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Personalities on a plate!

Byline: Hilarie Stelfox ,

There were times when Firstborn was just a sprog that I despaired of him ever eating anything apart from pasta, peas and Petit Filous. He ate biscuits, of course, but they don't count as food.

I was reminded of these parenting fears at the weekend as I watched him tucking into soft shell crab in batter, followed by assorted seaweed-wrapped sushi and a bowl of chicken and noodle soup. I even heard myself say: "Are you going to try the octopus balls?"

At 15 my son and heir is possibly one of the most adventurous eaters I know. It's a trait that served him well on his recent school trip to China, where they consumed foods that defied both analysis and description. As he says: "I'll eat anything except pickles." (He considers pickles to be some sort of culinary bad joke).

I think his spirit of derring-do has been helped along by what he and the Man-in-Charge call the "Christmas food challenge," an annual event that involves the purchase and degustation of disgusting foods.

We've had lots of fish-based products - IKEA is a treasure trove of soused fish and jars of strange crustacea - as well as delicacies such as sauerkraut and salted lemons.

One year they got their hands on ants in chocolate, but sweet dishes are usually considered a bit of a cop out.

Of course, since we discovered that he can't abide pickles, these delicacies in their many forms have become an essential part of the food challenge. He grits his teeth and eats them, usually with a dramatic display of gagging.

Strangely enough, his sister, who would no more eat octopus balls than give her new pet rabbit away, is a bit of a pickles addict. She's to be found raiding the fridge for cornichons (Delia Smith has a lot to answer for) and other wrinkled vegetables in vinegar.

Funnily enough, when they were tiny they ate very much the same things. We got through a lot of pasta. But today they are like Jack Spratt and his wife, which says a lot about nature versus nurture.

Every now and again I meet up with a family whose offspring are picky eaters. I tell them that Firstborn was a candidate for fussy eaters anonymous and yet today he's a champion omnivore. They ask me how we did it and I have to admit that I don't really know.

I suppose persistence counts for something. We never gave up at the first refusal.

But, I suspect, character has a lot to do with it. His, not ours. As it has turned out, our son has become something of a risk taker. His favourite pastime is rock climbing. So perhaps it's not entirely surprising that he was looking forward to eating scorpion-on-a-stick when he went to China or that he wants to eat his way around the world's cuisines.

His sister, however, would be perfectly content to subsist on noodles and chocolate - not necessarily together. I'm not sure what that says about her.

While mulling all this over I've come to the conclusion that there's probably a form of divination or certainly a science-in-the-making relating to the foods we eat and the sort of people we are or become. Instead of looking at palms or constellations, a food diary might be a good deal more revealing of character.

Maybe we are what we eat in more ways than one.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 30, 2005
Words:573
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