Monthly Archives: July 2012

Confessions of a Picky Eater Turned Foodie

Are Brussels sprouts your worst nightmare?

Did you feed your dog Brussels sprouts under the table as a kid? Stage negotiations with your mother – five more peas in exchange for dessert? Maybe as an adult you’ve skirted menu items to avoid mushrooms or suffered chicken salad at a picnic so as not to offend your host. We all have our particular food aversions; some more than others, but what makes a picky eater? Stephanie Lucianovic knows first hand. Now a self-proclaimed foodie, she considers herself a picky eater in recovery. She’s written a book about her conversion called Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. Ahead of her appearance on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, we spoke with her about the science of picky eating, how you can broaden your palate and we got some advice for parents of picky eaters.

Stephanie Lucianovic is the Author of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate

WFAEats: I hate mayonnaise and I get this look of shock and dismay from people when this fact is uncovered. But we all do this, we’re so skeptical when we hear someone doesn’t love a food we love. What’s with all the judging? Not everyone likes everything.
I get into an almost philosophical discussion about this in the book. Why does it bother us so much what other people don’t like? It doesn’t affect them. Personally, I think if you love somebody and you offer them food because you happen to love that food. ‘This is an amazing ___ and you’ve got to try it!’ They try it and don’t like it and whether you realize it or not, it feels like a rejection because they’re not joining in on your excitement. So you feel a little bit rejected and you start to blame them – like, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ For some reason, food, because it is such a community thing, such a social thing, its more of an area of judgment than music or art, which obviously people have differing opinions on but they certainly don’t break up with people because someone doesn’t like modern art. And yet, I’ve interviewed people who have talked about picky eaters being a major problem in romantic relationships.

Would you break up with someone over broccoli?

WFAEats: Like breaking up with someone over broccoli?
Exactly. It’s usually nothing so obvious like that. If you’ve got an adventurous foodie and a non-adventurous person, it can really affect what they share. I talked to a marriage counselor about it and she said you just have to find other things you enjoy together – don’t make it all about food. If you have an anniversary, don’t have it hinge on some great restaurant, make it something else you both enjoy.

WFAEats: Is picky eating a choice or hard-wired?
It’s definitely not a choice. I believe as a former picky eater and I have it backed up by scientists – it’s hardwired, whether it’s your biology or genetics or what they call your ‘learning history’ because you developed a learned aversion to something. It’s preference.

WFAEats: Do our tastes change over time? Why did I love pickles as a kid but hate them now?
Your preferences change. It’s not that our taste buds change. One of the scientists I spoke with at Monell Center [Chemical Senses Center of Taste and Smell] said its not that our taste buds really die or change because we’re constantly sloughing them off. They have a ferocious cycle, overturning every 14 days. Your taste cells are dying but they’re regenerating. In advanced age, they do start to die and not regenerate.

Does your kid refuse to eat anything green?

WFAEats: What advice do you have for parents of picky eaters?
My first word of advice is one that no parent ever wants to hear – relax. And I don’t like hearing that advice by the way, as a parent. If your pediatrician isn’t worried about your child’s health or development, then you shouldn’t be overly worried about it either. You should not listen to other parents who don’t understand or don’t have picky eaters who say ‘you should do this or that.’ It’s not necessarily what you did right or wrong. Sometimes if you don’t have a picky eater, you just got lucky. You could have a parent who does everything right with the breastfeeding, with what you’re eating in utero, how you’re exposing them to food, and you’re still going to have a picky eater. That can happen. I went 27 years barely eating any vegetables and no grains and I was basically Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare, and I’m fine. I didn’t have any health or development problems.

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The Summer Doldrums Go To The Polls

Michael Bitzer

It’s the dog-days of a long, hot summer, and you reach for an ice cold glass of sweet tea — but imagine having only three percent of that tall eight ounces? Think sipping about 1.5 teaspoons will quench your thirst?

Better yet, what about taking a relaxing bath in only three percent of a normal bathtub?  You’d be soaking in only a little over two gallons of water.

Now imagine an election where only three percent of 6.1 million of North Carolina’s registered voters participated, and you get the full impact of our summer electoral doldrums.

While the official numbers won’t be certified for a few more days, the results from the second primary (runoff election) point to some interesting observations about an election that barely anyone showed up for.

Take, for example, the two hotly contested GOP battles for the 8th and 9th U.S. House races.  In the May primary for the 8th district, 66,883 voters cast ballots for the five-man race, with Richard Hudson scoring 32 percent to Scott Keadle’s 22 percent, bringing about the run-off.

In the second primary, only 16,708 voters cast their ballots in the bitter contest — or, only one-quarter of the previous electorate.

In the Pittenger-Pendergraph battle of the 9th, nearly 92,500 voters came to the polls in May, with Pittinger garnering 32 percent to Pendergraph’s 25 percent.

