I am dating a guy who is borderline Mr. Perfect but has no appreciation of food. He'd be happy to have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner every night. He eats my cooking but I can tell he doesn't really "get" why I bother, and he is averse to foodie expeditions to find, say, the best pho in town. Now our relationship is becoming serious, so my question is this: Can you really trust someone who doesn't care about food? Is it just one of those flaws I should strive to accept, or is it a sign of something deeper wrong with him? Would it be rude of me to try to change him—and if not, how do I do it?
—Lives to Eat
Dear Lives to Eat,
It's surprisingly common for Chowhounds to fall in love with people who'd just as soon take their meals in pill form, as this discussion thread shows. And when I shared your problem with readers of The Kitchn, many of them sympathized. BuffMama writes: "My husband of 11 years enjoys only 1. plain, dried-out chicken 2. Jiffy Peanut Butter on WHITE bread 3. Pasta with PLAIN Hunts tomato sauce (nothing added, thank you)." Similarly, leavingthecity complains of a fiancé who eats only "pasta, campbells canned soup, and some weird chicken with canned gravy over noodles."
But is a penchant for PB&J grounds for dumping? Depends on your priorities. LitNerd sputters, "Seriously? He's not a foodie so he's not trustworthy? That's ridiculous. That's akin to him being a football fanatic who considers dumping you because you don't want to go to games with him. " But to somebody whose life is football, it might not seem so ridiculous. If talking about, thinking about, dreaming about, and cooking food are major pieces of your personality and identity, sitting across the table from someone who might as well be chewing on cardboard could justifiably be a deal-killer.
Here's the good news: People who really don't enjoy eating are even more unusual than people who don't enjoy sex. So I doubt your boyfriend's PB&J habit is a symptom of deep-seated psychological issues. More likely, he was brought up on boxed mac 'n' cheese and that has crippled his appreciation of food. When people claim not to enjoy salad, for instance, it often means they were raised on iceberg and wilted romaine and have never tasted, say, a Shaved Fennel and Strawberry Salad.
Sometimes a person's pedestrian palate can mislead you into thinking he's a nonfoodie, whereas in fact he's appreciating that PB&J (or canned gravy) much more than you think. When I met my husband, I thought he was uninterested in food, because he would eat vegetables only in the form of salsa and considered vanilla the world's greatest ice cream flavor. But he appreciates a homemade ice cream made with fresh Madagascar vanilla beans and was extremely supportive of my quest for the perfect salsa.
A good way to try to awaken your boyfriend's food appreciation is to cook delicious dishes for him but work within his existing taste parameters. Or, as Kitchn reader EriktheRed suggests, "you need to encourage him to take the journey to find the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Who makes the best bread … Who has the best peanut butter (I actually prefer Whole Foods crunchy house brand), who has the best jam ..." Paradoxically, once you've shown that you fully support his PB&J habit, you might find he is willing to try more new dishes in return. Just don't expect him to start cooking them.