What’s on my mind today? Well, food of course, but more specifically, how our palates change as we age and the baggage that does or does not come with this change. It occurred to me last week–yes I’ve been stewing over this one a bit–that in large part what contributes to what we consume is our moods, habits, culture, but most of all what’s most appealing to our taste-buds. My approach today is not scientific necessarily or even pedantic–though you’ll notice I cite scientific sources–what I am interested in is the ‘what’ aspect of food consumption. We could muse over how foods are introduced at the infant level, genetics, neuro-pathways, texture, culture, the list goes on & on, but what I’m mostly interested in is the quality and quantity of foods provided. Don’t mistake my stance as an absolute in opinion, take it as more of a view-point I’ve yet to see addressed. And I’m also not saying that everything I mentioned previously is not additionally a factor in the quality and quantity of food consumption.
When I was a teenager, I mostly would eat the food that was in our house, but I remember wanting more. More of ‘what’ you might be asking, I don’t think I could pin-point what I was missing back then, but I know I felt unfulfilled in my diet in many ways. When I think about foods in particular that I did not like, the only thing that comes to mind is mushrooms and melon-especially watermelon. We rarely had mushrooms on the family menu, and when they happened to be a delicate part of any meal I turned my nose up and claimed ‘well that’s a fungus, I’m not eating that’. My strange melon dislike was for its lack of tartness and sweetness or so I thought. Of course, when I was in Junior High I made a stand about beef and I stopped consuming it and then of course at the age of 17 I stopped eating meat entirely and haven’t gone back on this dedication ever since. What did I grow up eating? We ate fast cooked meals, bread, dairy, pasta (refined), sugar-sugar-sugar, meat of course, and oh did I mention sugar and dairy? I wasn’t accustomed to eating a lot of raw vegetables and fruits. Don’t get me wrong, we did have the special occasion salad, or even fruit, but those two food groups were not a huge part of our family diet. When we did consume fruit and veggies, they were likely frozen or canned. Today, I harbor no ill-will toward the ever varietal mushroom or the water drenched melon. In fact, I adore them both.
Why am I telling you this dietary tale? I think it’s important to know where we each began our food journey. Reflecting on the positive and negative allows us to understand WHAT it is that we were exposed to and how this may have potentially influenced our future dietary choices. I generally, chose a couple of arbitrary food items to dislike, but according to the rest of my family–to this day –I’m the difficult one because I ate outside of the Western diet norm.
What foods we do or don’t like can be a mutation of years of conditioning, and suddenly anything scaling the exterior of what we’re accustomed to becomes ‘gross, weird, etc.’ We then begin to stymie our own growth process for a more graduated palate. Some may say there’s nothing wrong with this, and to them I say “To each his own opinion”, but from my perspective we should allow ourselves to question what were consuming from all levels; that is what makes for a most connected lifestyle. Understandably, I agree that there are a multitude of people who do not have the privilege of expanding their metaphorical ‘pantry’, but I aim to reach those who do have this privilege.
I am not here to coerce my gentle readers into believing what I do, but I suppose I am asking for a crumb of empathy for the subject because our food habits are in large part what is contributing to the degeneration of the fresh food system. When I reflect back on my couple of finicky food gripes as a kid, I recognize that I came about my decisions because said foods were unfamiliar and ‘strange’ to me. In retrospect I never remember NOT liking the way the foods tasted.
Where am I going with all of my observations?
Though parents cannot change the genetic disposition a child may or may not have toward certain foods or a child’s food sensitivities or allergies, they can play an important role in food introduction with repetition and variety. I believe the quantity at which food is introduced and reintroduced changes the manner in which a child becomes familiar with a food and accepts it as something normal, tasty and even appetizing. This is not to say that if you provide spinach every day for two weeks they will like it, but frequency can make a difference. Additionally, the creativity at which the food is being introduced has a huge impact on the child’s expectancies of that food in later meals, and their personal palate adjustment. Something else that is somewhat out of the parent’s control is the school menu–save for child taking a lunch–but there’s no guarantee they will eat what they’re taking when faced with potato chip, candy bar choices.
With grocery stores growing in size because the need for shelves which are overrun with what I like to call ‘food science experiments’, I know it can be difficult to decipher the good from the bad. Ingredient lists as long as short poetry and items listed that are foreign unless you’ve sat through an organic chemistry class recently, these are some of American shoppers food shopping stressors. Cost of course and occasionally the attainability of the item are problematic in purchase decisions. And alleviating such stressors is becoming more and more difficult. Companies bigger than you can imagine profit tremendously off of a nations ignorance and apathy toward what they’re putting in their body. Ironically, in a time that appears to offer endless choices, there is an increasingly limited amount of whole food options.
All of this is much easier to be stated than to be put into action, this I understand, but here are few ways to ease both child and adult tastes:
I was shown this NOVA video in a Nutrition Through the Life Cycle class and I feel it displays what it means to have the uncontrollable food choice. Also, here’s an article on foodie kids that I found rather humorous yet disturbingly true.
My question, and what I’ve been pondering is this; how do we nourish ourselves without neuroses and how do we raise healthy children who are aware of the cultures and many aspects of food and where it comes from without creating a little food monster?
Aye, I open up the discussion.
And remember…bite responsibly.
Some extra links: