Word of the Day: Neophobia

I just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which I highly recommend. In it, he argues that while humans are blessed with the ability to eat almost anything, they’re also saddled with the ultimately difficult decision of what to eat. In the end, humans are torn between “neophobia, a sensible fear of ingesting anything new, and neophilia, a risky but necessary openness to new tastes (p. 288).”

He notes that rats (who have no means of communicating to each other which things are tasty and which are toxic) must learn for themselves by tasting each thing they come across, humans have language, which allows us to transmit all the learnings of previous generations (i.e. everyone knows that eating dirt isn’t great for you, even though none of us have eaten a plate of dirt recently).

Is there a genetically predetermined time at which humans cross over from the must-taste-everything-myself-like-a-rat phase (which all toddlers undoubtedly go through) to the okay-if-you-say-so phase? In other words, does pickiness end biologically? Not that I want to strip my parents of the credit they deserve for bringing me through the pickiest years . . .but I got through it, as most of us do. So then, of those that are extremely picky as adults: did they just miss “food puberty”?


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