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Tales of Empty Nesting ...The Next Chapter

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ruth Reichl Says It All

I have been an avid reader of Gourmet Magazine for over 20 years now. I just recently, for no good reason but laziness, allowed my subscription to lapse. Thankfully B. sent me this and I am going to rush off to renew my subscription. Reading this reminded me of why I love the magazine so much. It also speaks volumes about raising children to love food.

Letter From the Editor - Ruth Reichl of Gourmet Magazine - March 2007
Teach Your Children Well
"Be warned: This is a rant. If you don't want to listen, turn the page. But I recently read a laudatory article about the opening of a new shop in New York City dedicated to children's food, and the very notion drives me so crazy that I simply can't keep quiet.On the surface it seemed a rather charming idea: a shop dedicated to food that children will eat. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to feel that this epitomizes everything that's wrong with the way we eat today.
For starters, the notion that children are a separate species who require a different diet from the rest of us pretty much does away with the concept of the family meal. The point of eating together, it seems to me, is not just that we all sit down around the same table but also that we share the food. The same food.
Children study their parents--that is their primary job in life--and one of the things they absorb is the way the grown-ups eat. "Oh look, Mommy loves salad and Daddy thinks spaghetti alla bolognese is swell" is one lesson learned at the family table. The message is that these are delicious and desirable foods, and the obvious conclusion is "I'll probably like them, too." But if little Suzy and Sam get applesauce instead of salad and naked pasta in place of meat sauce, the lesson is quite different. What we are really telling our children is "You won't like what we are eating."
And yet we know that what children like is mostly learned. Japanese children are not born thinking that rice, fish, and seaweed are breakfast foods any more than American children are born with an innate preference for cereal. We tell them what they like, even if we don't say it in words.
No thinking person would force a child to eat food he didn't want. That turns the dinner table into a battleground and ultimately makes everyone miserable. It's just plain stupid. But by the same token, no conscious parent would really want to tell his children, night after night, that they are going to dislike the food that the grown-ups are eating.
The great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss did groundbreaking work when he observed that in turning the raw into the cooked we transform nature into culture; in other words, cooking is one of the ways in which we define ourselves as civilized creatures. Through our cooking, and our eating habits, we tell ourselves who we are. When we offer our children a different menu, we are telling them that they are different from us. And being different, that we also have different expectations of them. Why, then, should we be surprised that many modern children have such poor table manners? In giving them children's food, we are essentially telling them that they are not expected to behave like adults when they are at the table.
We're supposed to be the grown-ups, and when we ask children to choose their own food, we're offering them choices they would probably rather not make. And if we are incapable of making the easy decisions about what's for dinner, why should they trust us to make the harder ones? Offering children a special menu may make life momentarily more comfortable, but in the long run it's a cop-out, a way of walking away from one of the responsibilities of being a parent.
But there's an even more important reason for us to be dismayed by special menus aimed at pleasing your young palates. When we feed children the old familiar grilled cheese sandwiches and vanilla ice cream, we are teaching them to stick with the tried-and-true instead of encouraging them to dare to taste the new.
Sitting down to dinner, at any age, should be an invitation to the fabulous banquet that is life. The most important lesson we learn at the table is that great rewards await those who take chances. Do we really want to be telling our children, "Just eat your nice chicken nuggets"? It would make so much more sense to say, "Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is endlessly delicious."

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