Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Yeah, Yeah, Your Kids Eat Octopus and Scorpions...

Big deal, ya obnoxious show-off.

It's bad enough Matthew Forney has an Italian wife and is the former Beijing Bureau Chief for TIME and sends his kids to the French school in Beijing. (So they speak what, four languages?). He's got to brag in today's Times about how his kids will eat anything?

Well, not an American granola bar, apparently. Or the crusts on her toast. Hm.

Okay, I admit I'm impressed that his kids are great eaters. This is what we are all after. Kids who will order goat testicles and yak jerky, right? Well, adventurous eaters, anyway. Kids who will ask for a second helping of spinach and reach with gusto into family platters at a restaurant (see above). (He doesn't mention it, but I'm assuming his kids don't cry and whine and dance and sing at the table, either.)

And I agree with him that putting cauliflower in frosting and spinach in brownie mix (as he hears his American friends back home are doing) is absurd and counter-intuitive.

And I love that his wife breast fed their kids and says (not as unscientifically as Forney suggests) that the breastfeeding "opened their taste buds". (Studies actually show that kids are quicker to accept new foods if their mothers ate those foods while breastfeeding them.)

And it's great that they are telling dinner stories about food. This is a great thing to do at dinner. My children, too, are fascinated with stories about what food and dinner were like when I was a kid.

But gimme a break.

First of all, this guy just happens to be blessed with children who have an open palate. Some kids are like that. Usually, in my experience, they are the children of adventurous intrepid parents. The type of parent who might, oh just for example, choose to live in a country on the other side of the world.

Second, his kids are 9 and 13. They are so out of the trenches as far as picky eating is concerned. I know he says his kids ate rice porridge and pickled turnips at their nursery school, but I would be interested to know how open they were to unfamiliar foods in their preschool and early elementary years (the most neo-phobic, according to researchers).

Third, yes, as he says, they live in China. There are no microwaved pizzas, or cheez snacks. There is a strong food culture not ruled by the whims of children and profit margins of major corporations. Culture is on their side. Culture is certainly a strong force to have on your side.

Fourth, breastfeeding may indeed open the palate, but it does not entirely prevent picky-eating anymore than "modelling" does. I breastfed both my kids, very likely for far longer than Forney's wife did. My son breastfed for 2-1/2 years, and was one of the pickiest eaters I've personally known. My daughter breastfed for 21 months, started out as a wildly adventurous eater, and then at age three shut down and began eating only a handful of items. At almost-five she is showing signs of coming out, but we're still deep in the trenches.

I don't mind people setting an example and reminding us that it doesn't have to be the way it is. But I feel there is one thing that we all -- I would assume the Forneys, too -- have learned about parenting. If we haven't it's because we don't want to learn it, because the lesson is like a big fat puppy jumping and tumbling around our every step as parents. It's that the things that are easy for your kids don't necessarily come about because you did something right. Maybe they did, but probably not. And the things that are hard are not necessarily because you did something wrong. When my son was two and would sit and eat a bagel and doodle while I drank coffee and read the paper, was it because of my "expectations" or my "modelling"? Apparently not, because my second child couldn't sit still, never mind stop talking, for 30 seconds straight at that age.

When my daughter ate adult-sized portions of arugula with garlic-lemon vinaigrette at age two was it because we expected her to? No, because we didn't. We just ate it in front of her and she wanted it, and then around age three she suddenly would have sooner thrown herself off a cliff than even permit a piece of arugula to touch her plate. When my son liked pomegranates and almonds at age two but not at age three, four, five, six, seven or eight, was it something we did? No, because we kept eating them and offering them and enjoying them, to his utter indifference. (At nine he is beginning to change his ways.)

It's not always about modelling, expectation, or breastfeeding.

A little humility, please, Mr. Forney, and all you parents out there with good eaters.


Lindellica said...

As you (and he) said, they're in CHINA! Palates are different. Food is different, very different.

I think I like Paola's grandfather and the trout skins story the best.

As for me, Lindellica is very adventurous. For example, tonight we ordered Indian food and she grabbed a piece of Nan bread with gusto that only turned into shrieking when I tried to sully it by adding yogurt. So in other words, my daughter doesn't care what culture her white bread comes from, as long as it's served plain.

Anonymous said...

This is the greatest food blog. I am really happy to have discovered it! WOnderful! Love the comments about matthew forney! He got me so riled up!

Izzy's Mama said...

We have somewhat different perspectives but to the same end. We both want our children to eat well. I loved Forney's article and don't see it as showing off but rather as a way to open people's eyes to the fact that fussiness is more common in our American culture of plenty. There are definitely ways to combat pickiness and you seem to have outlined them well. I will be back to read more!