Flash forward several weeks later into the middle of July, and only 35,779 decided the 9th GOP contest, or 39 percent of the total May electorate.

In every county of the 8th and 9th — save one — all of the candidates received substantially lower votes than they did in May.  For example, Richard Hudson got 18 percent (158 votes) in Robeson County that he got in May (849 votes).

In fact, Robeson County saw only 271 votes cast in the run-off for the 8th, representing 11 percent of the total votes cast in the May primary. 

But in Rowan County, Hudson nearly doubled his first primary figures, going from 1,196 in May to 2,318 votes.

In the 9th, Mecklenburg County continued to be the powerhouse of voters in the new district, delivering 71 percent of the runoff votes cast.  But the 25,500 votes from the Great State of Meck was only 40 percent of what had been cast in the same contest in May.

Looking across the state, we find that the usual pattern of run-off victors holds, based on previous research: we would expect 70 percent of those who came in first, but were forced into a runoff, to ultimately win the nomination.

In this year’s fifteen runoff contests, only four races saw an upset in the runoff; 74 percent of the runoff races saw May’s first-place winner go on to secure the nomination in the run-off. 

For three state legislative races in the runoff election, the winners got an automatic bye to go straight to Raleigh, by-passing the November election. 

In state senate districts 12 (covering Harnett, Lee, and part of Johnston counties) and 41 (covering Mecklenburg), and house district 44 (covering Cumberland), the winners in the runoff election face no opposition in November, so they can start preparing for the 2013 session — barring something like a write-in candidacy in the fall.

Now that we have the final contestants for the fall campaign, when we hear folks complain about who they are going to vote for in the general election, you might want to remind them—“do you want ice with that three percent of tea?”

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Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Wrap Up

Day 7 and Beyond

“How did you do on the ‘food stamp’ challenge?” That’s the question people have been asking me since Sunday. “Did you have enough to eat, or did you have to cheat?”

I recently completed the SNAP Challenge, designed to give participants a taste of what it’s like to feed yourself with no more than the $31.50 per week you’d get if you relied solely on food stamps.

In one sense you could say I succeeded: I didn’t overspend and didn’t go hungry.

I carefully monitored my budget to stay on track. Coupons, yes. Items on sale, absolutely. Since condiments were allowable under the rules of the challenge, I added back in to my total the $2.50 I’d spent for a bottle of soy sauce. That allowed me to replace the milk that had spoiled before I could finish it. But the early satisfaction was fleeting.

I hadn’t accounted for staple items a household would purchase infrequently and stretch for many weeks or even months. So I made a judgment call, allowing myself to “pro-rate” a handful of flour and splash of oil here and there.

On Friday evening I attended a meeting where a meat-and-three dinner was served. Strictly speaking, maybe I should have declined. But since I’d fed a guest out of my own budget on Tuesday, I justified partaking. Besides, wouldn’t anyone do the same, regardless of budget? Community events like this one can – and do – go a long way toward filling the gap and feeding the hungry neighbors we may not notice in our midst.

The lettuce was bland, unadorned iceberg; it was the only salad I saw all week and I was grateful to have it. As I welcomed the change from my own monotonous cooking, I recognized the irony of doing so, and realized only later that what I enjoyed most about this one nourishing but unremarkable meal was that I didn’t have to worry how much it cost.

The practice of such careful budgeting is foreign to those of us too young to have lived through the privation of the Great Depression or the restrictive rationing implemented during the 20th century World Wars. Perhaps we’re headed there again.

I won’t argue with those who complained that the SNAP Challenge is nothing more than the thinnest slice-of-life exercise. On his blog, actor Josh Malina wrote: “I don’t know what it’s like for this to be my normal. I always had a vision of a finish line in my mind, and I am very aware that others live this challenge with no sense of when if ever they may cross that line.”

And so by successfully completing the challenge, we reveal our enduring failure.

Hunger is everywhere. It’s global and local, societal and deeply personal. Writing about it doesn’t alleviate hunger directly, but I’m going to continue over the coming months as I keep sifting through what I learned this week.

Through stories about the people who feed us I plan to share some insights, practical information – and with a little luck, some inspiration, too, I hope.

Click for additional resources and to read all the stories in Amy’s series.

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Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Six

SNAP recipients receive EBT (electronic benefit transfer) debit cards to use for their food purchases.

Day Six: “Who’s Hungry?”

On a long car trip when a fast food joint comes into view, someone will shout it.

“Who’s hungry?”

If you walk into your office with a giant pizza box in your hands, you can call out to your co-workers.

“Who’s hungry?”

When the holiday meal is ready after hours of waiting, it’s a summons to gather and share something special – or even sacred.

“Who’s hungry?”

