Working along Maslow's Hierarchy from the Bottom Up
Since we're on the subject of basic human needs, though, I have another question, this one about Food.
I love food. No, I REALLY love food. I'm not a foodie, exactly, or a food snob--more of a gourmand in the Calvin Trillin mold. The food of my childhood and adolescence was decent and edible but not particularly notable one way or another, and I don't remember any particular importance or attitudes about food being imparted to me as a kid. I've always eaten pretty much exactly what I like, and I like just about everything, except lima beans. (Not really germane to where I'm going with this, but possibly of interest: with no eating restrictions or dieting or attention paid to food at all except for taste and basic nutritional issues, my weight was just about normal and very stable from childhood until I hit my thirties, at which point I started putting on a couple of pounds a year. Now, at 42, I'm somewhere between 10 and 25 pounds overweight, and probably should do something about it at some point, if only exercising more, but it's not my top priority and hasn't affected my eating habits.)
Anyway, the point is that I am a true omnivore. Though I learned to cook out of the vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook, and in my crunchy granola youth was often mistaken for a vegetarian, I have never been a vegetarian of any kind. I don't keep kosher, not even a little (though for a while I tried not to serve treyf at the actual Shabbat dinner table). I have no food allergies or sensitivies that I know of, and I'm not squeamish.
The Renaissance Woman, on the other hand, does have food restrictions: she's allergic to red fruit, including cherries, as well as several kinds of nuts. She used to be a vegetarian, and though she now eats chicken, she can no longer metabolize red meat or pork. Also, there are several foods, including rice, lentils, and other grainy things, that she simply doesn't like.
Then we have the Mermaid Girl. Back when she was a baby, this child would eat anything, including duck and couscous, but those days are long gone and she has become a classic Picky Eater. She does like vegetables, but for several years the list of proteins that she would eat was about six items long, with three of them being various forms of cheese (string, grilled, and macaroni-and-). Also, like RW (and very much unlike me), she often doesn't notice when she's hungry, and rather than asking for food will deny that she wants to eat at all, all the while becoming crankier and crankier until we insist that she put a piece of cheese (or whatever) into her mouth, at which point more often than not she snaps out of it and wolfs down whatever's in front of her.
I know there are various schools of thought about how much to insist on kids trying unfamiliar or un-favorite foods; since with MG, food soon became an issue of control as well as one of taste preference, and since she's an only child and we don't have to cater to anyone else, we've generally opted for the path of least resistance, and pretty much have let her eat whatever she wanted as long as she gets some protein and a vegetable in there at dinner. I'd leave out some plain tofu or chicken or fish if I was making something with a sauce, and she'd either eat it or mix herself some peanut butter and jelly in a bowl.
This worked reasonably well until last spring, when MG suddenly announced that she was now a vegetarian, and that she did not believe in eating either animals or fish.
This cut down considerably on the short list of protein sources, but we didn't object; first, because vegetarianism has always seemed like an admirable principle to me, and second, because what would be the point? If we told her she wasn't allowed to be a vegetarian, she would just refuse chicken and fish (the only dead-animal food at our house) anyway, and what could we do? She'd just eat cheddar cheese and peanut butter, the way she always does.
In the ensuing months, though, some complicating factors have emerged. For one thing, MG's definition of vegetarianism is somewhat flexible; turns out that it includes meat hot dogs bought at the beach or the mall, (even if vegetarian hot dogs--which she doesn't like--are available), fake crab, and shrimp in any form. But if we offer her any other kind of meat or fish, she will look sad and pained and principled and say, "I'm sorry, but I can't. Don't you remember?" When we ask her about the apparent contradiction, she'll explain either that this is just an exception, or that "it's different. I really like [shrimp, or hot dogs, or whatever]."
So, this inconsistency leads us to be not quite so respectful of her principled stand as we might otherwise be. What I can't figure out is what kind of line to take on this. Do we forbid her to eat shrimp or hot dogs, even though we eat them ourselves? Do we refuse to continue recognizing her as a vegetarian by offering alternatives to our meat meals? Or do we just, as one person suggested, honor that she's attempting to act on principle at all, however imperfectly?
I welcome any suggestions from vegetarians, meat-eaters, picky eaters, and parents of any of the above, as well as people who are none of the above but just have an opinion, as long as you state it kindly.