Eating for Beginners
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Knowing vs. Understanding
I began this project with a lot of other people’s ideas about food in my head -- including what I’ve proven beyond a doubt to be the entirely false one that if you just offer children a variety of food, they’ll eat it (some children will, of course, but definitely not mine). By the end, I had my own ideas.
I picked produce at a farm upstate, I made cheese, I worked many 10-hour shifts in the applewood kitchen (and watched the owner, David, do the same after being up all night with one or both of his daughters). I rode through the night in a delivery truck after packing produce for hours in a frigid cooler room. I milked goats and went 50 miles out to sea on a fishing boat. These experiences taught me repeatedly that knowing something is true -- we should eat as locally as possible, we should support small farms -- and understanding why it’s true are two very different things. They also taught me about the pleasure, as opposed to the duty, in making these choices. Meanwhile my son, inveterate tosser of plates and refuser of cheeses, taught me that knowing what your child should eat -- variety, organic -- is useless in a face-off with a willful toddler, and that accepting that truth, just like eating the occasional strawberry in winter, has its place.
Like parenting, eating in 21st-century America is riddled with choices, challenges, great joy, and utter confusion. There’s no single right way to do either one, but if you’re lucky, you can learn to accept both on their own terms and live with the surprising results. On my first day in the kitchen at applewood, awed and daunted by all the French terminology (chinois, anyone?) and the gigantic utensils being thrown around, I was asked to pick herb leaves from their stems for garnishes. I sorted tarragon and chervil into white plastic containers that would be part of the mise en place -- the ingredients prepared in advance for the chef’s use -- near the grill. With the seriousness I thought befitted the moments just before dinner service began, I handed the fresh green leaves to David and watched him line them up with the rest of the evening’s necessities, which were in cylindrical plastic quarts on a bed of ice.
Then I noticed, next to the herbs I’d just sorted and the finely minced chives and flaky sea salt, a glistening pile of orange, red, yellow, and green Sour Patch Kids in an identical container. “Dig in!” David said to me, throwing a few into his mouth and turning back to the stove. And so I did.
Excerpted by permission from “Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid” by Melanie Rehak. ©2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.