Thursday, September 28, 2006

You Are What They Eat

My 1 1/2 year old thinks it is uproariously funny to ceremoniously, one-by-one, drop organic peas onto the floor. The first time I said "No!" he cried. The second time he laughed hysterically. Then, without prompting, the food started to fly. Literally. Every single meal.

Ask any group of toddler parents what their biggest challenge is regarding food, and you'll hear a mouthful. Between pickiness, playing with food, throwing food, and the existential angst caused by the thought what the hell am I going to make him that he will actually eat? it's enough to give a parent their own eating disorder, not to mention a cooking disorder.

A peek into my refrigerator last friday produced the following (by no means exhaustive) list:

one tub of hummus
mini pitas
carton with two beets
carton with one latke
carton with one small piece teriyaki salmon
carton with leftover pasta with pesto and black-eyed peas
small tupperware with zucchini sauteed in olive oil with garlic
carton with two marinated italian white beans from the olive bar
grapes bananas strawberries raspberries blueberries gala apples pears peaches plums

Nevermind (or perhaps, because?) all of this was selected and bought at "Whole Paycheck", carefully singling out the organic brands (when available) and then prepared and served with "mmm" and "yummy" big smiles. Wanna try? It's yummy. Mommy wants it all to herself. OK, you can have one little bite. Grimace. Gag.

All aboard the guilt train!

Not only am I playing the food version of the boardgame Twister everytime mealtime approaches, but I am feeling horrible about it. I feel horrible when he doesn't eat. I feel horrible when he wastes good, expensive organic food. I feel horrible when I give him even an organic chicken nugget. Anything that comes in nugget form can't be good.

It used to be that I felt bad only about consuming an unhappy chicken myself. Now I am unhappy because I cannot get my child to think any chicken is a happy thing, except sporadically and in aforementioned nugget form. Which makes me unhappy. I can't remember. Are the chickens happy in this scenario now? Oh hell.

You Are What You Eat

...and the starving kids in China, and the unhappy cows, and your mother would be so happy if you would only eat (but not raw spinach). Mangia!

Why is it so hard to shake these old, tired phrases? Theoretically, the organic system of farming (or marketing) is a way of trying to assuage the guilt of the consumer. It is (at least meant to be) a way of shortening the supply chain, assuring that animals and people are treated fairly, that vitamins and biodiversity are maintained and that the world is one happy place if you buy it and eat it. And what happens if it ends up on the floor? Do the happy hens slide down the chutes to happy chicken purgatory?

To try and save the situation, moms and dogs across this great land end up sucking it up. Literally. I have eaten more peas from my floor in the past year than you probably care to hear. The good news is that I am now blissfully indifferent to the idea of germs, germs everywhere. On second thought, is that really good news? And how do you feel good about the fact that your toddler is sitting there, has only eaten two pieces of cheese, and you're exhausted from trying everything and sick from eating the peas yourself?

Let Them Throw Cheese

Let them eat cake said Marie Antoinette. You get more with a carrot than a stick. Let the chips [sic] fall where they may.

There is unlikely to ever be a tidy answer. I envy those who were raised with and continue on with strict traditions about food, like the rules of Kashrut and Hallal, as at least the "too much information" of food today can take a backseat to cosmic order and ordinance. (Though watching holy food being thrown on the floor is probably just as unnerving).

I have to continually remind myself that all I can do is promote a healthy relationship to food. (Freaking out about normal a normal toddler pea-throwing phase will only serve to reinforce it. Getting a rise out of mama adds texture and, shall we say, a certain comic interlude to the day). Also, if my son isn't eating, one of the best things that I can do is ignore it. Perhaps sit down with a magazine at the table and eat something myself. With not much ado. With no num-nums or exquisite eye-closing dramatics.

The other thing to do is get out of the damned house and let them throw cheese somewhere else. There's much more to look at in a busy restaurant (i.e., more opportunities to shove food into the mouths of distracted, ever-curious toddlers) and at least you won't be tempted to eat the stray food off the floor.

Yes, my friends, as with many things the best answer is not "somewhere in between" (see discussion of "moderates" and "centrists" in previous post), but rather finding a balance. On one hand, I'm a nutjob about shopping for food, be it happy chickens or organic bunny crackers with no trans-fats. On the other hand, food is a form of love. One should be generous with it, not counting and prodding, not forcing, but offering.

As a famous Aunt once said, want some chicken?

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