Thursday, November 01, 2007

Culinary Subterfuge

Do you feed kids by burying vegetables in their treats? Do you get them to eat zucchini by mashing it up and baking it in their pancakes or brownies?

There are two cookbooks that hit the market at the same time: Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (the wife of Jerry Seinfeld) and The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine, which both feature recipes that call for pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into the kids' treats. Indeed, the books are so similar, there has been a plagiarism flap.

Mimi Sheraton had a good comment in Slate about this, asking the same question I have: is this really a good way to introduce kids to vegetables? Grinding up perfectly good food and destroying its God-given shape, texture, aroma, flavor, and encouraging kids to eat brownies and cakes regularly?

My father grew up thinking he didn't like vegetables, because my grandmother more or less boiled everything until it was mush. Only after he married my mother, a good cook, did he learn abou the variety of vegetables available, the joy of combinations, the miracle of sautee, the layers of firm and soft textures, the balance of sweet and sour, the dazzling landscapes of good sauces.

At some point I entered his life, and I was a terribly fussy eater in spite of my mother's culinary powers; so I see there are parental skills that also come into play. I do not suggest, sitting here childless, that this is easy. I would suggest that these two cookbooks are presenting an easy way out that might create weird eating habits beyond the scope of a typical fussy child.

Also, the concept of mashing cauliflower into macaroni and cheese is just weird.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have practiced some stealth cooking as an adult, mainly with respect to tofu. Not all fussy eaters are children. Children have had but little time to develop and nurture their prejudices. Adults walk around with decades of eating habits on their backs.

As a vegetarian cook, I rely on certain foods that a lot of adults are loath to try: tempeh, tofu, and other soy products in particular. Never mind that my "soy nog" tastes exactly like egg nog. Never mind that the cheese-free cheesecake I can make for you (and very easily!) is delicious and light. Never mind that I can pan-fry tofu for stir fries that is so tasty people will snack on the tofu and leave the vegetables standing alone. The idea of tofu, in the minds of the uninitiated majority, is that tofu is a squishy and flavorless ooze. The very word triggers a gag reflex and they will refuse a meal rather than be subject to it. I have even been asked by suspicious eaters, "Is there going to be tofu?"

So yes, I have practiced a little bit of stealth cuisine. I have served you "nog" that had no eggs or dairy milk in it. Having drunk it, you said to me, "Oh that is so wonderful and I am such a wicked person for doing that to myself," and then and only then have I said: Have some more. It's all right. And then I told you what was too good to be true: This nog is non-fat. What? No! Begone, devil, you tempt my spirit with lies!! This nog, in fact, is rich with protein and is calcium enriched. No!! No! Be silent! The same goes for that cheesecake. It has no cheese or milk in it. It is not bad for you; in fact, it's one of the healthiest things you've eaten all day. You shall bewitch me!! Aaaaah - pour me another glass, I am lost to perdition!!!

So I am not without guilt, I suppose. Perhaps I make excuses for the practice when it comes to fussy adult eaters. After all, if my job is to feed them, then I must feed them. Generally, I err on the side of revealing my ingredients (if not my recipes). Part of this is to educate people about new foods, but also because people surely have a right to know what I am feeding them. This will, after all, become part of their bodies.

When I was a monastery cook for a few months, we had a visit from a monk who observed very strict veganism. Making accommodations for him was not encouraged, yet I found it an interesting creative challenge, to find alternatives to butter and milk. Not to mention the Shakespearean complexity of the mutual stealth - those who would have me fool the vegan were themselves being fooled into eating vegan food for a few days.


Anonymous said...

Go ahead and hide the vegetable. Moms are already sneaking the Ritalin into their children’s diet. Hey, why don’t they hide the homework by calling it playtime. Yeh, math is the new baseball. Give me a break! What great deniers were are raising.

About the controversial (read: plagiarized?)

TWO books which are:

both cookbooks
shown to the same publisher
in the same year
with the same UNIQUE recipes
on the same UNIQUE cooking concept
by authors who live in the same city
with nearly IDENTICAL book covers
both pitched to OPRAH


Ji Hyang said...

I'd love to hear the story about the double- stealth broccoli soup

Little Mama said...

I agree--putting vegetables in brownies is just too much. I think, though, we won't have to worry.....