If you remember , you know that my wife has created an incredible fruit/vegetable garden in our yard. In a small amount of land, she has peas, beans, carrots, strawberries, beets, and much more. At this time of year, there are a good number of plants producing; asparagus, chard, lettuces, onions. My two favorite plants producing this time of year are strawberries and peas. We must have 15 strawberry plants, and 20 pea plants. We should be able to harvest this, and use it in a fresh culinary innovation, but we never get a chance. We have two major pests that grab the fruits of the plants before we can. They are not insects, rodents, or marsupials. The pests are our children.
Our girls are 5 and 3 years old, and they are pretty adventurous eaters. Like all parents though, my wife and I have to cater our desires to their tastes. I would love to make some wonderful Indian dishes, but to our girls, this is “too spicy”. So, it is a nice homemade Mac and Cheese with three cheeses and broccoli. They will gobble this up, so I really shouldn’t complain.
As with most children, the girls have their seemingly irrational likes and dislikes. The oldest will eat raw broccoli all day, but she won’t touch it if it is steamed or sautéed. She literally turns up her nose. The younger one enjoys sautéed asparagus, but only the stems, and not the ‘gross’ tops, even though there is no difference in taste between the two. Though this can be infuriating at dinner time, it is an interesting phenomenon to watch from an unemotional distance. I wonder why they, and most children, are so seemingly random in their tastes. I can’t say for sure what causes this, but I do have a hypothesis: my girls and other children want the autonomy of making a choice for themselves.
This brings me back to our garden, and the two little girl pests that eat our produce before it can be brought inside to process. One of the girls’ favorite things to do is picking the veggies and fruit directly from the plant, and popping it right into their mouths. They don’t want to be told to eat it, because it is good for them; they want to eat it because it is fun. In fact, when I asked my elder daughter why she so voraciously ate all the green and purple peapods right from the plant, she simply replied that “it is fun”. I think it must be fun for the same reason that it is fun for my wife to work in her garden; it is a wonderful feeling of making your own choice, your own world.
Unfortunately, with the industrial food system, this experience of grabbing your own food by yourself is rare for some, and nonexistent for most. Food is packaged absurd to the extreme in today’s world. Del Monte produced an individually wrapped banana a couple years ago. At the same time, we face a mounting health crisis where the closest children get to a homemade meal is Old Country Buffet, and the closest they come to fresh fruit is Snapple. Many times parents simply say that children will not experiment, and hence, they give them the easiest mass produced food-stuff for their growing bodies. However, the garden has proved to me that kids do crave experimentation if it is autonomous. This was driven home to me when the girls got their hands on arugula, and ate it direct from the pot. That’s right, I said arugula. I really don’t even really like plain arugula.
Harvesting your own food is fun; cooking your own food is fun; food should be fun. The mass production companies realize this, and take advantage of it by stuffing horribly made toys in cereal, calling their ‘food’ happy meals, and marketing “snap, crackle, and pop.” What we need to remember is that nature still provides kids with much more fun than any factory in Battle Creek, Michigan ever could.