I refuse to eat leftovers. Period. When I cook, I make just enough for right now. At restaurants I usually feel so guilty about leaving so much food behind that I take the offered doggie bag and shamefully throw away its contents. Of course, that happens several days after said doggie bag has eyed me hopefully each time I open the refrigerator. There is something that I find particularly off-putting about reheating once-delicious food in the microwave. It comes out too soggy or too hard, without any flavor or tasting of the refrigerator. It just doesn’t taste good.
Of course you must also understand that I refuse to eat any food item that has touched another food item on my plate. I’m most happy at barbecues, which I’m sure you think is crazy as plates tend to be balanced precariously and heaped with delicious grill favorites and sides. You might think that touching food is bound to happen. But you would be wrong. Those miraculous plastic plates that are only acceptable when eating outdoors are almost always served. Divided into three gloriously individual sections, they prevent any cross contamination for the conscientious eater such as myself. Granted, my family and friends simply put up with my antics, completely disbelieving my dislike of leftovers and handing me another dish as I get riled up when my mashed potatoes (without gravy) touches the roast chicken on my plate.
One day I began to think about these eating eccentricities. What if I couldn’t tell people what I wanted? What if my ability to interact was impaired? What if I had to eat microwaved pasta from last night? I know many people that face this challenge on a daily basis and they all have one thing in common—autism.
Autism affects one in every 110 children today, making it the fastest growing developmental disability. It impairs a person’s ability to communicate and socialize, and is accompanied by repetitive behaviors. But this description does little to encompass the full range of challenges that individuals and families face when impacted by an autism spectrum disorder. There are sensory sensitivities, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal issues, and yes, eating challenges.
Many individuals with autism only eat foods of a certain color or can only tolerate eating extremely crunchy foods. The “only” list is extensive and completely individual. Recently I ate lunch at the home of a family I was working with. Their nine-year-old daughter with autism has a limited number of things she will eat for lunch, including pizza and burritos. On the day in question, a burrito was made and cut into small bites just the way she liked it. Or so dad thought. The response when served was a resounding, “NO!” After an exhausting game of twenty questions we were able to surmise that in fact she did want a burrito, but wanted it whole rather than cut into pieces. Her agitation at the situation was clear, but fortunately she was able to regulate herself (and start chowing down on a bean burrito) to avoid a meltdown.
Just try to imagine what it would be like to lack the words or social graces to tell someone that you would rather your burrito whole rather than in pieces. Indeed, I believe it would be anxiety producing and tremendously upsetting. She was without the tools to change her circumstances. The very tools I use to display my displeasure at reheated meals and touching food. This lunch served to strengthen my resolve to continue working on building the necessary skills so many with autism need to develop. And to continue my leftovers boycott.