As an adolescent, I went through a phase where I was always looking for scientific studies to "prove" how everything my parents had done was wrong. I read an article that suggested that toddlers, before having an exposure to parental prompting or cultural influences, would eat a perfectly balanced diet just by instinct—not necessarily as formal meals, but if left alone for a day amongst food, they would graze in a manner so as to eat just what their bodies needed.
I just knew that study must be true, based upon the post-dinnertime hours I sat watching creamed spinach congeal in front of me—or when I was forced to finish large restaurant dinners that were too expensive to waste.
But my memory offers me evidence that questions the validity of that study—slightly. Like so many children, I remember the first time I ever cooked something.
Baking, as opposed to heating up Ragu or throwing a plain breast of chicken in the broiler, was alien to my home. But my mother took me on a play date with a girl my age. I don't remember the child's name, she moved away shortly after. But she must have been from a "cooking tribe" because when we were alone, the first thing my new friend did was take me to the kitchen and haul out a large box of Rice Krispies.
Rice Krispies were rather dull to me. I preferred cereals with animal cartoon spokespersons like the Trix Rabbit. I was suspicious of the strange, creepy little men named Snap, Crackle, and Pop. But my new friend assured me not to worry—she could make the bland cereal taste good. She heated a bag full of puffy marshmallows and a bowl of neon yellow oleo, and stirred in the crackling cereal, measuring as if by memory.
I stared, almost afraid to touch the crunching and snapping of the spoon she used to stir the contents—I had only poured milk on cereal. I was from a "butter" household, not a "margarine" one. The folds of yellow and white intimidated me, as if I would be expected to eat the entire bowl. The girl pressed the mixture in a pan with wax paper on the bottom. I came from an aluminum foil family!
As the Krispies cooled, we headed into the garden. Only the radishes were ready to eat, and my friend pulled them from the ground, dusted them off and ate them, unwashed. I had never eaten anything straight from the earth. When I was four I accidentally impaled my eye on a tomato stick (fortunately only leaving a bloodshot scar). Ever since then, I had been banned from gardening. I wanted to like the radishes, I liked the idea of the radishes, and so I kept chewing, waiting for the good taste, when my mouth only detected bitterness and dirt.
Then we went inside to eat the Rice Krispies, a bracing relief of sweetness. For dessert, we selected lollipops from a big cellophane bag in the pantry. My friend gave me a grape lollipop and took a blue one for herself. When I was about to leave, so we could both enjoy the different flavors of the pops, my friend offered me a lick of hers—and my mother screamed and stuffed me in the car.
"Germs! Can't I trust you for a minute?" my mother said. And so ended my intuitive eating experiment involving dirt, saliva, cereal and Parkay.
Despite their lack of sweetness, Rice Krispies contain high fructose corn syrup. And marshmallows contain gelatin, which I don't eat. So I don't eat Rice Krispie treats any more, for the most part.
However, recently I did create a refrigerated cereal treat made of puffed rice, white chocolate, and cashew butter. These have some of the "ooey-gooey" texture of Rice Krispies and even contain some protein to cushion the sugar spike you might feel if you make them for your own play date.
About the author: Mary Pagones (known as HeartofGlass) eats food, mostly plants, but still worries far too much what she is eating in New Jersey.