realize the range in picky eating. I had often referred to myself as a picky eater, the kind of person that only likes good food. Of course I qualified the word good by saying things like healthy, local, organic, or even just tasty. In Stephanie Lucianovic’s book she attempts to determine why kids, and “finicky eating” adults, decide not to eat foods based on looks, taste or feel. Why do we have strong aversions to certain foods and, while we’re at it, what is succotash?

Simpler than I imagined, succotash is a mixture of sautéed lima beans, tomatoes and corn. It actually sounded pretty good, but I’m not twelve. Lucianovic grew up as one of those “three more bites and you’re done” kind of kids. She tells us she complained about things touching on her plate, steered clear of any food with a skin and more, subsisting on a narrow list of approved items from the four food groups. Just the cherry from the fruit cup please. Lucianovic had ways to manage the bad foods on her plate; she had places to hide them (try the books in the living room) and physical techniques to swallow them (deep breaths and lots of water). She was a food vanishing magician.

In addition to sharing her own funny stories, like when she was forced to eat “squishy and maple-syruped and gross” squash before she could leave the table, Lucianovic interviews friends and colleagues who were also picky. Like her chef friend Julie, who wouldn’t eat anything that she thought was “’wet,’ like a condiment,” or her friend Jeff, who “has a complex relationship with tomatoes”:

Chunks of tomatoes, like in salsa, are fine, but a quarter of a tomato is too much. What about slices of tomatoes? “I won’t eat them sliced,” Jeff tells me. “In fact, I just pulled one out of my hamburger and threw it out the window on my way home this morning.” 

Read the entire review, originally published on The Inquisitive Eater.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Guggenheim transforms NYC into stillspots

The concept of peace and quiet, while living in any one of the five New York boroughs, can be pretty short-lived. That is, until you stumble on stillspotting, the Guggenheim Museums’ two-year multidisciplinary project that takes their Architecture and Urban Studies programming out into the streets and transforms them into places to sit, listen and watch. Last Saturday I found myself travelling to Staten Island to experience one of their latest installations, Telettrofono. Created by sound artist Justin Bennett and poet Matthea Harvey, the audio walking tour braided history with fantasy around the waterfront and residential areas of Staten Island.

I stepped into the temporary headquarters in the St. George ferry terminal ready to be inspired. Greeted with smiles, the volunteers in blue stillspotting shirts got us all set up; I gave them my ID, they gave me headphones and an iPod. Shirley, she looked in charge, handed me a map and said with a smile, “Maybe you’ll see a mermaid.”


Exiting out to the waterfront park I looked at my friend, we nodded the go-ahead, and pressed play, beginning our journey back to 1860. Voices came on through the headphones, instructing us to turn off all 21st century gadgets (you know who you are), and to follow the path closest to the water. Then the voices stopped and the sounds came in: a turning radio knob, static and water, lapping at my ears like gentle waves. It was a bright, hot day and I moved slowly, taking in my surroundings, both real and imagined.

Read the entire piece, originally published on Untapped Cities.