Olivia's never had much of an appetite. She knows her food habits are sketchy, verging on eccentric. Even as a child, she embodied the definition of a picky eater.
For a while as a kid she lived on sugar, the ubiquitous M&Ms practically the only thing she'd eat. At some point her taste buds seemed to reverse and all she wanted was salt: peanuts, chips of any kind, pretzels. The cravings eventually equalized somewhere in the middle, so that now her favorite homemade trail mix includes cashews, almonds, a few M&Ms, Chex cereal, sunflower seeds, some shreds of dried coconut and chunks of dried pineapple.
Olivia is not a vegetarian by any means; she has no moral qualms about being an omnivore, but her craving for meat is infrequent at best. It doesn't take a psychologist to discern why: when she thinks of red meat she sees her stepfather, hunched over the kitchen table holding knife and fork like trowels, roughly cutting into a steak so rare that the blood ran out to stain the tater tots.
She hates that image, permanently seared into her memory. The steak she can live without, but she still really likes tater tots, cooked so long that the crunchy outsides are nearly burnt. The memory keeps her from putting ketchup on them, so she resorts to the British tradition and uses malt vinegar instead.
So many vegetarians (and even vegans) bemoan the heartbreak that is bacon, luring them away from their soy and granola with the promise of primal, meaty ecstasy. Olivia likes the smell better than she enjoys the taste, unless it's so well done that it crackles and crumbles into shards in her mouth. Too often restaurants don't take her at her word and send out half-limp pieces of rubbery flesh, so she's stopped ordering bacon unless she sees an acceptably crisp slice on another diner's plate.
Olivia just doesn't like things that are *squishy.* She likes food to crunch between her teeth. Put a bowl of popcorn near her and she seeks after every last half-popped kernel of popcorn in the bowl with a vengeance. (Just the other day she'd overheard someone talking about a company that had perfected the art of making those crunchy nuggets and resolved to put in an order.) She'd nearly lived on microwave popcorn in college (as did half the dorm) until she got so sick of the smell she couldn't stand it anymore. After that Olivia had avoided popcorn entirely until Walter started making it in the lab, the smell reawaking her salivary glands. While she's still not overly interested in the artificial butter, the scent of freshly made kettle corn at a street fair brings her running.
Vegetables are more about texture than taste. Carrots and celery are perfectly acceptable, if boring; she'll eat greens when they're set in front of her, dutifully remembering her doctor's exasperation at each annual checkup. (The rest of the time, she depends on a multivitamin to keep all systems go.) Well-roasted corn is a favorite, although she never seems to get around to making it for herself, relying (again) on the omnipresent Boston street fairs to fulfill the craving. Fruit suffers from the same texture issue, but she's more apt to ignore that for a ripe, perfumed peach or berries of any kind. Apples occupy a high position on her spare grocery list, from tart Granny Smiths to sweet, crunchy Honeycrisps, which she buys by the bagful when they're in their brief season.
Despite her love of carbs she's not a pasta fanatic, although she does appreciate a good noodle kugel, a leftover remembrance from childhood and a Jewish resident on the Jacksonville base who made batches for her neighbors. Men who took Olivia to Italian restaurants for a first date (seemingly all of them, indicating perhaps there was a handbook she was unaware of) often commented when she ordered lightly dressed fish, if it was available, rather than a plate full of tasteless red sauce and gloppy cheese. John Scott hadn't commented, but their second date was at one of Boston's better seafood restaurants, John taking the cue like the attentive agent he was.
John was a gourmand, his appetite the opposite of hers. While she was with him, Olivia ate nearly like a normal person. He took her to eateries both fancy and low, the difference between white-table service and a greasy spoon lost to his sensibilities but not to his palate: he'd found a street vendor who made the most amazing falafel sandwiches, full of unfamiliar flavors and instantly addicting. She'd tasted foie gras for the first time with him (she wasn't impressed), and crème brûlée (the burnt sugar, predictably, her favorite part), and good caviar (the pure briny saltiness overcoming the consistency), which she thought could easily drain her bank account if she let herself indulge. John loved pit barbeque, greasy fried fish, and prime steaks all the same. She never could keep up with him, either in appetite or inclination to like everything, but Olivia appreciated that he encouraged her to try new things and never pushed her to eat more once she'd done so.
After John died she lapsed back into old habits, subsisting on dry cereal, toast, Indian takeout, and alcohol. The rare slice of pizza became an unctuous indulgence on her tongue. Gallons of coffee, of course, but that's been essential since she started at the FBI and she's pretty sure her body chemistry is half caffeine. Rachel liked to bitch about Olivia's eating habits, but it's not like hers were any better; only the fact that Ella needed actual nutrition kept them from resorting to french fries and cereal for every meal. While they were living in her apartment Olivia's fridge contained fruit again, and actual green things. Neither of them had inherited their mother's talent or interest in the stove, but Olivia and Rachel made the effort for Ella's sake. The meatloaf was a disaster, but stir-fry turned out to be simple, quick, and infinitely variable enough to satisfy a mercurial six-year-old's palate.
These days, it isn't uncommon for Peter or Astrid to call for takeout during late night investigations. Astrid likes to bake, and Walter is no less enthusiastic about food experiments than any other kind. His taste for sweets is particularly boundless, from the strawberry milkshakes to the blueberry pancakes smothered in syrup. There's always food of some kind in the lab, and even if it isn't especially healthy, at least Olivia remembers to eat more often.
Peter encourages her to experiment too, his tastes mirroring the span of his travels. Left to his own devices, he prefers the tiny dark stalls in Boston's Chinatown and lushly decorated Middle Eastern cafés to Americanized fast food. Like John, he'll eat just about everything but his tastes are more pronounced; he's "not a steakhouse kind of guy," as he once told Olivia. For Peter the act of exploring to find his dinner is just as much a part of the experience of eating it, and with him as a guide Olivia is beginning to pay actual attention to the food she eats rather than just fueling her body with whatever's at hand. When she sits down to a meal with Peter, she notices the way his mouth moves as he savors every bite, and the way each different flavor evokes a unique sensation on her tongue.
For the first time in her life, Olivia feels hungry.