Food-No-Touchees; Defeated Again!

Thanksgiving Dinner in a Cake

Thanksgiving Dinner…in a Cake!

Is there a formal name for this phobia some people have about the foods on their plate…touching?

It is common to see children squirm and pout when a piece of meat overlaps on to their green beans. Kids seem to instinctively understand that beans go here and potatoes go there and never the twain shall meet.

Some adults lose that wisdom, as they grow older and less attentive. I do not count myself among their number.

I may not eat at their table, but I am nevertheless with the Food-Aphephobic kids in spirit: the different foods on the plate should not touch!

Every Thanksgiving, as my Mother-in-Law’s groaning table sends around turkey, stuffing, artichokes, eggplant parmesean, broccoli, spinach, stuffed mushrooms, sweet potatoes and all the rest of that particular course, my grown nephew, my pre-school-aged nieces and I must deal with the logistics of the plate, and the thoughtless teasing of family-members who cannot muster up a bit of inclusive sensitivity for the Food-No-Touchees in their midst.

Although the pre-schoolers are still imperfect in their discipline, we Food-No-Touches are silent sufferers; we observe our rituals as discreetly as possible, so as not to make ourselves targets of familial ridicule and flying dinner rolls. We do not partake of gravy, which never stays where you put it and ends up touching other foods that were never meant to be gravified. A slice of cranberry on the meat does nicely, as turkey and cranberries are permitted to touch. Peas, however, roll into other foods, so they are banished, along with creamed carrots.

We are not food snobs; our quest is to maintain food-space-integrity, not to get to heaven through our guts. Food-No-Touchees find something both comforting and aesthetically pleasing in having constructed minimal foodgroup barriers on our plates. Yes, we’re a little neurotic, but it’s a victimless obsession.

Unfortunately, the sheer amount of dishes at the Thanksgiving entree–far, far too many, and all contributed by Italians who will be insulted if you don’t at least “taste” their offering–simply defeats a Food-No-Touchee. At some point, someone who thinks they are “helping” takes a spoonful of sweetpotato and slops it onto one’s dish, cheerfully suggesting that “it all goes to the same place.” When that happens, the children scream and we adult No-Touchees, accustomed to this overt, socially-permitted FoodAphephobiaPhobicism (the last acceptable prejudice!) stare silently at our plates with stricken eyes. My nephew and I exchange knowing glances. At this point, the only way to save Thanksgiving is to make sure that we discreetly eat the now-despoiled foods in their correct order; for him that means starting at the top of the plate and eating around in a clockwise fashion; for me it is all about heat density. Potatoes are consumed first. Then meat. Then vegetables. To have a bite of turkey, followed by a forkful of spinach, and then some eggplant, with another bite of turkey would be unthinkable for either of us.

Fortunately, the family has never caught on to what my son Buster refers to as our “single-file eating,” or we’d never live it down.

It’s bad enough that they’ve figured out that we’re also crumb-phobics; my nephew and I cannot tolerate crumbs on the table, and are very quick to help clear the dishes and sweep the tablecloth. Now that we are discovered, the cruelest people will call our names and–when they’ve gotten our attention–smile as they crumble a bit of breadcrust at their plates.

We are learning to shudder in silence, and keep smiling.

The horror...

The horror…

UPDATE: It’s called Brumotactillophobia, thanks to reader AnnF!

Hating Thanksgiving, and Knowing that That’s Wrong!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Joan of Argghh!

    I never knew cranberry tasted good on turkey until they accidentally touched on my plate. I always treated the cranberry sauce as a food-wave-offering to our pilgrim forebears.

    Meanwhile, my son the chef, prays the Food-No-Touchees dine anywhere else but at his restaurant.

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  • AnnF

    At least two people at my family dinner yesterday also have this phobia. Googled it: Brumotactillophobia.

  • Lifelong Lutheran

    “Different foods on the plate should not touch!”

    A concept that my father–he who had no scruples about piling creamed corn atop his mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes on his green beans and apple sauce on his pork chops–could never seem to get. “It’s all going to the same place,” was his line of reasoning. To which my brothers and sister and I would reply: “But Dad, that doesn’t mean they have to travel together!”

  • Maude

    My sympathy to those who suffer from any phobia, but I must share this little story.
    Our oldest son seemed to have this phobia. I never mentioned it due to I do not like my foods overlapping. He would put one or two items on his plate, eat that then eat another one or two items. Then he joined the Army! His first leave home to a huge home cooked meal, I was shocked when he fixed his plate, meat, potato and gravey, then put corn on top of it all. I never said a word, it seems his phobia was cured.

  • shana

    I don’t particularly mind if my food touches anymore, (although I used to be – I’ve made myself accept the fact that it happens deal with it! in a kind of self-discipline) I do like to eat my food in order.

