There was always something I admired about the cafeteria trays in grade school. They kept my food separated and never allowed any liquids to seep into places they do not belong. While the regular plates in college feel more home-like, part of me wishes we stuck with the trays. During breakfast time, I cannot stand it when the syrup from my pancakes are absorbed into my potatoes with ketchup. During other occasions where some flavors of breakfast food can mix well together, I still do not want them touching each other. I have had this habit since I was little and I would get small enough portions to prevent this from happening. I felt awkward having my food neatly outlined on my Thanksgiving dinner plate while my family’s were filled to the brim and had gravy slathered on everything. The sight of corn on top of mashed potatoes? Absolutely not. Little did I know after all these years, there is a name for this tendency I have. The fear of food touching is called brumotactillophobia.
The recent term brumotactillophobia is not common among our vocabulary, especially since the term does not make complete sense when breaking it apart. Working backwards, I was familiar that phobia meant fear. The middle section, “tact,” is a Latin root word that translates to feeling or touching. For the last section, “brumo,” I had a difficult time using Google Translate to get a hint of its meaning. Through a Reddit post I found, there was belief this part should have been altered to “broma” which is, “The Greek derived particle referring to food.” Mixing Latin and Greek for a phobia did not seem right to me, but after searching for sources, this was the best I could use, showing that there is not enough familiarity with this phobia. Furthermore, brumotactillophobia is commonly mentioned in food magazines and not often by scientists. When trying to search databases for scientific studies about this fear, I was left with a blank screen, making me wonder if people who identified with this term just adopted without question instead of figuring out how it was created. Regardless of where the term came from, there is still a community of people who can relate to its implied meaning.
Those who claim to have brumotactillophobia are in distress when their foods touch, but the amount of distress can vary. For myself, I usually eat around the pieces of food that have contacted the other, but it is not enough for me to feel concerned. For others, a gag reflex may be triggered by this and they may request for a new plate. Brumotactillophobia can range from a small “quirk” to a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Either way, all parties want to enjoy the flavors of food separately from one another and it does not always mean that their food intake decreases. In fact, there are tools other than a typical lunch tray to divide food while still eating on the same plate.
While searching for other people’s experiences with this phobia, using a Food Cubby Plate Divider was recommended during Thanksgiving. There are additional forms of dividers on Amazon, depending on which shape the individual prefers. As I scrolled through the reviews, there were dozens of comments on how people were very satisfied that they no longer had to worry about this issue. I could relate to everyone’s feelings, except for the misconception that people who need to have their food separated are picky eaters. Separating foods does not mean that a person holds a grudge against eating. It just shows their desire to be in charge of their plate, whether it is the flavors and textures or the feeling of decision making. Those who have brumotactillophobia, at least speaking for myself, want to enjoy the same foods as everyone else, just not all at once.
Thanksgiving and holiday dinners are coming up soon, so that means I am either going to return for seconds so my mac and cheese does not mix with my turkey, or I am going to be very meticulous about the portion size. But hey, I might find myself purchasing a plate divider now that I am aware they exist. The origin of the term brumotactillophobia is still unclear from its lack of appearance in psychiatry, and it is difficult to discern how many people can identify with the condition. Nevertheless, if brumotactillophobia resonates with me and my annoyance of food touching, I will keep using it until a more correct term has been made clear.