Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Opposite of Deception

I just opened the paper and saw a full-size ad for Jessica's Seinfeld's book, Deceptively Delicious . For those of you who have been living in a cabin in the woods with no media access and no ability to watch Oprah: Jerry Seinfeld's wife has written a cookbook about how to sneak vegetables and beans into foods so that your little kids will not die of malnutrition during the picky years. It has shot to the best seller list, and been accused of plagiarism due to remarkable similiaries between its recipes and those of another book touting the same philosophy, by Missy Chase Lapine.

I am opposed to this nonsense.

Okay, a little chard in the spaghetti sauce, a little wheat germ in the oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, fine. But there is something weird (not to mention gross) about putting avocado into chocolate pudding, and trying to turn one food into another thing entirely. Why can't a cupcake be a cupcake? And why do we need ways to sneak blueberries and avocado into foods? If we're after developing any kind of food consciousness in children, this is not the way to go.

Here's why: I understand that kids go through an annoying developmental stage in which their appetites essentially shut down. As mentioned earlier on this blog, a recent study showed that this is a biological necessity, which saves the newly mobile, omnivorous bi-ped from making some disastrous meal choices. Around age 7, they come out of their self-imposed shut-down and start eating new foods.

If you've read Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, you might be led to think that this 4-6 year culinary exile gives our species time to figure out our culture's food sense. Since we can eat anything, Pollan writes, we have to depend on our culture to tell us what is okay to eat. It seems only sensible that we would need some time to sort through the endless possibilities, some time to think about it.

It all makes me think that those 4-6 years are an essential learning time. It's like the sushi chef-students who spend three years watching the sushi masters before they are even allowed to pick up a knife. Or the apprentice in a French kitchen who spends an entire year peeling potatoes, and watching the genius chef do his magic.

Our kids spend those years watching us and learning -- which is why it's especially important to keep showing them the way to eat. But I believe they are not just learning that shellfish is okay, and slugs are not, but that they are also gaining a nutritional consciousness. They are learning how foods make them feel. Hungry and thirsty when your mom picks you up from kindergarten? How about a cold crisp apple? Got a cold? How does plain homemade chicken broth make you feel? Halfway through a giant piece of chocolate cake and you can already feel your mind spinning and your entire body spazzing out? Hmm.

When I was about 8 I had chocolate ice cream for breakfast. I was the youngest of three kids, and when you are the youngest of three kids by the time you are eight, you are often on your own on Saturday morning. Everyone was off doing their thing and no one even noticed when I pulled out the chocolate ice cream and helped myself. I felt like absolute crap for the rest of the day. It was a huge lesson for me.

Along the same lines, when my son was 6 he discovered broccoli. We went out for pizza with friends, and they ordered broccoli, which came with garlic, and olive oil and lemon to squeeze on it. Watching the other kids eat it, he dug in, ate heartily, and then requested enormous bowls of broccoli every day for the next week. I could have been sneaking broccoli into his brownies for years, and he would have been getting all those vitamins and minerals. But he would have missed out on that incredible discovery -- that moment of eating something new, realizing his body wanted it, and then continuing to eat it. It is that developing consciousness that I am after. That awareness of food and how it makes you feel: the absolute opposite of deception, and, I would argue, far more delicious.


In my cooking classes, this is probably the most popular, most requested recipe. There is no deception here. The thrill is in seeing the kids realize that zucchini and carrots make amazing cupcakes. They are horrified and skeptical at first. Then they want to know when we will make them again.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup applesauce
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups flour (either ww pastry flour, or mixed ww and white)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 medium carrots, grated
1/2 medium zucchini, grated

1 package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and applesauce. Add eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to the liquid ingredients. Fold in carrots and zucchini. Spoon into muffin cups. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

3. For frosting, beat cream cheese and maple syrup until smooth and creamy.


clickmom said...

Thank you for that post. I was starting to think that I was the only one left who wasn't about to secretly grate/mash/puree the foods I want my kids to voluntarily eat into something more .... junk-ish.

By the way- I came here by way of the randomiser!

Sarah Marie said...

OMG I am also here via the randomiser! I have only read a couple posts but I'm already loving your common sense approach to food and eating.

s.j.simon said...

lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this