Joe Pisani nitpicks the trials of feeding picky eaters

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani /

Lately, I’ve been bringing meals to a friend who is recuperating from an illness, but it hasn’t been an easy mission of mercy. He is, as my mother would say, a “picky eater.” He doesn’t like pizza, he doesn’t like peanut butter, he doesn’t like chocolate and he never eats shrimp. I suspect raw sushi is out of the question, so I stick with the basics — burgers and fries.

The reason he doesn’t like peanut butter is a curious one. When he was growing up, his sister always ate peanut butter on bread, bananas and apples. But he always fought with his sister, so he disliked the things she liked. The good news is they get along perfectly fine now, although he still retches at the sight of a PB&J.

Everybody has their peculiar food prejudices. I avoid chocolate, ice cream, pepperoni pizza and blue cheese salad dressing — or at least try to — but it has nothing to do with my sister and everything to do with my cholesterol.

My 3-year-old grandson eats anything they put in front of him, even the dark meat of the turkey, broccoli, spinach and sushi. My theory is he has to eat that stuff because his parents aren’t feeding him enough junk food. I’m perfectly willing to give him my dark meat if he gives me his white meat. He could have helped me out when I was growing up and needed someone to eat my liver. Well, not MY liver. The liver on my plate. There are three things I refuse to eat: raw squid, pigs’ feet and liver.

My parents always said, “You have to eat your liver because it’s good for you” and “You have to eat your spinach because it will make you grow big and strong.” After all, Popeye was always guzzling it down and winning those fights with Bluto, so I ate my spinach and was strong to the finish. Liver, however, was an entirely different matter.

There was the time, one of many, when my parents made me sit at the dinner table until I ate all my liver. I stared at that cold liver, and that cold liver stared back at me, but I couldn’t get a piece down my throat without gagging.

The rule in our house was you had to eat everything on your plate before you could leave the table. My mother would be washing the dishes and continually asking, “Are you done yet?” and I’d mumble, “Almost.”

Like the rest of my generation, I was constantly reminded of the kids in China who didn’t have enough to eat. (I was perfectly willing to share my liver with them.) That message stuck, and to this day, I rarely waste food, although I’m suspicious of food imported from China.

I thought I found a solution that night when I saw the dog sniffing under the table, looking for scraps. My mother always fed her leftovers that included homemade veal parmigiana and pot roast, which means to say she ate better than our neighbors, who as far as I could tell, lived on Swanson TV dinners.

But even the dog wouldn’t eat the liver I tried to slip her, so in desperation I stuffed it in my pockets. The problem was I forgot to take it out, and my mother found it when she washed my jeans. That night she served veal parmigiana, but I was sent to bed without dinner.

My father loved liver, but he refused to eat chicken, so he compensated by consuming enough red meat to clog the arteries of everyone on the New York Giants’ 2012 Super Bowl championship team.

My wife won’t eat anything that’s not organic, which means Little Debbie cakes are out of the question. She has also been known to go through her salad, plucking out lettuce that looks wilted. Our dog is just as fussy and will only eat human-grade dog food from Whole Foods ... but not the liver flavor. So we have something in common.

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