As I was thinking about sharing some of my teachable moments with PJ on the topic of food and cooking with my blog readers, it occurred to me that like breathing, we often eat without thinking much about it. And yet, our children are always watching and learning from what we do and say about food.
This was never more clear to me than yesterday when PJ came over as I was snapping green beans and asked if he could try one. Up until yesterday, PJ had not been a fan of green beans. I have had to pick them out of soups and stews as well as endure his complaints and expressions of disgust and disappointment if they land on his plate at dinner time. So when I handed PJ one of the beans I was snapping, I was fully prepared for him to screw up his face and then run to spit it out in the trash. To my surprise, he liked the raw green bean and took a few from the bowl and ate them. This moment nicely illustrates the advice our pediatrician gave to my mother when my brother was little and proving to be a very picky eater: "just make healthy food available and eventually they will eat what they need." So, I will be keeping fresh, tender green beans at eye level for PJ while they are in season.
I was snapping the beans to go with a chicken I was roasting for dinner. As I stood in the kitchen slicing meat off the bone and putting the bones in the stockpot for soup, I was still high on the fact that I had finally discovered how PJ likes to eat green beans. While I was doing this, PJ hoisted himself up onto one of the bar stools at the counter so that he could watch me. I was blindsided when he suddenly burst out with, "What, we eat real chickens!" Now I thought PJ knew this as it has been a topic of much discussion since we moved into our house four summers ago. Our next door neighbors are vegetarian and PJ plays with their youngest daughter. The kids have discussed their individual eating habits and cultural identities at some length and sometimes in some very funny ways. In fact, while eating lunch yesterday, PJ asked me what he was called since he eats both meat and vegetables. I struggled with the answer the same way I did when he asked, since Devanshi is Indian, what am I? It's not that simple since at this point our family is not as ethnically homogeneous as our neighbors, so I landed on English since he couldn't seem to grasp the idea that he is Slovak, but only speaks English. He has a little English from my side, so it's not a lie, but he sounded a little Amish as he walked around telling people that he's "an English."
Finally, I answered PJ's question about what he is if he eats both meat and vegetables by saying that he is an omnivore, though I realize that that would make our neighbors herbivores not vegetarians which isn't really true. I tried to get into this a little with PJ because of course his next question was what is his friend Liam is called since he only eats meat. I told PJ that if Liam only eats meat that he would be a carnivore, but that technically Liam is an omnivore (as is our next door neighbor) because Liam can eat both meat and vegetables. However, when PJ insisted that, in fact, Liam could only eat meat, I gave up and moved on to another subject. It is important to appreciate that the six year old mind is very rigid as the ego develops and learns to differentiate between themselves and others, so I will tackle this topic again when we PJ is ready.
What yesterday taught me is that PJ is starting to become more aware of his food and his eating habits and that he starting to make some meaning out of them.
Being conscious about what we eat and where it comes from is important to me and as I've mentioned before, this has grown out of struggling with my own health issues as well as a growing awareness of the preciousness of our environment and not wanting to see animals mistreated. At the time of this writing, there is a big egg recall underway and I have to say I am more than a little relieved that I get my eggs from a farmer I know and trust. In fact, when I go to pick up my vegetables at the farm, many of the chickens are there to greet me, clucking and pecking on the ground underneath the tables of fresh vegetables.
It is important to me that PJ recognizes the connection between the chicken on his plate and those hens. If an animal's life is going to be sacrificed to nourish our bodies, I want him to know that the chicken had once been living and breathing just like him, not some inanimate object wrapped in plastic to be plucked out of the meat cooler at the grocery store. My hope is that knowing this will make him a better steward of his own body, our earth and the other animals that inhabit this earth with us.