Sunday, December 14, 2014

‘Food Chaining’ by Cheryl Fraker, et al.

Book cover: 'Food Chaining' by Cheryl Fraker, et. al. Cover image combines a cartoon-like illustration of an apple, carrot, a meat, tomato, lettuce and cheese sandwich and a child gazing at a beverage in a cup with straw, with the photo of a child holding a slice of bread so that it obscures his or her face.
As validated as I felt learning that a book like this exists, I felt even more validated when reading Food Chaining by Cheryl Fraker, Mark Fishbein, Sibyl Cox and Laura Walbert.

Eating is easily the most difficult sensory task I face. In childhood, I easily fit the profile of a “problem eater,” as described in this book. I accepted few foods, had strong adverse reactions that included gagging and was reluctant to even touch new foods.

My difficulties didn’t have the benefit of a book like this, however. Instead, adults labeled me “picky,” “spoiled” and “bad” because I could not eat what was served to me.

Even today, it takes time for me to get used to an unfamiliar food, and it requires considerable fortitude to be willing to try new things. If I go to an event when I know that I will get hungry, I have to bring my own snacks because I can’t rely on the selection including foods that I am able to eat.

Even if I’m not hungry, I might end up awkwardly holding a plate that a well-meaning person “prepared” for me, filled with foods I cannot eat. (Is it good manners to fill a plate, unasked, from a buffet table for someone else? Surely that service should be reserved for someone whom you know well enough to be able to account for dietary needs and restrictions.)

At a public event a few years ago, a near-stranger actually handed me a plate of foods that she’d selected “for” me. Suddenly, I was placed in the awkward position of having to dispose of an untouched plate of food, fearful that if I did so openly, I’d attract negative attention.

And I was right to be afraid of negative attention. People don’t grant the same legitimacy to sensory challenges as they do to food allergies. So where someone might accept that a person with allergies won’t eat peanuts, people typically don’t believe me when I tell them I don’t eat dessert. How, then, could I explain that an entire plate of food had the wrong textures, visual impressions and temperatures?

In the end, I hid the plate under a napkin on a table and quickly walked away. I went to the buffet table and selected the few simple foods that I could eat.

Hence my gratitude and validation at last, that “food chaining” is a thing.

“Food chaining” involves starting with a food considered “safe” by the problem eater and then slowly introducing foods with a similar taste, temperature or texture. Through a gradual process, the problem eater becomes able to accept “target” foods and expand his or her palate. My husband used this process with me for years before we ever heard of “food chaining.”

(I tend to fixate on a new food when I discover that I really like it. I would happily eat chopped olives and kale with every meal. And if asked what I wanted for dinner, I might answer, “Cajun catfish,” even if we just had it the night before.)

There is just so much more to why a child (or an adult) won’t eat than simply being “picky” or “bad.” I appreciate this book for its detailed and comprehensive explanations of the sensory challenges, physical challenges, oral-motor or swallowing skills, that may affect an ability to eat.

Disclosure of material connection: My taxes support my public library’s acquisition of this and other resources. I consider the access I enjoy to be a “priceless” return on my investment.

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