I’m sitting on the floor with my one-year old son, playing with his blanket and unsuccessfully trying to teach him to count to, well, one. It’s unbelievable what babies already know, as he watches me with his huge eyes and soaks in everything around him in a world which must be, to him, full of wonder, novelty and challenge. He changes every single day, walking faster today than he did yesterday, climbing steps more rapidly and learning to put his toys in the trash while repeating “Uh-Oh” over and over again.
So maybe he has learned to count and just lacks the communication skills to project what he has learned in a way that I can understand. In that case, just who is the teacher here? I think most of the time that he is the educator and I am the learner as I follow him about the house and observe his behavior, recognizing his body language and predicting when he is going to make an all-out, Marine Corp style attack on one of the several flights of stairs in our house.
He’s also playing with one of our cast-off cell phones, which is much more complicated and versatile than the one that I carry, an old flip phone that has proven to be mostly indestructible in all the years that I’ve had it. I feel like a hypocrite, allowing him to imprint on a phone at such an early age when I am so anti-phone.
He starts to fuss a bit, so I get up to get him some juice and sourdough bread and for the first time I take a really hard look at our pantry, fridge and freezer and wonder what someone else would think if they were evaluating our lifestyle and who we are based on those contents. I’ve always felt that you could tell a lot about a person by what’s in those spaces along with what is on our bookshelves.
Aside from a cookbook on cooking for toddlers, which we have barely touched, there is very little trace that we have a baby in our pantry or on our bookshelves. Not one can of processed baby food, not one jar of anything Gerber, no rice cereal, no frozen fish sticks or chicken nuggets. To my knowledge, he’s never had anything that isn’t organic, local, raised by us or a neighbor – or all three, except for restaurants, where I’m sure he has eaten a multitude of things that aren’t, but then we are very picky about restaurants. (Note: My wife corrected me on this statement and reminded me that we have indeed bought things that are none of the above since we’ve had the baby, such as chicken, baby cereal and squeeze snacks, although the squeeze were labeled so called organic.) We avoid chains at all costs, dining out at our favorite places where we know the chefs and have a relatively good idea of what is going into the food. He’s never had a fast food meal, period.
With all that said, how far is too far? Are we too picky? I’m sure at some point that he is going to discover McDonalds, Bojangles, and God forbid, Taco Bell. I had never eaten at a Taco Bell until a couple of years ago when my boss at an engineering firm insisted that we go there for lunch. I was sick for hours afterward. We didn’t eat fast food when I was a kid for two reasons: We were too poor and our choices were limited to KFC and Long John Silvers, both of which my mother had pronounced as disgusting. The Colonel was there, but the King and the Clown were still a few years away from my town.
All I know is that it is easier to take what we are eating and just give it to baby. We’ve been doing that since the doctor pronounced that it was ok for him to eat solid foods and so far it has worked like a charm. We just make a little more of whatever we’re having. He loves mashed potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, rice, lamb, chili, honey, oatmeal, venison, oysters, stews of all kinds, sourdough bread with butter, French toast, pancakes, eggs, his Nana’s spaghetti sauce with meatballs (also not labeled any of the above, but the contents of the meatball are from an Amish market, which his Nana loves) and just about anything else that we can put in his mouth, except for grits. He doesn’t care much for those.
So, are we taking it too far? How far should we go to protect our children from their environment and from themselves? In the 1970’s and 80’s this was of small concern to anyone, really. Beer, cigarettes and T.V. dinners were what adults seem to subsist on. Children ate whatever they could generally get their hands on in most cases, enjoying a lack of parental supervision that would be gasped at today. Is it better to go ahead and just break down and feed him Mickey D’s in a couple of years? It’s not a question of would he like it – corporations have spent millions upon millions of dollars in research in marketing and taste preferences to ensure that he will like it. Will that be all he wants?
For me there are the immediate repercussions of eating fast food, or anything high in saturated fats, salt, refined sugars and processed food. I don’t think my system could tolerate a full diet of that sort of food, nor do I care to try it on for size. I don’t like to feel like I have a hangover from the food I foolishly consumed the day before.
Our child will likely have his mother’s ability to consume nearly anything without an upset stomach and so her food preferences are driven by long-term health benefits, not short-term consequence. He will have a tendency to eat whatever he likes after we can no longer control his nutritional intake, which to me extends far beyond the contents of the food.
In a final note: My experience with a toddler has taught me that you should make your own choices on what to feed yourself and your offspring. I have no right to tell you what you can or cannot eat, and the government sure as hell doesn’t. Eat what you like, enjoy what you eat – just remember that there are consequences. We just don’t know exactly yet what all of them are. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Or, maybe he’ll hate you for it. So, what do you think, Gerber? Can you supply my son with baby food that will meet all the requirements? I highly doubt it, but I anything if not fair. If I’m wrong, I’ll gleefully say so.