Monday, April 17, 2006

Taste Buds

As a child, my parents didn’t force feed me; they forced me to force feed myself, and it was grueling fare: navy beans, fried liver, baked eggplant, baked squash, peas, and other vile food that brought me and my younger brother Jack to the brink of puking. I can still see him straining to keep down a tiny, nauseating smidgen of dinner. When I was a child, dinner time was like poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick covered in putrid food. I used to wonder why my father’s idea of a great meal was ham hock and lima beans and mine was a Snickers bar. Why did my parents try to instill in me a healthy lifestyle by forcing me to ingest wretched food I hated? I distinctly remember being in the fourth grade and absolutely convinced that the greatest meal that could be eaten by humans was a hot doughnut and cold chocolate milk. I am now leaving middle age behind and have a theory as to what was going on back then.

The most prevalent theory held by experts concerning the notable differences in the eating habits of adults compared to children is that our taste buds are different. Adult taste buds have matured and developed the love of exquisite flavors far too subtle or exotic for that of the younger tongue (Langer; Univ. of Minn., 1988). Also, adults are more concerned about their health, and this subconsciously can dictate a change in food preferences (L. O’Neil and U. Chariis; Princeton, 2000).

These types of theories are hogwash, and I can prove it. For one thing, the research I quoted is made-up. Also, I have my own culinary experiences to guide me, and here is what I believe about my child / adult taste buds. Now that I have passed middle age, I think that the greatest meal that can be eaten by humans is a slice of fresh berry pie (blackberry, blueberry, or cherry) and a diet root beer. Now is that exotic, subtle and mature fare compared to a doughnut and a half pint of chocolate milk? I say no! My taste buds haven’t matured one single iota.

I have left middle age behind and can speak with authority as to what I believe is really going on with children’s and parents’ taste buds. It is all a control issue, and some people even want to control what others put into their mouths. My parents had serious control issues and wanted to hold sway over every bite that caused me to gag. Now I don’t mind if Popeye’s Fried Chicken wants me to know they have a new location in town right down the street and they are cookin’ up some deelicious Fried Chicken jus’ fer me! I don’t mind that. What I mind is when someone tells me I can’t eat that fried chicken, or that I have to eat it. Krispy Kreme has every right to advertise, but no one should tell me I can’t eat one three five a dozen of their crullers fresh out o’ the hot grease, or that I have to eat even one single bite out of a doughnut.

This is a luxury Americans have, a blessing, really. We should be grateful we aren’t scrounging for a morsel to survive, and we should be trying to make sure that every child in this world has the luxury, the blessing, to pick and choose their food. But I digress.

I don’t tell kids what they have to eat. I find that most of them eat much healthier than me anyway, and I don’t worry about that. My students are probably going to outlive me, or at least that’s what I hope and pray.


Laura said...

Whew! I have some food horror stories just like you re: your parents. The point of that is that they never did mellow regarding food. And not to tattle, but I think readers should get an update at the bottom about your stuffing peas into the hollow leg of your dining chair.

And I'm with you on pie. You make a gooseberry pie....

Laura said...

Additionally, as I learned from you: the dangers of childhood eating is in fact hearing loss.

Annie said...

My parents too. This made me laugh.

Jack said...

One aspect of an eating disorder is the artifact of the person who, unable to control what is going on outside, at least controls what they put inside. I never thought about this from the other end. You hit the nail on the head over the control.

One of the sad side-effects of having been raised in this controlling fashion is the overwhelming desire to DO THE SAME DAMN THING! Often when I find myself wanting to force my kid to eat something whose sole purpose is because I want them to, I ... I ... I... take a deep breath. I try to limit my control to ensuring that eating junk requires also eating something healthy. My controlling version: having first eaten something healthy. Alice's version: it doesn't matter if you eat them together. I think hers is better, though it is hard for me. If we can't inflict upon our children what was inflicted on us, it just doesn't seem fair, but someone has to break the cycle.

Anonymous said...

I've come to this blog late, and I read this with a smile on my face but I am sincere when I say --- ya'll are crazy!!!

Has eating fried liver with onions been all that bad for you in the long run? Has it made you go blind, become obese, or develop high blood pressure. Because eating junk food morning, noon, and night will do all that and more.

It is a parent's duty to instruct their child to eat certain foods. Ever child would rather eat snack foods instead of healthy fare, but if parents allowed them too then they wouldn't have any teeth any left in adulthood.

Today, I forced feed my daughter to eat yogurt, she despises anything dairy, but she had to do eat it - why because she's not getting enough calcium and she's developed a sensitive stomach. Soon after she asked for some salty crackers I told her go for it! You have to learn to take the good with the bad in life or in her chase the dairy with the crackers, all things in life must be tempered.