Friday, November 2, 2007

Deceptively Delicious

A friend asked me if I had read Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld, yet. I hadn't, but since kids and food are always an interest, I looked it up on the internet. I don't think I will be buying this book. I suppose that the book fills a niche (especially since Seinfeld lists three other books with the same idea that have been published in the last two years), and I can certainly sympathize with a frazzled mom trying to get her kids to eat, but still... the whole idea seems to violate the integrity of the food she serves. Some of her combinations are pretty normal - I thought everyone put carrots in meatloaf. But some of the dishes she touts on her website go beyond odd: Chicken Nuggets (with Broccoli or Spinach or Sweet Potato or Beet), Chocolate Cake (with Beets), Blueberry Oatmeal Bars (with Spinach), Brownies (with Carrot and Spinach), and worst of all, Scrambled Eggs (with Cauliflower). In these cases, the vegetable puree seems to fight the food it is inserted in rather than complementing it.

To her credit, Seinfeld recognizes that this isn't the most honest way to teach kids to eat vegetables: "I am also aware that some parents disagree with the concept of hiding vegetables in meals for their kids. Certainly, every parent needs to make the best decisions and adopt the right approach for her or his own family. For myself, I would have much preferred that my two picky eaters had accepted vegetables in their natural form from day-one, but after years of alternatively battling and conceding to them, I knew I had to come up with another approach. I chose a safe and tasty alternative to whole vegetables that made sense for them - and it worked for my entire family as well. But best of all, the hidden veggie approach has helped them acquire a taste for the real thing." And she appears to be open with her kids about what she is doing; she is deceiving taste buds rather than kids.

I find it interesting that of the nine dishes Seinfeld showcases on her website, only the meatloaf and the scrambled eggs even begin to look healthy. All the rest are high in sugar and/or fat. So what she is really trying to do is insert healthy vegetables into a basically unhealthy diet. No wonder her kids don't like the authentic flavors of food, if they are used to a diet of cheese, pancakes, chicken nuggets, and desserts. Even if the chicken nuggets are baked instead of fried, the chicken origin is obliterated until the food is anonymous - it could be made of anything, and adding some vegetables probably doesn't make any difference.

I guess what really bugs me is that brownies with spinach puree reminds me of the way I wrap my dog's pills in bacon grease to get her to eat them. Food should be enjoyed for what it is, not taken as medicine; American food thinking tends to emphasize the nutrition aspect and ignore the aesthetic aspect, which is why we have such a weird relationship with food, and why we tolerate such garbage under the heading “snack food”. We bounce from one nutrition recommendation to the next, turning each into a fad but making no lasting changes to our diet. People are told to eat squash because it is good for them, rather than reminded that winter squash, yams, and sweet potatoes taste best in the fall and winter, when green vegetables are scarce, and that they are warming foods with which to enjoy cold weather. We get prescriptions instead of celebrations, but, since people will always choose something enjoyable over something commendable, we forget to take our medicine after a while.

American kids are treated no better. They are told to eat their broccoli if they want dessert - as if broccoli is cod-liver oil, something that no adult would willingly eat. And if adults won't eat something, no self-respecting kid will. On the other hand, children who learn (by watching their parents) that food is enjoyable, interesting to talk about, fun to explore will try new foods more or less readily. Of course they will have their favorites: my kids will eat spinach salad willingly enough but not cooked spinach. But if they are served a wide variety of foods, many of which are vegetables, then it won't matter much if they refuse to eat one or two of them.

Children crave adult food and will generally eat whatever their parents prefer to eat, but they are smart enough to recognize frauds. So what it comes down to is that if kids are going to eat vegetables, maybe the parents should learn to enjoy real food first so they can set a good example. Eat local food in season. Cook from scratch regularly - it is often faster than using packaged foods. Don't disguise food. Explore the vast number of options of interesting ingredients out there. Go to the farmers' market with your child and let them choose a vegetable to try - and if you haven't ever eaten it, so much the better (just ask the vendor how to cook it before you leave). Avoid anything with an ingredients list that is mostly unpronounceable. Start enjoying a wide variety of good food, and you won't have to worry about the latest prescription - or puree beets to put in brownies.

1 comment:

Valli said...

Hooray!! Finally someone who can articulate my same feelings about food and the great impact we have on kids (and adults) by teaching others to appreciate all aspects of what we consume as an adventure, not medication.
Thanks for the wonderful insight.