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Ruth Reichl: "I'd Rather Be Training a Nation of Food Warriors"

The critic regrets how she judged the Yo Gabba Gabba! challenge.

By Ruth Reichl

This is an important challenge, and I’m not totally happy with the outcome.

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But I can’t blame anybody but myself.

There’s no doubt that Neal’s dish was the kids’ favorite. I liked it too. Anybody would: it was soft, tasty, inoffensive. It was a high class version of Chef Boyardee. But what’s the subliminal message of a dish like this? What are we telling our kids? 

We’re saying, loud and clear, that vegetables taste best when they’re hidden. Is this really the message we want to be sending? 

I didn’t love Bryan’s Ruby Beet Sorbet with Toasted Granola and Vanilla Yogurt Dome. I didn’t even like it. But I love the fact that Bryan’s three kids would eat beet sorbet and ask for more. And frankly, I’d rather my own kid would gobble up a dish that proudly trumpets “I am a vegetable’’ than one where the vegetables are sneaking around in disguise.  

This was a contest; the chefs were playing to win. Theoretically, those with children should have had an advantage. Would any father really make Eggplant Jello no matter how sophisticated his children might be? I don’t think so. But childless Doug went for broke, and made a ridiculous dish that any parent would have advised against. Amazingly, many of the kids asked for seconds. Even thirds.  

There’s a lesson here. Eating is learned behavior, and with each meal, we’re sending our children a message. Do we really want to be telling the next generation not to try new things?  To stay away from unfamiliar foods and stick to their comfort zone? Or do we want to encourage them to try new things, hoping they might discover new foods they didn’t know they liked? 

We’re the grown-ups; kids basically eat what we tell them to eat. If we want to raise a generation of fearless eaters, we’re not going to do it by hiding the Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. We’re going to do it by presenting our children with interesting new foods and inspiring them to take a taste. It’s up to us.

Personally, I’d rather be training a nation of food warriors. So, I want to apologize for the way we judged this show. Next time around, I’ll give highest marks to Doug and Bryan and Jennifer; they challenged those kids. They opened their eyes. They went beyond meatballs and pasta and mac and cheese, demonstrating that food can be a wonderful adventure. 


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