Was watching the first episode of Michael Pollan’s ‘’cooked’’ on Netflix the other day, and was really struck by the first five minutes of the episode where he said that the more obsessed with televised food and photographed food we become, the less time we seem to be spending in our kitchens. He might be totally right in this regard, it’s as if our hunger is being satisfied by watching perfectly edited cooking shows or else by flipping through Instagram for a few minutes. I know that I should not be the one writing about this as I post food pictures every day on my Instagram account, and do watch my fair share of food porn myself. However, I also happen to have a five year old daughter whom I feel strongly responsible for how she will grow as an adult. And well, truth be told, I do not want to be the parent of a twenty year old woman who thinks she can cook because she has watched thousands of fleeting images of dressed up food, but gets disheartened once she realises that what she has cooked does not look half as good, or taste half as decadent, as the blogger posting the photo claimed the dish to be.
This is what I meant when I wrote in my very first entry last August that food should never be an element of fashion, food is not hip, food is not there to make you better than others, food is not a status quo. Food is there to nourish us, keep us from getting sick, and in order not to get sick we have to cook and eat the food. Watching cooking shows and following cool instagrammers simply does not cut the deal.
Cooking and creating things with our children has become so crucial to what kind of adults we will have in the coming twenty years that I cannot get myself not to think or write about it. We are responsible for teaching them what we know, even if it is very little, and if we know nothing then we should be responsible enough to learn, ask and teach our children something. We really have no excuse here, cooking is the simplest, most rudimentary of skills the human being has, it is simply an injustice to rob the treasury of food memories from our children’s lives.
Cooking with children is not easy, they are messy and ask a lot of questions. And It is advisable to first establish where you stand in terms of your own personal food experiences, your opinion on current food issues and basically what type of human being you are since cooking with a child is intense when done well. There is no escape when they corner you with the most uncomfortable queries about why some eggs have chicks coming out of them and others don’t, why we eat cows but do not cook the cat we have living in our apartment, and if the baby pig we cooked the other week had a mommy that is waiting for him at the farm. You might think that you’ll be able to bullshit your way through all of these questions, but children are very sensitive and their opinion formation is very volatile. They don’t give a fuck if you were the person who gave birth to them or not, the truth is that you are being viciously judged there and then on the way you answer their questions.
Cook things you are comfortable with, that are easy, effective and nourishing. Children, contrary to popular belief, do not care about making funny faces or animal shapes out of their food. Start with single ingredients, that are a meal in themselves. Children love eggs, they are fascinated by the symmetrical shape and the shell texture. Teach them how to peel an already boiled egg, and then move on to boiling it themselves, teach them to be careful but not afraid of fire and heat. For a five year old, pouring a glass of milk on their own is a big achievement, and there is nothing holding you back from buying milk from different animals to compare the difference in tastes between the milks. Cooking is most of all about tasting, and yes tasting is a learnt skill, and we, the adults, are the ones responsible for teaching it.
Take your kids to the market, teach them how a ripe avocado should feel- heavy but soft. How pressing the peel of an orange produces the most perfumed of oils that is able to spark when put near an open flame. How before we get the fruits we have flowers; buy some orange blossom water which is quite inexpensive and wash their hair with it at least once in their childhood. I assure you they will never forget how orange blossoms smell after that, and given enough experiences children will make up their own algorithms once they grow up. Fuel their curiosity in a simple, unpretentious way, and if you are a snob please do avoid being one around your kids, and really consider avoiding having children at all.