    I still prefer to eat the least desirable thing first, and the most desirable thing last. I do not like to see crumbs on a table either.

    I remember a story I was told years ago by a priest, about having lunch with John Paul II. It was the Holy Father’s habit to have bread and maybe some cheese with a little wine for lunch. He would very carefully gather up every crumb of bread from his plate or that had strayed to the table and eat it, so you are in good company, Elizabeth!

    Also, a German friend of ours said that his grandmother would admonish all of her grandchidren not to let one crumb of bread go to waste because Jesus came to us as bread, and not one crumb of bread was to be wasted.

  • shana

    Sorry – that last line should have read: because Jesus came to us as bread and it was a sin to waste even one crumb.

  • Doug

    A former brother-in-law was an extreme food-no-touchee. He would put one food item on his plate, eat it and the rinse off his plate before putting the next item on it.

  • pdn Michael

    My mother, although in the interest of eliminating dirty dishes, a few years ago started using those segmented styrofoam dinner plates; you know, with like 5 sections separated by a mold that apparently forms different sized “cups” in the plate. No touch freight!

  • Dave G

    Hard for me to summon up charity here, though I will try.

    Grow up!

  • Victor

    For what “IT” is worth, you have my sympathy Anchoress but I won’t start explaining “IT” here and now. :)

    You and your readers have a very happy American Thanksgiving weekend.


  • Teresa

    If you want to break the habit try mixing two compatible things together. Lifelong Lutheran’s father reminded me of myself. I love mixing corn with mashed potatoes, or even plain corn for that matter. And, if you don’t want to break the habit, don’t worry about it and never be embarrassed about it. I come from an Italian family and it is almost impossible to keep the food separated.

  • Maggie45

    Elizabeth, how do you do with stews, or casseroles, where everything is mixed while cooking, before it even arrives on your plate?

  • Nan

    Maggie, some foods are permitted to touch; stews, casseroles and the like are categorized as a single food. It’s when the potato chips touch the meat oozing out of the sloppy joe bun that there’s a problem.

    Someone actually diagnosed me based on my use of a segmented plate a few months ago; I had taken the next plate on the stack, but it worked well.

    Incidentally, dill pickles are evil because the juice travels.

    [Exactly. Also, it helps to have a sense of humor! :-) -admin]

  • Regina

    I don’t mind food touching, but I do tend to eat one thing at a time. What annoys me is people plopping food on my plate – I like to serve myself, thanks.

    I especially do this at breakfast because I hate eating cold fried eggs. They’re so delicious when hot and so yucky cold. Eggs are eaten first, then meat, then potatoes, if I’m having them, then toast last. Always.

    When I was young, my maiden aunties would push food, because I had to “match” the food on my plate. I just wanted to eat one thing at a time, not pile meat, potato, veg, all on each forkful going into my mouth.

    It’s the food police that get me. If you want to keep your food apart, fine. If you want to have some of everything on your plate in each bite, that’s fine with me as well. Just leave me alone with my idiosyncracies, please.

    One of my aunts who would fling food onto my plate was a food fuss as a child – she had to have her meat cut into bite size pieces arranged on the rim of her plate, mashed potatoes in the center with gravy in a well in the center, and vegetables in separate dishes near the plate. each type of food was eaten in turn. Nothing touched until it got into her stomach.

  • dry valleys

    I like combining different types of food in one mega-dish. However, I violently hate people who use dirty knives to handle things, for example getting toast crumbs, peanut butter etc in a butter dish, or who end up contaminating a jar with something. Is that a similar sort of thing?

    [Yes...sort of like my anti-crumb fetish! :-) -admin]

  • Klaire

    Dave G this isn’t a maturity thing. Until reading this post, I thought it was “just me.”

    I won’t even eat Chinese lunch specials if they pile it all on one plate, regardless of the discounted lunch price. Nothing less appetizing than a salad melding in with the rice and curry.

    Most of it for me is taste, best compared to topping a favorite food with a least favorite food, totally destroying the fav food.

    I also admit there must be some psychology to it as well, as I always eat one item at a time, never go from item to item. Perhaps my brain is too slow to adapt to the different taste, so I do each one one at a time.

    The other thing for me is that when I do mix food, as in a bit of curry on rice, I only want a small amount, not a pile of rice swimming in high fat curry sauce.

    I totally admit it’s weird, but it’s the only way I can enjoy eating, and at my age, not going to waste calories I don’t enjoy.

  • CHS

    “food-space-integrity” :)

  • Kris, in New England

    My brother is a no-food-touchee. We poked fun at him when we were younger, our parents included. As he got older though, and held onto his belief that each food should stand alone, we let it go.

    It is despicable that anyone should be teased for their own peccadilloes.

    We all have them, after all.

  • Sarah

    While it all goes to the same place, we all know what it tastes like when it comes back up after its been there, too. Yuck!!!!