Who IS hungry? This past week, that question has taken on a very different meaning for me.

I’ve been participating in the SNAP* Challenge to experience what it’s like to feed yourself with no more than $31.50 per week. (You can read back through prior blog entries for more about what’s happened so far.) I started out hoping to get a sense of how people on a limited food budget cope with the logistics, limitations and difficulties of making ends meet. I wanted to confront the blind spots in my own admittedly haphazard understanding of hunger, its scope and its impact.

Getting my mind around all of this has been another kind of challenge altogether. I read hundreds of pages of policy and statistical research, interviewed experts, responded to blog posts – then tried to distill down what I’d absorbed into any sort of basic grasp of the who, what, when, where, and why of hunger. I wanted to understand how we as  individuals, a community, and a society make decisions to address the hunger crisis.

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter,” wrote Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. I agree with him. I swam in knowledge, gained little understanding, and certainly failed this aspect of the challenge I undertook.

I’m writing this post the morning of Day Seven of the SNAP Challenge. In the next few days, I’ll continue to respond to your comments, then I’ll wrap up.

I don’t remember what I ate yesterday, on Day Six, and it doesn’t matter. I haven’t done the math to see if I succeeded in feeding myself on the $31.50 I’d get from food stamps, but that’s no longer the point for me – and that’s exactly the point. People I know, people I care about, people you and I will never meet are struggling. That much, I now understand.

Who’s hungry.

*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.

Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day One)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Two)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Three)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Four)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Five)


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Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Five

Photo by Amy Rogers.

Day Five: Rumors and Reasons

It’s not really about the food.

That’s what I’m starting to realize. People are angry, exhausted, frustrated, despondent. Resentful, worried, afraid or annoyed – but no one I’ve talked with in the last five days is blasé on the topic of food stamps and other programs that help feed the hungry.

All week I’ve been taking the SNAP Challenge to learn first-hand what it’s like to feed yourself with no more than $31.50 per week. (You can read back through prior blog entries for more about what’s happened so far.)

The novelty wore off quickly. I didn’t mind restricting my food spending or intake; in fact, it was a good reminder of something I’d been meaning to work on anyway. But I discovered that doing so requires a level of focus and attentiveness I was not prepared to summon. And it suddenly dawned on me that plenty of my fellow grocery shoppers, at any store on any day, were having to do the same: Add and subtract the cost for each food item, weigh its necessity, hope you can manage to make it last.

But most of all, I wasn’t braced for the intensity of people’s reactions. Some posted comments online, others emailed me, and one conveyed his nearly unprintable remarks through a mutual friend.

People respond to what they believe to be true. But when the underlying beliefs are incorrect or “contrary to fact,” so are the conclusions. So let’s set the record straight on a few things right now:

You cannot use SNAP to purchase cigarettes, alcohol or lottery tickets.

You cannot use SNAP to purchase household items, personal care items or vitamins.

You cannot use SNAP to purchase medicines, either prescription or over the counter.

You can use SNAP only to purchase eligible food items.

This is the area where people disagree strongly – and loudly. Say you believe cookies and snacks shouldn’t be eligible. Well, what about fruit rolls, cheese crackers, granola bars or protein breakfast bars? Want to exclude steak from the list? What about low-cost family-sized packs, mark-downs or specials when beef costs less than chicken or cheese? And since we recognize the harm that results from a cheap, fast-food diet, how can we deny people access to the fresh foods that are also more expensive?

There’s an “us vs. them” component to all of this. That shouldn’t be surprising, because as long as we’re pointing fingers at each other, we don’t have to acknowledge the enormity of the problem.

Or the possibility that any of us could find ourselves hungry, sometime soon.

*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.

Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day One)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Two)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Three)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Four)


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Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Day Four

Leftovers. Photo by Amy Rogers.

Day Four:

Time for a mid-week reality check. The jug of milk has started to go sour. The fat in the leftover ground beef we cooked with last night’s spaghetti sauce has congealed into a bright orange slick. I may have just busted my budget by opening a Dollar Tree bag of Twizzlers I discovered in the pantry.

And I hate oatmeal.

I’m halfway through the SNAP* Challenge, trying to eat adequately and healthfully while spending no more than $31.50 for the entire week. At the beginning I was confident I could manage easily, but quickly learned how tricky it is plan, shop, budget and adapt to this way of thinking. Everything I typically buy is eligible, right? Not if I want a marked down rotisserie chicken at the end of a long workday. Hot foods aren’t allowed and neither are foods that can be eaten in the store.

Then there are the leftovers, unavoidable if you’re trying to get by on a food stamp budget. You can’t indulge in single-serving foods, so you’ll be looking at staples such as legumes and grains repeatedly on your plate. If you can afford fresh vegetables, you’ll need to prepare them early in the week and try to stretch them out. If you wait too long to cook them, some will certainly spoil. Tonight, leftover beef goes into a soft tortilla with tabouli on the side.

