It is during the first five years that children basically accept what is given to them, and after age five, their environment begins to control their habits. It is in this environment that a child in an Italian or French family learns to use all of his senses, as parents encourage him to taste a little of everything served at the table, working his way to becoming a neophile, a lover of the new and unfamiliar. It is the food neophile who by experiencing a variety of ingredients and combinations of flavors learns to accept and perhaps even seek out new flavors. There should be no great distinction between adult and children’s food besides portion size unless for medical reasons.
Many of my American friends are neophobes, not exposed to variety, having a fear of the new and set in their ways as to what they will and will not eat. There is now a movement to experience the new as a culinary treat by the trend-setting upwardly mobile class. Since eating is based on habit and tradition, certain tastes and pleasures have not been stored in memory and it is difficult for them to enjoy new flavor experiences. A neophile rarely loses the tastes and smells registered in childhood and as an adult is able to recollect those tastes and smells and experience them all over again. Our foreign friends who often express their love of tripe comment that it is the chewiness of the item that they love. Serving tripe, the lining of the cow’s stomach to Americans may be met with rejection due to the unfamiliar texture. The difference is only an experience stored in memory. It is up to parents to help their children develop taste buds and educate the palate by giving them new experiences.
In Italian and French families, these food pleasures begin in their youth. Food is tradition. Tastes and smells experienced in one’s childhood are recalled in adult life. Taste may be physically sensed on the tongue and palate, but after it is cultivated, it becomes a memory. If a baby is fed a bland diet and never experiences flavorful foods, it will be deprived of one of the greatest pleasures of life. Healthy habits formed and nurtured until a child reaches age ten often last a lifetime.
Coming from Argentina, Jorge knows well how to barbecue as well as how to roast a whole animal, He always has the kids give him a hand, marinating the meat, controlling the barbecue and of course relishing the meat down to the bone while enjoying convivio with family and friends.
I am saddened to see how in today’s hurried lifestyle, the pleasure of eating, the time at the table and the tastes and smells coming from a mother’s kitchen are often not experienced in youth. As Julie Child said once to me at a culinary meeting in San Diego, “In our society there is a fear of food that brings about the fear of pleasure.” She noted that in France, as in Italy, there were no menus for children. What is its purpose other than to provide the child with a less expensive meal—a meal which was in fact, less nourishing and usually containing something breaded, salty and fried. Not being exposed to better foods, it is no wonder that they often continue to please their palates in adult life based on their food experiences in childhood. As adults, after learning about nutrition and the importance of eating genuine food, it is still often very hard for people to change. As noted earlier, eating right is like learning a language; the best and easiest way is total immersion in childhood, with the parents setting a good example.
Next week, children having fun in the kitchen.