    Why hasten that degradation by allowing the different foods to commingle on the plate!

  • laura

    I love combinations of food and have no problem with any eating a bite of this then that, food touching and even purposefully putting several different food items on the fork at the same time. The more the merrier. However, like Regina, I want to serve myself. My husband a notouchee, one thing at a time eater, always wants to serve other people leaving them little choice. He will say it’s hospitality, but unfortunately it comes across as pushy.

  • Mike

    Wow, I wonder if there is a reverse phobia. I try to get as much variety as I can onto my fork at once — for me, it’s the combination that makes the flavor called “Thanksgiving.” If, for example, the sweet potatoes aren’t going to be ready for another 15 minutes, it’s better to wait before eating anything at all, because it won’t feel complete otherwise.

    Also, when piling my plate, I make a point of getting a little of everything. If there are 15 items on the buffet, I make sure I have all 15 on my plate. The balance is off if I get seven and go back later for 8 more.

    If I sit down and realize I missed something, I’m back up to get it before eating.

  • Michael

    About 10 years ago, when my wife and I were first dating, I was invited to have dinner with her, her father, and her 3 year old godson. It had been a pleasant day until we asked Elijah why he wasn’t eating his two favorite foods. He looked at us with watery eyes and with trembling voice managed to say “the pizza is touching my french fries!” It was very long and stressful dinner after that. This is still a catchphrase in our house.
    As for myself, I tend to keep foods separate but am not too fussy except when my wife foists green beans or spinach to go with pizza. That’s just wrong! However, my compulsion is that I cut up all my food before I’ll eat anything. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s a getting the ducks in a row sort of thing.

  • jwm

    Flavors on a plate are like colors in a painting. They belong where they belong. If you smear them all together it just turns brown.
    Best laugh I’ve had all weekend. Thanks.



    I really cannot understand how people can not let their food touch or take a forkful of two kindsof food at the same time—–especially on Thanksgiving–I like at least cranberry sauce with every mouthful ! Also with pasta and meatballs –eat meatballs first,then pasta.Wow,iguess everyone to there own taste!! Do they eat casseroles or soups ? I’d say they have a real problem—-Good Luck !!!!!!!

  • Ellen

    I have food issues. I’m not a no touchee, but there are some foods that I can’t face. Like eggs. Eggs are evil, just evil and they set off my gag reflex. So do olives and boiled okra.

  • TL

    No-touchies inhabit other star systems as well. According to at least one old (dismally written) Star Trek-related novel, Klingons rigidly keep their foods separate on their plate – but then, you have to wonder whether, in their case, they would really have to work at times to keep some of their foods from crawling around the plate and eventually mingling. At least on our planet food generally stays put on a plate.

    [You never ate my mother's chicken soup. It could get up and walk around, it was so thick! -admin]

  • Phil Fox Rose

    I don’t mind my foods touching each other, but what I can’t deal with at “family style” meals like Thanksgiving is other PEOPLE touching my food. Growing up in a WASP home, I never encountered the boisterous, arms-reaching-everywhere, no-sacred-personal-space reality of large ethnic family meals until later in life. Much of it I love, but the one table-manners sin for which I have little forgiveness is when someone else puts food on or takes food off my plate without my asking. (I will forever have etched in my mind the TV ad from my NYC childhood for a play where one character says while reaching for someone’s plate, “I’m not hungry, I’ll just pick.” As a child that sent shudders through me.) Better putting on than taking off, but still, that well-meaning relative who slopped the sweet potatoes onto your plate… Ugh.

  • Aengus O’Shaughnessy

    I’m a sailour by trade, and, when one is stuck at sea in an old-fashioned wooden ship, one may be forced to live off of hard-tack, raw fish, cheese past its prime, etc. As a result, I’m not picky about my victuals touching each other, and in fact, I tend to mix everything together on my plate and eat the lot with a spoon. The only food that I’m not fond of is brussels sprouts (yuck), but other than that I will eat anything, and enjoy it. Even the raw fish.

  • dymphna

    Well this was interesting. My niece once had a melt down because her tomato sauce touched the corn. I thought she was being a brat and didn’t speak to her for the rest of dinner. Now I know the poor thing just had a quirk.

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  • Christine

    I understand your plight. I am not a food not touchee, but I am a “food on my plate must all have flavors that work well together”. This means that I will instinctively not eat certain offerings at gatherings, or even have them on the plate, because they do not taste well with the other items I have on the plate.

    It’s also neurosis, but I am okay with it.

  • c matt

    I do like to eat my food in order.

    I still prefer to eat the least desirable thing first, and the most desirable thing last.

    I am also a food-in-order eater. However, I usually base it upon recommended food temperature – the foods that should be eaten hot first to those that can be tolerated at a cooler temperature in sequence (so, for instance, hot meat first, then mashed potatoes, then veggies)