One of my myriad baby making acquaintances and I were talking the other day about what she is going to feed her child (after she’s done breastfeeding, of course). She was saying that she wanted to set up “rules” about what would be eaten around the house, and I was arguing against this idea. I grew up with essentially no rules under my father’s care, and I think that I eat a reasonably healthy, balanced diet, although I probably eat more than I need to, strictly speaking.
When I was a kid, I didn’t really have any fast food, pizza, soft drinks, chips, or storebought sweets. I did have a lot of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and fish, with smaller portions of red meat. We also usually had something like cake or pie around, but we took awhile to work our way through it, eating small portions and encouraging others to assist. The pie protocol in our house also dictated high quality ingredients and culinary experimentation, two important qualities in all cooking, in my opinion. A lot of this food, incidentally, was locally raised; sometimes in my own backyard. My father didn’t need to tell me not to eat junk food, because I didn’t have interest in it. I mean, really. Like I would be invited over to friend’s houses and I would ask for water when their parents offered soda.
I think that Americans are experiencing a crisis of diet, and that many parents are really struggling with this issue because they see kids getting fat all over the nation. I don’t think that rules are the answer, though. I think that education is the answer, so that parents will demonstrate a healthy diet for their children, encouraging their kids to eat great food. I’m willing to bet that the Sardine, for example, is going to grow up a lot like I did, experiencing a range of foods and flavors and never touching trashy, fatty food which is bad for you physically and mentally, in my opinion. I doubt that he’s going to be tempted by the mysteries of trashy food, because he’ll already be initiated into the delight of good food.
We’re fat as a culture because we live in a country which places a lot of emphasis on quick, easy meals. People are encouraged to eat shitty burgers from McDonald’s. The grocery store entices them with transfat laden muffins and extra large tubs of ice cream. Many Americans eat a lot of garbage because they don’t know any better, and they eat it in huge volumes because we’re all about bigger is better. And we pass these traits onto our children because our children do as we do, not as we say. (I’m using the royal we here, not hiding anything from you, dear readers, I swear.)
In the case of my friend S, who was talking about the rule setting, I don’t think she has anything to worry about. I think her kid will grow up loving vegetables and fruit and eschewing soda because that’s how S is, so that’s what her kid will be exposed to. Rules only create temptations where there were none, and I don’t see why more people don’t recognize this. I’m sure that if my father had told me not to eat potato chips, I would have been all them every time every time I saw them. Since he didn’t, they weren’t a forbidden fruit for me, and I expressed a lack of interest in junk food which was considered appalling by many of my friends.
I can remember almost every time that my father brought something like soda home. I remember one summer, for example, I was sick, and he bought root beer and vanilla ice cream to make floats. I might have actually just had dental work; I seem to recall him making a lot of pudding and other soft foods around this time. At any rate, it was a rare and unusual treat for me, and I appreciated it all the more because I didn’t get root beer and vanilla ice cream every day. And I certainly didn’t clamor for it afterwards, because my father had taught me that one appreciates things more when they are rare, rather than frequent.
I remember once we were eating dinner and my father said “you know, the French believe that you should always finish a meal slightly hungry.” Whether or not it’s true, I think it’s a good philosophy to have, because things always taste sweeter when we know that they are precious, rather than abundant.