domingo, 31 de agosto de 2014

The Food Paradox

I have three children in my care now: my two boys and my niece Mar, who's been with us for over two months already. Today I'm inclined to write about her food habits, something I am observing as if it were an experiment. I asked her permission to write about her, because in a way I feel like I am exposing her or judging the way she eats. I am not doing that, although I realise that I'm trying to undo eleven years of food conditioning. And honestly, I don't think that can be accomplished in just five months. It seems that every year around this time I must write a post about food. I still marvel at the importance food gets when raising children. I would have never thought.

Just one week before Mar was due to come here I asked my mum how she was going. Was she prepared to come? Was she sad about leaving? She said she was looking forward to coming, but last time she had seen her she'd been crying and in a power struggle with her parents because of food. I told my mum that while Mar was here she would have food freedom, just like my children. There would be no tears over food. Mum said, 'Yes, we know, we know.' Nevertheless, the three weeks she was with us, she worried about what Mar ate and didn't eat. She remarked that she ate better here than at home. She had fruit, carrots and tried kangaroo meat for the first time. She loves my home-made pizzas and pikelets (made with honey, no sugar). Soon she was making pizzas with me; she would have one nearly every day.

But I soon noticed that she only eats a few things: pizzas, toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, bread and butter, pikelets with jam, and occasionally lamb chops. Also carrots, grapes, bananas and strawberries. No eggs, fish or chicken, and if we eat out, she'll only have chips, pizza and milkshakes. No veggies at all. I keep offering new things to her, but early on she told me, 'If it's a vegetable, don't even bother: I won't try it.' The only new thing she's tasted since she's been here is sushi, a tiny bite of nori roll. But if it's a cake or something sweet she's more than willing to try it.

I still don't buy junk food, but when I go shopping the kids are allowed to get whatever they want. Dave and Alex don't ask for much anymore, maybe ice cream or yoghurt. But one day, at the beginning of Mar being here, I took the three of them shopping. When Mar found out there was no restrictions on what they could get, she raided the supermarket, and Alex was happy to follow her. They filled the trolley with chocolate, biscuits, ice cream, chips, lollies... I was paralysed with shock. My first reaction was to say, 'No way. Put all that back.' Mar looked at me in surprise, of course, because I was contradicting myself. So, I said, 'Ok, you can have it.' She obviously thought she had to make the most of that opportunity because who knew when she would have another chance to have all the junk food she's usually not allowed to have. Luckily, she doesn't come shopping anymore; we go when she's at school.

Last week we went to Bali. It was Brad and I, Dave, Alex and Mar, and three of their cousins from Perth and their parents. We all noticed that Dave and Alex are the best eaters. We asked them, like we've always done, what they felt like eating. One day they said they wanted sushi, another chicken, or pasta. They still don't eat everything, but they're not as fussy as the other kids. The cousins were sometimes forced to eat something they might not want to eat because their parents were there to make sure of that. Mar had food freedom, so she ate waffles, pizza, hot-dogs, chips and milkshakes. One day she agreed to have a bit of chicken.

I thought by then she would have tired of having always the same, but that still hasn't happened. We had talked a few times about how much she loves everything sweet. I told her I thought she had too much sugar. The first time I said that she was defensive and said she didn't think so and, 'It is good to have sugar if you're athletic like I am.' I said I didn't agree. 'You could have rice or pasta instead, and that would be better.' But she doesn't eat that either, only bread. One night in Bali we talked about sugar again and she said, 'I'm having so much of it because my parents don't let me have it. You shouldn't let me have it either. You should control me.' I said, 'But you know I don't believe in any control but self-control. I wouldn't like you telling me how much sugar I can have, so I don't tell you. I will keep offering veggies to you, but I won't offer you any junk food full of sugar.' She said, 'Ok, from now on, that's it, I'm not going to have any more lollies or sugar, only healthy stuff.' 'So you're going to try a few vegetables, fish and chicken?' 'No, I won't eat any vegetables at all while I'm here because when I go back home I will be forced to eat them again.' I told her she was missing out because some veggies are really tasty. She's adamant that she's not going to try any, and I don't blame her. She's rebellious as she should be, and I would do exactly the same. She still has three months to go here and I'm curious to see what she's going to eat when she gets sick of having pizzas and toasted sandwiches. She's already decided to cut down on the sugar intake, so surely she will be soon trying something new...?