CRF Blog

The Anatomy of Finickiness

by Bill Hayes

In The Anatomy of Finickiness for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Geoff Nicholson reviews Einstein’s Beets: An Examination of Food Phobias by Alexander Theroux.

Inevitably the book contains a good deal of what we might call “food trivia,” although I’m sure the author would rightly insist that these matters are anything but trivial. This is a serious book. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun along the way, starting with the title: it derives from the fact that “Einstein famously hated beets,” though it’s a limited fame as far as this reader was concerned. Einstein was not alone: Michelle and Barack Obama hate them too, as does the food writer and occasional novelist Gael Greene. In fact, the book demonstrates that you’re extremely unlikely to be alone in your phobia, however singular it may seem: Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t eat eggs — but neither would President Taft, nor will Whoopi Goldberg. Naomi Watts and Jennifer Aniston can’t abide caviar. Colson Whitehead can’t face ice cream having worked an ice cream stand where the “perk” of the job was all he could eat.

William Cobbett eschewed tea because it was “a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age.” Mussolini didn’t eat mashed potatoes because they gave him a headache. Idi Amin doesn’t seem like he’d have been a fussy eater, but he had his limits, “I tried human flesh, and it is too salty for my taste.” Of course the reader can’t be sure if this flesh was raw or cooked: if the latter, then surely the saltiness was the fault of the cook. There is also some speculation about whether Amin was actually speaking the truth or just buffing up his image as terrifying despot.

Prince (the purple one) didn’t like to eat much of anything, but he particularly disliked mushrooms, feta cheese, and onions, although when he let Heavy Table look in his fridge there were 18 jars of mustard in there …. [more]