Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Foodie-ism in Kids

(This post is sort of a companion to my last post.)

Also in the August issue of F&W, also not yet online, is an article on the winners of F&W's "Kids Cook" contest, including a profile of the the six-year-old boy who won the grand prize for his beet and cheddar risotto.

Granted, I was already questioning my commitment to a foodie-ish lifestyle. And wondering if my constant analysis of food is interesting or just plain ridiculous. But even in a different state of mind, I think I would have had the same reaction to the article: I was jealous and sad, all at once.

I mean - six years old? Beet and cheddar risotto? Seriously? Initially, I thought "there's no hope for me as a home cook or even as someone who thinks about food if six year olds are at this level of culinary maturity. When I was six, I'm not even sure I knew what an oven was." I didn't learn to make pasta at my grandmother's knee. (First of all, we're Irish. Secondly, what I did learn from my grandmother was how to put on some lipstick and a pair of heels and make some nice reservations - which I consider pretty important life skills unto themselves.)

And then I thought a little more. Not to take away from this little kid's talent for flavor combinations or ability to enjoy food, but isn't there something to be said for growing into an appreciation of food? Growing into "foodie-ism"?

In my personal life, I am all about broadening the child's palate. God knows I shove everything I can find into Dixon's mouth - at nine months, he's taken a shine to heart of palm, guacamole (probably his favorite food) and about 10 different types of cheeses. I'm thrilled. I want him to be open to everything. I hope to cook with him when he gets a little older. He watches me in the kitchen now and seems entertained. I hope he likes it in the future.

But my expectations are low. I fully assume that once he gets to school, he'll decide green things are yucky and that he wants to exist on a diet of nothing but pizza and watermelon. He might even forsake his beloved guac (seriously, I think he can eat more of it than I can.) In fact, I think it might be sort of healthy for him to go through that rejection stage, just so he can rediscover foods when he's a little older and better able to appreciate them. There's a lot to be said for learning to love a food when you're old enough to attach a memory to a meal.

There's also a lot to be said for shunning the term "foodie" when it comes to kids. I know the article's author, Sara Dickerman, wanted to avoid this, but I came away from my read with the sense that these kids are competing to be the best in the food world already. The pressure that goes with that competition will almost certainly be soul-crushing when that six year old grows up to be a teenager who has to live up to his potential.

I was heartened to see that some of the kids seem pretty normal. One eight year old runner up said that when she grows up she wants to be a chef. And a model. And a babysitter. Of course she does. I think that's great.

Of course, maybe it's just hard for me to relate to elementary school-aged kids today, who have cooking as a viable after-school hobby. There are classes and camps they can attend, the same way I went to lacrosse camp and was on the swim team, or like some kids went to math or science camp (as dorky as I am, I did neither of those.)

My feelings are mixed, though, and they probably will be until Dixon is long grown. Or until I figure out what I really do think about where I fit in the realm of foodies. Whichever comes first.

1 comment:

Joyce said...

I read the article in F&W too. I think it is wonderful that kids are cooking and being exposed to great foods, ultimately it will make them very rounded adults. However, I honestly think the 6 yr old who is whipping up beet & cheddar risotto might need a few cheese doodles and rice krispy treats to round out his palette (and childhood.) At 6 you should not be commenting on the complimentary nature of cheddar and beets. I will admit, that I might try his recipe, I'm curious.

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