By Liz McLean, F.E.A.S.T. Parent and Volunteer
Sometimes, only sometimes, I wish that I were Beyonce, because then my dressing room would be stocked with gardenias, Pellegrino, and sushi. Brand-new socks and professionally tailored sweatpants would be waiting for me when I arrived in my pink car chauffeured by Jake Ryan (yeah, Sixteen Candles!) And no one would be allowed to speak the word forte. Ever. It would all be detailed in my rider clause. Rider clauses allow artists to require conditions of their dressing rooms and venues in general.
These requests seem commonplace now, but in 1982 when Van Halen wrote “no brown M&Ms backstage” this was unheard of. Contractually, if a venue had brown M&Ms, Van Halen could bail and the promoter would eat the cost of the show. There were times when David Lee Roth showed up at a venue and found the brown M&Ms; he would destroy things backstage and have a tantrum. As he describes it today, in these cases, he wasn’t losing his temper, but using it purposely. He wanted word to get to other promoters and upcoming venues on the tour. No brown M&Ms backstage. When more closely examined Van Halen’s contract and David Lee Roth’s behavior on the surface level, overindulgent, was highly astute. And so it goes with ARFID.
How is ARFID like these rider clauses?
It’s got multiple parallels. The most obvious being the exorbitant conditions.
Most people prefer one brand of food to another, a chain of restaurant, and type of meat, etc. And many adults avoid certain beverages because they made us ill after a night of revelry. But where it becomes ARFID, as opposed to preference, is at the “no brown M&Ms” and “only white flowers” type of eaters. The “if there are brown M&Ms I won’t eat anything at all,” regardless of my body having no fuel.
The ARFID eater’s rider includes, but is not limited to, food temperature, brand, presentation, texture, and smell of the limited food choice options. In addition, the eating venue better be perfect as well. If these conditions aren’t met an ARFID eater will roll up 1980s big hair rocker style and trash your kitchen, metaphorically, and possibly, literally. Here are some real-life examples of clauses.
-No red foods
-No runny foods
-Perfect consistency of foods like yogurt and applesauce, no lumps
-If you have a mixed food situation like sushi for example all of the components must have an even consistency such as the rice.
-Perfect color of yellow for scrambled eggs, no slime
-Not too many seeds in a bread
-Not too spicy
-“The same mac n’ cheese as we had that one time . . . at what’s his names house.” But it must be the microwavable version of that same kind.
-Not too much sauce and must be from a new bottle.
-Not too tart.
-The banana must be visually perfect on the outside peel as well as the inside.
-Celery must be destringed.
-The air temp must be 72 degrees at the table.
-Cue my audio book to track 8 for lunch listening.
You get the point. Many of these are subjective using the word “too”. Give me no brown M&Ms any day. That’s an objective mark I can hit. Personally, these clauses have been tough for me to follow as I grew up in a “we do not indulge our children” and a “I’m not cutting your crusts off” kind of house. Moreover, as my daughter’s ARFID waxes and wanes so do these demands. It’s always a moving target with how much she demands and how much I comply. There have been meals where the conditions have not been right, and she has channeled her inner David Lee Roth (as would any 11-year-old girl) saying “I’m not going to eat anything then.” And I have replied with a simple “ok, I can’t make you eat.” Sorry, no show tonight Cleveland.
At first Beyonce, Van Halen, and ARFID all seem like divas of epic proportions. However, when we dig deeper into these contracts, they have a more important and meaningful purpose than exercising star power. They are to help ensure safety.
Van Halen’s 1982 “Hide Your Sheep” tour was vast, making stops in smaller markets such as Columbia, SC and Valley City, KS. They were traveling with the lighting of, well . . . a 1980s Van Halen show. The electrical and structural requirements needed to support such a production were no joke. They found these smaller venues completely unprepared for the scope. No brown M&Ms were the chirping canary in the coal mine of big hair rock production safety. They indicated that the whole contract (the rider was buried in the middle) had been read and taken seriously. It was a brilliant safety measure. And likewise, ARFID riders are a safety measure as well, all be them less brilliant.
ARFID eaters’ nervous systems, while misguided, make these bizarre requirements with the goal of safety. Are they irrational and excessive? Yes, but still following their biological sense of survival. Many foods due to their taste, texture, appearance, smell, etc. are threatening. My daughter recently told me that she used to eat saltines and rice cakes because she knew that they couldn’t “go bad.” When viewed as a survival mechanism, it becomes easier to be compassionate about ARFID and sometimes pull out the brown M&Ms until our kiddos’ reptilian brains gain the confidence that they are safe.