How often do we reach into a cupboard for some small item – garlic or Jell-O or just plain salt – without thinking twice about it? Canned soup, a bag of chips, pancake syrup: walking past but not having enough money to purchase these items at the grocery store has been peculiar and uncomfortable. Not because of any actual deprivation I’ve experienced, of course, but because it’s more tedious and frustrating than I want to admit, constantly calculating each item’s cost against that dwindling $31.50.

Actor Josh Malina is also taking the SNAP Challenge, and blogging about it. “I’m not necessarily hungry, but I’m finding myself thinking about food a lot. It’s something I normally take for granted,” he wrote on Wednesday.

And that’s the most startling thing about the seven-day experiment. It makes a person realize not simply how much we take for granted, but how habituated we can become to our own comfortable circumstances. Which got me to wondering: Just how many people currently rely on aid from SNAP?

The answer in North Carolina alone: 2.2 million.

*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.

Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day One)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Two)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Three)


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Runoff Elections A Snoozer For Most Of Us


For most North Carolinians, this time of the year is a time to focus on summer vacations, hitting the lake for some fishing, pool time, or just trying to stay cool. 

But for a few folks—and I mean a very few—their focus is on securing a spot on the November ballot in next week’s second primary election.

In the American electoral system, many elections are determined by the “first-past-the-post” system of winning. If the top-vote getter receives one more vote than the second-place candidate, the top vote-getter wins. 

So, in many states, a candidate who wins with a plurality (say, 35 percent of the vote) can secure their party’s nomination, even if a majority of votes are distributed among several other candidates.

In eight states, however, primary elections are subject to a runoff, with two other states (Kentucky and Vermont) providing for runoff elections for limited offices.

Unless a candidate receives a majority of the vote in a primary election in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, or Texas, then a run-off election is conducted between the top two candidates.

In Louisiana, with its completely open primary system, if no candidate gets a majority votes, then the top two candidates—regardless of party affiliation—go to a run-off. In Louisiana, that’s the general election. If only one candidate meets the 50 percent threshold, the election is concluded. 

North Carolina is rather unique, though, in run-off elections (or what are termed second primaries).  Instead of a 50 percent pure majority requirement, the threshold for securing the nomination is a “substantial plurality,” equating to 40 percent of the vote plus one. 

In addition, a run-off is not automatically required unless the second highest vote getter calls for such an election. 

In some circles, it is believed that if the top-vote getter doesn’t secure the nomination in the first election, that candidate may be doomed in the second—especially if that candidate is the incumbent.

In research done on runoff elections, political scientists Charles Bullock and Loch Johnson of the University of Georgia found that to be a myth.

In North Carolina’s runoff system, the past few elections have partially confirmed some of Bullock and Johnson’s findings, but there are exceptions.

Going back to 2004’s primary season, three of the marque contests—two U.S. House districts and the Superintendent of Public Instruction—showed the second-place finisher in the first primary ended up winning the runoff.

In only one of the four state house and senate races did the second-place finisher in the first primary end up winning the run-off.

2004 Primaries with Runoffs

US House of Rep 5th District (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






US House of Rep 10th District (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






Superintendent of Public Instruction (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State Senate 3 (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State Senate 7 (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State House 27 (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State House 67 (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results



North Carolina had three run-offs coming out of the 2008 first primary: Two Democratic races (commissioner of labor and state senate district 5) and one Republican race (state house district 67). 

In all three races, the top-vote getter in the first primary secured the nomination in the runoff.

2008 Primaries with Runoffs

Commissioner of Labor (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State Senate 5 (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State House 67 (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results



In 2010, five state offices were contested in the second primary election. In three of these races, the top-vote recipient won the runoff (second primary) and the nomination, but in two races (both on the Republican side for the 8th and 12th congressional districts), the top-vote getter lost the runoff.

2010 Primaries with Runoffs

US Senate (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






US House of Rep 8th District (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






US House of Rep 12th District (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






US House of Rep 13th District (Rep)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results






NC State Senate 21 (Dem)



First Primary Results



Second Primary Results



One other important point to make about runoff elections: with the first primary elections, we can see state-wide voter turnout anywhere from the mid-teens in 2010 to the mid-thirties in 2008 and 2012. 

With runoffs, voter turnout plummets: in 2008’s second primary elections, state-wide was 1.83 percent, while 2010’s second primary’s turnout was 4.5 percent, state-wide.

Granted, in local areas where the contests are most intense—like in the 8th and 9th Congressional districts surrounding Charlotte—we will most likely see a slightly higher turnout. But don’t bet on anything significant.

But most folks are more interested in going to the pool or casting a fishing road than casting ballots.

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