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     Volume 4 Issue 70 | November 11, 2005 |

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Food For Thought

Food Wars

Parent Pressure Vs. Child Creativity

Farah Ghuznavi

A cursory read-through of various "parent and child" magazines - or even that old standby, Readers Digest - shows that the 21st century parent is regularly provided with a ton of information on how best to nourish their little darling through the optimal combination of foods. The idea being, of course, to develop your child's potential by stuffing him/her with good things!

This is not a new concept of course, since past generations have had their own ideas about what constitutes healthy food. But the deadly seriousness with which some parents today approach this task would appear to indicate that they have some ambition to raise a miniature Beethoven or Marie Curie. If you think I'm joking, please just check out some of the titles of these articles - the words "brain food", "potential" and "genius" appear with alarming frequency…

One friend of mine for example, used to have a detailed schedule pasted on the fridge, to remind her of the exact item to give her one-year-old for each snack-time during all seven days of the week. The range of options included puréed organic apricots, puréed organic banana, organic pilaf etc.

I would be the last one to argue against feeding your children natural or healthy foods, but the degree of obsession involved in her preparations (and the crisis one day, when she had run out of organic apricots!) convinced me that there was some truth to the acerbic comment of another friend i.e. that the reason that some people have children, is partly so that they have no spare time to think about other problematic and unanswerable issues, such as the meaning of life… After all, such ponderings might lead you to forget to ensure that you are sufficiently stocked up with organic apricots!

In the old days, things were much simpler. Rightly or wrongly, there were certain key foods that were regarded as healthy (e.g. milk and dairy products, eggs, fish etc), and there was a degree of consensus around these issues. Nowadays, however, it has become harder for the conscientious parent to even figure out what the best thing for their child to eat IS! There is so much contradictory or confusing advice around (more protein, less protein, no protein, no sugar, no honey, no nuts, everything in moderation etc)…

Methods of feeding have also become more complicated. Modern parents have had it thoroughly dinned into them that good parenting should not involve compulsion - let alone force of any kind! The strongest weapon a parent is supposed to use is limited to (verbal) persuasion. This of course, ties their hands to a great extent - literally as well as figuratively speaking!

Our parents' generation, however - for better or for worse! - were not held back by such "new-age" considerations. This meant, that for the children concerned, a variety of strategies had to be developed and adopted in order to get their own way when, for example, they did not want to eat a particular food. In our parents' defence, I would like to add that for their generation, there was never any question of avoidance strategies. Brought up in an era where parental authority was second only to that of God, I have it on good authority (i.e. my parents) that most of them just ate what they were given!

My friends and I, though still unwilling to challenge parental decisions with the vigour that I see any number of children doing today, nevertheless found our own ways of dealing with the disposal of so-called "virtuous" foods.

Sometimes the strategy took the form of passive resistance. For example, one of my cousins was blessed with a mother who was convinced that steamed vegetables were the best possible food for young children. She regularly found herself seated in front of a plate of steamed green beans ("borboti" for ever after known within the family as "budbudi", as she called it, with loathing!). Or even worse, steamed cauliflower…

Over time, she learned that the best way to deal with the situation was to swallow each mouthful whole. By managing to avoid chewing the vegetable, she also managed not to taste anything - but this was easier to do with green beans than cauliflower! This raises the question of whether swallowing un-chewed vegetables is actually very kind to the digestive tract…

But most importantly perhaps, it fails to address the issue that the short-term gain of forcing this vegetable consumption on her has been significantly outweighed by the long-term effect of her refusal, in adulthood, to eat any of these vegetables!

In my own case, there was a truly dreadful incident involving a tomato omelette. I will spare you the details, but let it suffice to say that what was forced down created an equal and opposite reaction! My traumatised parents learned never to mention the words "tomato omelette" around me again (and still refrain from doing so…)

Other friends took far more effective - if less direct - action, to get their way. An Indian friend of mine grew up in a family where, as a very skinny and active boy (and of course, the first-born son!), his parents were convinced that he needed to be regularly adequately nourished. The result? An omelette deposited on his breakfast plate every morning, without fail, with strict instructions to consume it.

Realising that neither tears nor tantrums would yield deliverance from his plight, he decided to take more strategic action. He would wait until the rest of the family had left the dining room before putting his plan into practice. There was a large wooden showcase in the dining room, upon which various sets of crockery were displayed. My friend Mani discovered (in the way that such devil-children so often do!), that an egg hurled upwards at just the right angle could be dispatched to the back of that showcase, which was never moved anyway.

This disposal system worked quite well, until the day when the rebellious egg decided to hit the wall just above the showcase, before sliding down into oblivion. To his horror, the vengeful edible left a large oil-stain on the spot where it had landed, which was clearly visible to anyone coming into the dining-room! To make matters worse, the stain was well out of his reach, preventing any manual clean-up attempts.

His mother, who came in shortly afterwards was transfixed by the mysteriously spreading oil-stain, and was understandably eager for an explanation. Needless to say, she was not impressed by his pathetic attempts to explain away the situation--the jig was up! It was a good strategy while it lasted, but all good things must come to an end…

This brings me to another point worth pondering (for any nourishment obsessed parents lurking out there). Be sensible! While you can and undoubtedly should - attempt to instil healthy food habits in your children, bear in mind that someday you will not be able to ensure that the organic apricots are indeed eaten on a Wednesday-- if at all. And that might not be the end of the world, either!

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