Pixar does what it does best with its new masterpiece, Inside Out, which shows us the world of eleven-year-old Riley through her personified emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Its exploration of how someone emotionally responds to the changes around them – and how that process can at times be a struggle – is hilarious, clever, and utterly heart-warming.

Audiences see the development of everything from Riley’s most cherished memories, like family time and playing hockey, to her most intense dislikes, chief among which is broccoli. Pixar animators were so keen to emphasize this aversion that they based the design of the character Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling, on the verdant vegetable. Initially, it seems that Riley’s encounters with the offending greens lead only to revulsion – when being fed as a baby, or when offered broccoli pizza. Later, when Joy and Sadness descend into her subconscious and face a forest of the florets, broccoli is revealed to be one of her deepest fears.

Mindy Kaling Disgust Inside OutMindy Kaling and her Inside Out character, Disgust. From Mindy Kaling’s Instagram page.

There doesn’t appear to be any official term for ‘a fear of broccoli’, though one might informally describe Riley as having ‘broccoli phobia’. Of course, it is worth remembering that the word ‘phobia’ has varying definitions. Medically speaking, a phobia is more than just a simple fear; it is an overpowering fear which can incapacitate the sufferer, forcing them to avoid the cause. There can be noticeable physical symptoms, from nausea to trembling. ‘Simple phobias’, often forming in early years, focus on certain objects or activities – the fear of spiders, or of climbing to a height, for instance. ‘Complex phobias’ usually come about in adulthood, with more profound concerns. ‘Agoraphobia’ is a prime example: more than just ‘a fear of open spaces’, it greatly depends on the situation in which the sufferer finds themselves.

Broccoli 2Broccoli, photographed by Flickr user Mike Licht.

Understandably, Riley’s fear of broccoli does not fit this definition. It is more in line with the wider use of ‘phobia’ to suggest ‘strong dislike, or aversion’. In the absence of a ‘proper’ term, the closest substitute would be ‘lachanophobia’‘a fear of vegetables’ – of which there are various real-life examples. Consider student Vicki Larrieux, who claims to have panic attacks at the sight of most vegetables and largely subsists on meat, grains, and potatoes, as well as the odd apple. A similar case is that of London resident Dee Vyas, whose fear confines her to dietary staples and snacks. Lachanophobia has also made it into animation. The Australian children’s series Figaro Pho features a segment where its titular character, who is affected by every possible phobia, engages in trench warfare with peas and pumpkins.

peanut-butter-‘Arachibutyrophobia’ – ‘The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth’ – was invented by Charles M. Schulz for his comic strip Peanuts. Photo by deborahmiller56 at Pixabay.

It is easy to find lists of ‘weird food phobias’ online. Some of these were originally jokes, but have since been confused as real. ‘Arachibutyrophobia’, or ‘the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth’, falls into this category – it was actually thought up by Charles M. Schulz for his comic strip Peanuts. Fabricated phobias can be found listed next to medical conditions, blurring the lines between fake and real, dislike and disorder. This can also make it difficult to take particular phobias seriously.

For example, ‘cibophobia’ or ‘sitophobia’ is ‘a fear of eating’, which might be regarded as ridiculous or even impossible. ‘How can someone live if they’re afraid of eating?’ is a dismissive question that might come to mind. That ignores the genuine issues faced by those who may fear eating because of the resulting symptoms, such digestive pain caused by a pre-existing illness. This was the case with Faye Campbell, a British carer who had gastroesophageal reflux, which causes painful indigestion. She developed a phobia of food which remained even after the condition was cured. Unable to stomach fruits and vegetables, she grew accustomed to a diet largely composed of processed foods.

Green PeppersGreen peppers – not so popular with children in Japan. Photo by Flickr user liz west.

Food phobias may have a wide variety of origins – anything from childhood trauma to religious custom might be responsible. They may also differ by community. This is something the Pixar team acknowledged when adapting Inside Out for viewers in Japan. Rather than show Riley refuse broccoli, held to be very popular in the country, they used green peppers, which is especially disliked by Japanese children. This change, small enough to miss, seems to jump audiences from the mind of a girl into the mind of a nation, demonstrating that phobias – here in the ‘dislike’ rather than ‘disorder’ sense – are not just specific to individual people, but also to cultures on a whole.