Don't be afraid of food phobias

Food that triggers fear: Roasted chicken (alektorophobia - fear of chickens) with broccoli, pumpkin and acorn and butternut squash (lachanophobia - fear of vegetables…seriously). BY JACK CLEMONS
October 31, 2011

In honor of the upcoming celebration of all things frightening, you may have seen magazine articles with pictures of creepy-looking food. As it happens, you don’t need to make food look scary to activate a food phobia; even a well-prepared dish can trigger a negative reaction.

For example, our friend Andy has mycophobia. Forget grilled portabellas or a creamy stroganoff; make sure you keep mushrooms off his plate. And, interestingly enough, it’s not the taste, but the appearance and texture he avoids.

He’s fine if you incorporate ground mushrooms into the pate for beef wellington or to stuff ravioli. He just doesn’t like the dark gills hiding under the cap or the spongy mouthfeel of a thick slice. I’m sure he’s not alone.

This particular phobia falls under the larger heading of lachanophobia – fear of vegetables. These are folks who have no difficulty peeling shrimp or trimming a cut of beef, but can’t stand the thought of washing lettuce or slicing a cucumber. I’ve heard it described as an intense discomfort with the slimy slipperiness of vegetables, particularly juicy or leafy sorts.

My husband Jack has a very refined version of lachanophobia, which he calls “the green rule.” Although he claims he won’t eat anything green, there are a number of notable exceptions: peas and salad lettuce are not green; beets and cauliflower are very green. He should probably find a different name for his condition; I’m sure there’s a Greek word for fear of overcooked, strong-tasting vegetables.

While some are braver than others when it comes to trying unfamiliar foods, there are people who suffer from geumaphobia – fear of taste. More specifically, a fear of unfamiliar tastes or flavors. We’ve all encountered the stubborn toddler who insists he doesn’t like something he’s never eaten. Usually, we grow out of this stage as we’re exposed to a greater variety of foods. But, I still have the very same reaction to liver; no matter how perfectly sautéed with onions, I’m afraid to try it and likely never will.

One of the most understandable food-related fears is deipnophobia – fear of dining. Well, not really dining per se, more the fear of dining while engaging in dinner table conversation. I’ve seen prospective employees pale at the prospect of an interview over lunch and boyfriends sweat over their first meal with their new girlfriend’s parents. This is a logical queasiness with the dual challenges of maintaining polite conversation while eating a meal. I’m afraid to order pasta or soup when dining out with a large group. I’m certain I won’t be able to speak without spilling something – not to mention the dreaded piece of pepper that always catches between your front teeth.

Alektorophobia – fear of chickens – can vary. For some, it’s worry about being pecked or swooped at; for others it’s related to the fact that chickens eat from the rather unsanitary ground they also walk on. The anxiety can often extend to eggs and feathers, but sometimes doesn’t include cooked chicken, only the live animal. The depth of this phobia can involve thinking chickens conspire and plan their attacks. Jack will attest this is a well-grounded fear, recalling the time he was chased by an aggressive rooster, which looked just like the bird in the photo by dinnertime.

Now when the children ring your doorbell on Halloween, you’ll have lots of ways to scare them – just think – broccoli florets!

Roast Chicken
5-lb whole chicken
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/4 t thyme
1/4 t savory
1 small onion
1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 450 F. Remove the giblets and thoroughly rinse the chicken, inside and out. Dry the skin completely and place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Brush the skin with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper; scatter thyme and savory over the breast and drumsticks. Cut the onion in half and place inside cavity along with lemon half.

Place the pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, then immediately reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Continue to roast until a thermometer inserted in the thigh meat registers 180 F, about 1 1/2 hours. Baste the chicken with pan juices every 15 minutes. When cooked, allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Yield: 4 servings

Stuffed Acorn Squash
2 acorn squash
1/4 t sea salt
1 C cubed cornbread
1 C fresh cranberries
2 T orange zest
1/2 C chopped walnuts
1/4 C melted butter
1/4 C vegetable broth (if needed)

Preheat oven to 350F. Halve squash and scoop out pulp and seeds, leaving flesh intact. Sprinkle the inside of each squash with salt. Set squash, skin side down, on a rimmed baking pan lined with aluminum foil. In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients, making sure the cornbread is moistened. (Add vegetable broth, if needed). Fill the squash halves with cranberry mixture and bake for 45 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

Crabmeat Stuffed Mushrooms
1 lb whole mushrooms
1 T butter
1 lb crabmeat
2/3 C mayonnaise
1/2 C parmesan cheese
2 minced green onions
salt & pepper, to taste
1/8 t cayenne

Preheat oven to 475 F. Wipe dirt from mushrooms and remove stems. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté mushroom caps over low heat, open side down for about 3 minutes. Turn over caps and leave them in the skillet off heat for about 3 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and fill mushrooms with a mound of crabmeat mixture. Place stuffed caps in a rimmed baking dish in a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes, then broil for another 5 minutes.

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