“A Spanish lady came to me, she lays on me this [salad that] spirals round and round, it trembles and explodes!” -The Grateful Dead
By Sam Huber
Chicken nuggets, PB&J sandwiches, candy, and ice cream were all I ate for 20 years. New foods made me want to vomit because of how they looked or smelled or tasted. When my parents tried to introduce new foods, I had a hard time trusting what they served. Texture was a problem too: New foods often caused me to have some level of anxiety because there are textures that made my tongue feels too hot or scratchy. In my mind, chicken nuggets and chocolate will taste and feel the same every time, which gives me the comfort of consistency. This autistic hypersensitivity to food often leads us to only eating bland-looking and bland-tasting foods.
When I was a kid I struggled to eat cheese pizza because I thought it was too spicy! Plain pizza, too spicy!!!! I associated any food with bright red sauce with spiciness because one time I tried a spicy red-sauce dish that burned my tongue at my grandmother’s house. During college I overcame this aversion by forcing myself to eat at a pizzeria because I wanted to make new friends. They told me of a place that always had good pizza, which I connected to my need for consistency. Thus, I overcame my fear and developed a huge appetite for pizza.
My wife Gisette helped me realize that my main issue with food was the texture, its feel in my mouth. Together we figured out how to control the consistency of how my food tasted, which took away my fear of eating a texture I might not immediately like.
We started getting our veggies from a farm called Camp Hill, which grew Biodynamic Foods. I liked the way the food was treated by the farmers as a religious relic as it grew–i.e, with total respect. My wife and I went on a mission to make healthy foods that taste good for both of us. We discovered I liked eating veggies cooked and covered in sauces, mostly barbecue sauce, given that I love it on chicken. My wife would cook in small portions so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the new textures. Then slowly over time she lessened the amount of sauce and the healthy food portions got bigger as I learned to trust. Camp Hill’s super clean food helped me take a step into a much larger world.
By pairing new foods with ones that I already liked, my brain started associating them as something familiar. There is a ritual to eating: from table setting, cooking, and the food must be eaten at the same time. Bringing this consistency to introducing new foods means that we can go from mosquito bites to T. Rex bites. I still love my chicken nuggets, but now they come with a salad.
Samuel Huber is a husband, dad, teacher’s assistant, and writer who has autism. Learn more at www.samuelhuber.net. To find local, sustainable farms like the one Sam described in your area visit www.localharvest.org