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S E C T I O N 2 Community S TO R I E S A B O U T P E O P L E A N D E V E N T S I N T H E C O M M U N I T Y ■ AUGUST 29, 2012 You are what you (won’t) By Andrea Gemmet Local author delves into the roots of picky eating N obody wants to be a picky eater. Though their frustrated parents might think otherwise, picky eaters would love to be able to tuck into a plate of food with enthusiasm instead of facing it with knotted stomachs, tearful protests and gagging. Stephanie Lucianovic knows what it’s like. For years, mealtimes were a torment for the Menlo Park resident, who choked down vegetables under duress, detested fish and didn’t dare eat a peach. Now a food writer and culinary school graduate, she delves into the evolving science of taste in her new book, “Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest To Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate.” She’s set to read from her book at Kepler’s on Wednesday, Aug. 29, and at an author event at Books Inc. at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto on Sept. 27, she’s vowed to convert audience members into okra lovers with one of her own recipes. That’s right, okra. Not too long ago, okra was on the list of things the adult Lucianovic still couldn’t bear to eat. As she recounts in her book, finding okra on the menu when she had dinner at a friend’s house set off a silent wave of panic. While feigning interest in the recipe, “my brain chanted, Slimy okra, bad okra, evil okra, GAG!” she wrote. “Every picky eater — former or current — has been in this situation. Every adult picky eater knows that dinner parties are their personal hell.” eat Fortunately for Ms. Lucianovic, her friend’s okra was a tasty revelation, and using the same recipe, she cooked it every night for a month. She knows she’s taking a risk bringing a dish to an author event, she says. “My friend warned me never to bring food,” Ms. Lucianovic says. “I told Books Inc. that’s what I want to do, and they’re fine with it. I make farro salad with okra in it, and I want to get people to try it.” ‘You can’t help (food) preferences, any more than you can help what music you like.’ Ms. Lucianovic’s book — part memoir, part popular science — explores current research as well as the many unknowns behind how people experience food differently, but it also comes with recipes for things like roasted cauliflower and sauteed greens. For Ms. Lucianovic, expanding her palate had a lot to do with finding the right way to cook the things that she’s always hated. “I won’t eat broccoli steamed or stir-fried; I only eat it roasted,” she says. “Legumes can be weird. I eat lentils because they’re small and I can make a cold salad and drown them in a lemony vinaigrette.” While some foods, vegetables in particular, require work in order to be palatable to her, she does have one firm rule: Smothering something in cheese sauce doesn’t count. “I don’t want to drown it; I want to like the flavor,” she explains. “I add lots of ingredients I like, then slowly pull back, because my brain has accepted that I like butternut squash.” Going to the source Discovering that there are genetic differences that make some people experience flavors differently led Ms. Lucianovic to contact researchers at Cornell University and Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia, as well as Palo Alto dietitian Karen Ross. When she first heard about supertasters, Ms. Lucianovic says, she had high hopes that genetics were to blame for her dinner table torments. So-called supertasters make up about 25 percent of the population, and are highly sensitive to a bitter chemical compound found in some foods. A less-sensitive segment of the population can’t even detect some types of bitter flavors After subjecting herself to a variety of tests, genetic testing definitively ruled out her being a supertaster. In the process, Ms. Lucianovic did gain insight into the combination of factors, whether childhood trauma, genes or psychology, that create picky eaters. She writes about the physiological effects of stress on the digestion that cause “delayed gastric emptying” — the sensation of food sitting like a lump in your stomach, causing discomfort and nausea. She interviewed dentists and a sword swallower See PICKY EATING, page 19 August 29, 2012NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN17

The Almanac 08.29.2012 - Section 2

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