Catch ‘Em Early

If kids haven’t developed a taste for wholesome, yummy food by kindergarten, will they be cursed with McPalates for the rest of their days? Recent news articles and blog discussions say the answer is most likely yes.

A thoughtful post by Kate of Accidental Hedonist ponders what it takes to catapult a person into a life of considered food choices—but some readers argue that nothing can convince the masses to choose their chow more wisely. “[Health-focused lunchroom chef] Ann Cooper’s experiences in Berkeley [public schools] suggest our eating preferences are set pretty firmly early in life,” writes AH visitor Nicholas Caratzas, alluding to the fact that kids often turn up their noses at the wholesome options. Meanwhile, some parents reinforce their progeny’s unhealthy preferences: As a recent New York Times article reported, two British mothers, worried about their children’s refusal to eat anything on the school cafeteria’s newly healthified menu, began selling banned fast-food items to students just outside the campus. These “meat pie mums” and their kids won’t likely be swayed by arguments for local and organic foods, writes Caratzas. And forget the older folks: “Working on anybody past grade school is going to be tough.”

Granted, childhood comfort dishes hold a special place in people’s culinary memories, meaning that a kid who grew up on Big Macs might have a soft spot for greasy drive-thru burgers. Still, plenty of people—like me, for example—have emerged from childhoods fueled by TV dinners, canned fruit, sugary cereals, and iceberg lettuce to become fully food-aware adults. Growing up, I would have been just as loath to give up my lunchroom pizza as those British kids were to forgo their fries; my food awakening didn’t come until my first year of college (it was triggered by a burgeoning awareness of environmental issues and was spurred on by a year of study in France). So I sometimes wonder whether I would have rebelled against the sustainable-food philosophy if it had been imposed on me earlier in life. (I certainly know adult candyholics who weren’t allowed any sugar as kids.)

How did you develop your interest in food? Did that interest coincide with an awareness of health/environmental issues, or was it strictly about deliciousness? A little of both?