Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Persnickety Twit

Kids and food.

Matthew Forney wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times today entitled, "Scorpions for Breakfast and Snails for Dinner." He and his Italian-born wife have raised their children, ages 9 and 13, in China. This means that his kids eat a lot of things that the average American child has never seen, let alone consumed.

As Matthew puts it, "Think of a child staging a sit-in at his suburban dinner table because there’s a fleck of dried parsley on his breaded fish finger, and you have imagined everything my children are not."

Clearly, he is proud that his kids are adventurous eaters. He has taken steps to make it so. It is a thought-provoking piece.

When I was 13, my mom made me eat goat brain. It was offered to my family on a steaming dish of goat parts while my father was guest lecturing in Monterrey, Mexico.

My mother, anticipating rebellion, fixed me and my sister with a penetrating stare before either of us could utter a word. "This is a gesture of hospitality by our hosts," she hissed under the laughter and the chatter and the exclamations of cabrito! "You only need to try a little. And say thank you."

The message was clear. Food is not just a collection of vitamins and minerals and proteins on a plate. It's a key part of our social experience. There is meaning in a refusal that has no connection with the cabrito being offered.

Since then, I have eaten every novel food that has been offered to me. Cow cheeks in Italy. Gefilte fish at my first Passover with my husband's family. Haggis in Scotland, accompanied by a deep-fried Milky Way bar, a bottle of Cavi, and a kiss by a tipsy, elderly bagpiper. (A story for another time)

I'll try anything once. And I say thank you.

The point is, kids can be a tad picky when it comes to food. So can adults, for that matter. Giving new foods a try can be important, however, for the social reasons I have just described and for the myriad enriching moments these experiences can bring. Had I not tried each of these new foods, I would be deprived of many stories and many memories of places and people. The burden is on us to teach our children not to deprive themselves of such opportunities.

So, Mom, when you read this, thank you.

So, being a hardy food blog reader with an interest in all things new and tasty, what is the most interesting, or off-putting, or unexpectedly delicious item that you have ever been offered?


JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I absolutely totally agree with you completely! I studied anthropology in college and I was finally able to put a theory behind the importance of food. Food is a remarkable tool - a powerful one. I have written some posts touching on this subject and I love reading other people's take on the subject!

Some of the most unpleasant things I have sampled: sheep lung (and other various sheep and goat parts) on the Navajo Reservation and Lutefisk in Norway.

I actually quite enjoyed Haggis and blood sausage/ pudding (both on the Navajo Rez and Scotland), much to my surprise!

Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!

liz said...

I was recently offered a slice of surf clam that, twenty minutes earlier, had been snug in its bed of sand on an Alaskan beach. I was appalled! However, it's always wise to accept something that's offered on the point of a sharp knife. It was delicious! Notmushy as I expected, but slightly chewy, sweet, and briny with a sharp taste of the sea. Life is a daring adventure or nothing!

Robin said...

Well, right now I'm brining a beef tongue which I plan to offer to a dinner party alongside of some beef heart next week. I don't think it's off-putting, but maybe my dinner party will!! ;)

bb said...

I am so with you in the "try everything" mindset. For me I'd hate to think I missed out on something delicious. That fear far outweighs any squeamishness!

The most, um, different thing I've experienced was lamb brains, which aren't all that unusual I know. But the presentation was. I was at a cookout at a small winery owned yb a friend, and alamb was turning on a spit. it was awesome! then my Greek friend Dino said "So, do you ever have the brain?" I'm like, "um no, but bring it on." So he grabs a cleaver, whacks the head in two while it's still on the spit, and dips his fingers into the brainpan, scooping out the mush with his fingers and eating it, indicating I should do the same. Hey, if anyone knows, I figured he should, so I joined into this wine-fueled brain fest and it was awesome. Nothing I'd ever thought I'd do, but kind of fun in a semi-gross, super delicious way!

Sarah said...

Jenn--Wow, sheep lung would rank fairly high on my "off-putting" list (but I would try it just for the bragging rights)! Thank you for the warm welcome to the Foodie Blogroll, and I agree with your assessment of haggis--I also found it to be surprisingly enjoyable.

