Being a childless misanthrope and everything, it pleased me to see two new books addressing one of my pet peeves: kids and all the things they don’t like. Pamela Druckerman’s best-selling Bringing Up Bébé and the forthcoming French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon both address the bizarrely stilted taste of American children. We’ve all been around kids who “only like” chicken fingers and are so fed nothing else by their unnaturally indulgent helicopter parents. But in these books, particularly Druckerman’s, we get a long look at one of the most unnatural and disturbing of contemporary beings: the child foodie. “Catering to picky kids is a lot of work,” Druckerman writes, telling of a mother who makes four breakfasts for four different children, and a father who tells her “in reverent tones that his seven-year-old is very particular about textures.”
Am I the only one who shudders at this kind of thing? Certainly, I’m not the first to have noticed it. The existence of child foodies isn’t anything especially new; two year ago the Times did an awful piece on “Fine Dining Where Strollers Don’t Invite Sneers”; a year ago the New York Post weighed in on “Tweezine,” or fine cuisine for grade schoolers. In both cases readers retched. But the trend, sadly, wasn’t limited to New York: Chicago Magazine called the snooty spawn “koodies” and forecasted “an emerging society of pintsize gourmands.” And they aren’t going away. Earlier this week I read a story in the Daily News about a 12-year-old critic who had just published a restaurant guide to New York. Kid critics are the latest trend; even the normally caustic eater.com has commissioned some. Then one of my friends wrote to tell me abouto his 8-year-old nephew. “He’s such a food snob,” he writes, that he “won’t eat canned or jarred foods. If he’s given bottled tomato sauce he spits it out.” Now, we’ve all seen bad kids; they’re even a form of entertainment, in the form of viral videos enjoyed by those of us who don’t actually have families. Child foodies aren’t bad—but the precocious displeasure they display towards foods beneath them is most unnatural.
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I’m not against kids enjoying good food, even grown-up food like sushi or goat cheese risotto balls (fed to a two-year old, at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan, in the Times piece.) But being a foodie means having an aroused and rarefied interest in unusual foods; and that, inevitably, means an implicit detestation of regular, crappy foods. I may be the only professional food writer I know who eats Go-Go Taquitos at 7-11 as part of his regular diet; and I would get bounced out of the profession if people knew what I did behind closed doors.
I don’t want to be the one to suggest that it’s wrong to encourage prepubescent epicureanism in a country where 46 million people are on food stamps…but it is wrong. I know no kid is moved by warnings that children are starving in China or Biafra; but they should be aware that children are starving three blocks over. Not to pick on the Times piece, which is both old and ludicrous, but I can’t stop thinking of the photograph, of three princelings being waited upon by what appear to be hispanic servers. The image is one with more than a whiff of feudal privilege, in the context of which the children’s choices seem totally gross and un-American.
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Happily, there’s another way that kids are being caught up in the country’s food mania. And it’s one which I think should be encouraged at the expense of restaurant meals. That’s the trend for getting kids into cooking. Last week the Food Network Magazine announced that it would be creating a new title for children, in which chefs cook with their kids. A new PBS series, Hey Kids, Let’s Cook! is heading into its second season, and over the last few years some of the leading cookbook authors, such as Rachael Ray and Rozanne Gold have released cookbooks aimed at kids. (Disclosure: both are friends.) This is a trend I can get behind. Cooking is better for kids than eating; it makes them aware of how much work goes into making something good to eat, and it will inevitably give them standards that will make junk food look bad. (Delicious, yes, but bad – or at least, recognizable as junk food, rather than, “food,” which is what it is for many kids.) It’s also a kind of emergency home economics for an era when few households have an adult at their disposal full time. My hero Colonel Sanders learned to cook at the age of 7, making food for his young siblings while his mother worked in a factory; sadly, there are a lot of kids like him out there. Who knows? Once these kids learn to cook, maybe they’ll become good eaters too, and skip being “foodies” entirely.
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