Monday, March 9, 2009

Junior Foodies

So, while I was driving along, I saw a billboard. It was dominated by the face of a young girl, perhaps seven or eight years of age. She wore a plaintive expression, but was clean and well kept.

"I can't cook." was printed off to one side. This was followed by a pitch for "kid-friendly"meals, and the name of a local charity food bank.

It took a moment to register. But then my first thought was: "She can't?" In my past life, when I worked with children, occasionally, on the unit, we would have a pot-luck for the kids. All of us staff members would bring something for the children and ourselves to eat. I would usually bring some sort of heavy pasta and meat dish - the sort of thing that would lapse you into a food coma after one helping. Thinking back on it, I'm surprised you could look at it without gaining weight.

One day, we announced another pot-luck, and the children immediately clamored for their own turn to be the cooks. That was a lively debate among us staffers. We argued the safety merits, and the fact that we didn't want the kids to be doing "adult" tasks rated highly - after all, it was us who were supposed to be caring for them. But in the end, we let them do the cooking. I doubt that you'll be surprised (even though I was) to learn that many of the children, barely into their teens, could out-cook most of the staff, a decade or more older than they. They were excellent cooks - they had to be. Before they'd been removed from their homes, their parents had been unreliable at best, actively neglectful at worst; if these kids hadn't learned to cook for themselves (and often, their younger siblings), many of them would have gone hungry. And so they'd learned to cook; often complex (and very tasty) dishes with rather simple ingredients.

But really, the best thing about letting the kids cook for us was that it gave them another way to show us affection, and us another avenue by which to praise them.

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