Liz--your point about the knife is well taken (pun totally intended). Surf clam is one that I haven't tried yet, but I'm sure if it was offered to me, I would do you proud by accepting it with finesse :)

Robin--you throw quite a party! Your menu sounds like the meal that I had at Le Pigeon when my husband and I were in Portland, Oregon last year (ever seen beef lip fritters and foie gras ice cream on a menu? It was a first for me). Let me know how the beef heart is received by your guests!

BB--you get the highest points for style of presentation. I did not have the opportunity to scoop my goat brains directly from the skull. May I ask what wine one pairs with slow-roasted lamb brain?

dp said...

My mom is Thai and she eats a lot of rural Thai foods, which is nothing like you see in the restaurants here in America. Tripe and tongue were not new to me. Whenever we went to visit the family back home, I know I've eaten stuff that would have grossed me out if I knew what it was. Even if I knew what it was, I still would eat it, otherwise it would be a big pinch or ear twist from my mom for being ungrateful. LOL

The one thing that does come to mind though, is a peeled boiled egg. Hubby was meeting my Thai family for the first time in rural Thailand. They planned a blessing ceremony for us with a slew of monks and family and friends. As the monks were blessing us, they were passing the egg around. A good 50 people must have touched that egg. Then it came to us and we had to eat it. Just the thought of it being touched by all these hands in hot, humid weather made me gag a little. But we choked it down with a big smile. Now it's a wonderful memory and only slightly gag-inducing.

Molly said...

As the mother of a three year old, I have been a close spectator to the whiny toddler phenomenon that is meal time.

My husband and I are always trying new and different dishes that, like Forney, we are foisting upon our son, James. James has been a great sport about eating whatever is put in front of him ever since he staged a "sit-in" over eggs that lasted almost two hours.

Because we didn't give in, he matured more in those two hours than he had in the previous six months. All of a sudden he would eat whatever we asked, or at the very least a bite of it. And to his chagrin (and our pleasure), he frequently found himself liking it!
Now he eats artichokes, pickled okra, spicy jambalaya, Camembert cheese, and pretty much anything else we set in front of him.

It's not just opportunities you deprive your child of when you let him get away with not trying that gross-smelling cheese; it's also social maturity. As an adult, you eat what is put in front of you, be it at the in-laws or at a dinner meeting.

Here's hoping we don't get prion disease from the goat brain, Sarah.

Foodycat said...

Really enjoyable post!

Sheep lung is an important part of haggis, but I haven't tried it in a more identifiable form! The most recent "weird" stuff I have tried and enjoyed enjoyed enough to add to my diet are haggis, black pudding and tongue. But I can't say I am polite enough to take the "try anything and say thankyou" path. The look of tripe is bad enough, but then I smelled it boiling in Florence and thought "no way!". I have had French-style snails which were fine, but when I was served them in Spain and they still had faces I couldn't do it.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, you know me, I am not adventurous when it comes to food. I also don't think you have ever seen me eat seafood aside from an occasional shrimp (blame my parents and fish sticks during Lent for my unwillingness to eat seafood!). I understand completely what your mother did. My mother is very similar to yours except she is the one who feels like she has to try things. So...on my last trip to Italy visiting my friend's "Fishing village" on the Adriatic Coast, he encouraged us to eat seafood. The best was the shrimp sushi he tried to get us to eat, and my mom agreed!! I kept telling her it was raw and she thought I meant it was shrimp cocktail!!! Boy did she learn the definition of raw!!! All I can tell you is that when she relayed the story about the slimy raw shrimp, my father clapped and told her he would never have tried it! (And he eats everything!)

Great blog, and keep it up!


muddywaters said...

My mother taught me that it was impolite to not try a little of everything offered at a dinner table. I’m trying to instill this value in my daughter.

I’m a small town guy who hasn’t traveled a lot, but going through a line at church potluck could be a bit like playing Russion Roulette. Once I took a big scoop of a Jello salad that had what I thought was whipped cream on the top. The whipped cream was actually mayonnaise. I couldn’t figure out of this was some cruel joke or someone seriously thought this was a good recipe to share with the congregration. I choked down the salad because my mother taught me that this was the polite thing to do, but now I’m gun shy when it comes to potluck dinners.