As a food educator, I spent many hours in classrooms doing taste tests, interactive cooking demos and nutrition lessons. I've seen elementary schoolers, even the so-called picky eaters, taste everything from sauteed Swiss chard, to beet smoothies to chickpea cookie dough, and ask for seconds.
I had one simple rule that helped my students approach food with an attitude of positivity and adventure: "Don't yuck my yum." I first heard the phrase during my orientation with FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps organization dedicated to connecting kids and schools with healthy food. DYMY is straightforward: Don't ruin my enjoyment of a food with your negative judgment. When you're in a classroom with children who are tasting eggplant for the first time, one "that's nasty!" comment can ruin everyone's experience.
These days, I interact more with adults than kids, and I'm often appalled by the judgment and negative attitudes that some of my fellow grown-ups have toward unfamiliar foods. I often find myself wanting to say, "Please don't yuck my yum." Of course, as the owner of a fermented food business, the foods I sell—sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi—tend to elicit strong feelings from people who either love 'em or hate 'em.
Luckily, I have thick skin when it comes to opinions on the foods I like and make, but that's beside the point.
Back in the classroom, I would ask the kids, "Say you're eating something you really love—let's just go with pizza—and someone comes up to you and says, 'I hate pizza. It's disgusting,' how would that make you feel?" After a few moments of contemplating a world in which someone hated pizza, most kids would reply they'd feel bad, angry or embarrassed.
I would then encourage them to express themselves in ways that were mindful of their classmates' feelings, like a simple "I don't prefer this," or my favorite, "I don't like this yet." With the DYMY ground rule established, students had the freedom to actually enjoy something green or healthy or "weird-looking" without fear of judgment.
It's unreasonable to expect that everyone will like everything. I once had a student who gagged up his eggplant into the classroom trash can. But when he finished wiping his mouth he looked up and said, "Ms. Lauren, eggplant is not my favorite."
In today's world, food is more than sustenance; it is culture, self-expression and pleasure. When someone labels the foods we eat as "gross" or "weird," it feels like they have labeled us by extension. But more than that, when we declare our distaste for a food or an entire cuisine, we close ourselves off to the opportunity to experience something new and wonderful.
So, how can you apply the concept of "don't yuck my yum" to your own life? Be curious about food. Curiosity is the absence of judgment; it is an eagerness to learn. Remember, "normal" and "weird" are relative terms. Food that may seem strange to you may be completely conventional to someone else. For example, about two billion people in the world eat insects as part of their regular diet.
DYMY is not about pretending to like something solely for someone else's benefit. Be honest, but be considerate. A simple "no thank you" will always suffice.
Lauren Rhoades is the owner of local business Sweet & Sauer. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Jackson Free Press.