And so onto to the politics of food and manhood… Our almost twelve-year-old son Jamie is a confirmed vegetable hater. He is a little guy and not a very big eater, but will make a reasonably good stab at most things I present him with. With one notable exception: vegetables. He will, if forced, nibble a stick of raw carrot. He will eat vegetable soup as long as it is blended completely smooth with no chunks of anything that might resemble vegetable matter lurking at the bottom of the bowl. He will eat tomato sauce, but again, only if there are no bits of tomato showing. But that’s it. The first sign of pretty much any other veg on his plate, young Master McKinney rehearses the immortal words of Ori the Dwarf from The Hobbit: “I don’t eat green food!” Or for that matter, purple, or yellow, or red.
It’s hard to know where this aversion comes from. As a family, we try pretty hard to eat well, without being obsessive about it. We eat a lot of veg, creatively stir fried, grilled, curried, steamed, marinated, or just raw as it comes. I am a good cook, and my food tastes good. Our 7-year-old daughter Susanna wolfs down her own veggies and then smugly shows her big brother her plate. “See Jamie, I ate it!”
People tell me not to worry, he’ll get less fussy with age, he’s not malnourished, he’s fine, etc. I know there are millions of parents out there fighting their own battles with fussy eaters. I know that as parental worries go, it could be an awful lot worse. But I admit: it bugs the pants off me. We beg and wheedle. We bribe. We make threats: no chocolate, no video games, no rugby training, etc. We reward the rare occasion when he does manage to choke down a leaf of spinach or the tiniest bud of broccoli. Now that he’s getting older, we try to appeal to his growing sense of vanity: “You want to look fit, don’t you?” “You want to grow into a big strong man, don’t you?” You don’t want to end up looking like that, do you?” (pointing out Yoda or Gollum or any one of many wizened little veg-fearing characters dotting about town). We reason. We explain the science of vitamins and nutrition. We encourage him to help with the cooking and planting vegetables in the garden. Yes, we even grow our own! We’ve tried every trick in the book, and nothing works. Nothing at all. He’s clever and stubborn and incredibly consistent, and I am not Supermum. If there are any Supermums out there who know the secret for curing a confirmed vegephobic, get in touch.
In the meantime, my blender is my best friend. I will continue to render his green food invisible in soups and sauces, and repeat my tired old mantra: real men eat vegetables! Maybe he will one day.