Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Kids Food and Racism

While I have not read Young Children and Racial Justice by Jane Lane, I have done enough due diligence to say that the author believes that racism is learned behavior (Link to PDF of table of contents) . I'm not sure what to make of this UPI story about the book that suggests that Ms. Lane thinks that when kids say 'yuck' to food that is from outside of their culture they may be exhibiting racist behavior.

Certainly my own experience does not support this hypothesis. It's my observation that almost everyone is conservative when it comes to eating and prefers to eat that which they are used to eating and will initially reject the unfamiliar even when it is food that should be comfortably within the confines of their particular cultural envelop.

Mostly, I think, people tend to eat food that they believe is safe and that 'safe' food is that which that has been demonstrated to be safe over a longish period of repetitive consumption. So when a British kid, or adult for that matter, says 'yuck' to a bowl of curried goat he's rejecting the dish because he does not trust that it is 'safe' to eat and not because he suspects it was prepared by or symbolizes someone of a despised race.

11 comments:

Jennie/Tikka said...

I agree with you - though I will throw out this little bit of my own personal observations. In adults I've seen something that also seems to indicate that food choices are somewhat about loyalty to the person who did the cooking when they were kids; ergo, if it isn't something that someone used to make for them, or in the way they are used to having it, it becomes an internal taboo. To eat something different (or even try it) becomes an act of unfaithfulness to somebody in their past.

I don't think it racism per se, but I do suspect it's about the politics of family loyalty.

blondee47 said...

I, 100%, back your theory - anyone who has kids or was a kid themselves backs your theory... even adults won't eat certain foods, I have a hard time getting my husband into an Indian restaraurant and it is not because he is a racist, that I assure everyone who reads this comment. He gets heartburn just looking at spaghetti sauce...the acids and spice scare him

Why are people allowed to publish rubbish? is it really every and anything for a buck?

blondee47 said...

Further thought...my own son having been bar mitzvahed hates to eat matzoh brie...am i to assume he is an anti-semite?

Anonymous said...

People will find what they want in anything - racist behavior, an image of Jesus on a potato chip, Sasquatch, UFO's, Aliens... etc.

I agree with you. People will eat what they are familiar with, especially children.

Now... if the book showed that people would not eat french fries (or something common) depending upon the race of the cook, then she may have a point.

Tags said...

I wonder what's on the menu at Jane Lane's Ivory Tower?

Bob del Grosso said...

Curds and whey, Tags, curds and whey.

Scotty said...

Natalie, your son needs therapy. Matzoh Brie is the only reason to look forward to Pesach (Passover).

Bob, your point is well taken, but I think this is about prejudice - food prejudice. Prejudice means to pre-judge, and children do so based on the tastes of their parents.

But, if you are lucky, you break out of that bondage.

Linda said...

Learned behavior, fear of the unknown, yes. But racism, no, that's really stretching it...

Sean said...

I think you bring up an important distinction Bob but to play devil's advocate a little bit, I don't think that necessarily invalidates Lane's argument (which I admittedly haven't read). I agree that people seem to be more motivated by food safety then any conscious, racist prejudice. However, the sorts of foods and cooking methods that are culturally accepted as "safe," and by extension the sort of cuisine we are exposed to at a young age when our palettes are most malleable, may be influenced by racism working at a cultural level. If certain foods are beyond our culinary repertoire, like certain words or ideas are outside the bounds of our cultural lexicon, because of the process of othering groups of people we may distrust then our "yuck" response, as innocent of any prejudice in any specific instant, would still be representative of a prevailing racist attitude.

Bob del Grosso said...

To all

I've been thinking about this quite a bit and my take on the subject has become more refined, equivocal, if you will.

I agree completely that a knee-jerk rejection of a food associated with a specific racial group by an individual of another racial group who is aware of the other can be an expression of racism.

But that can only happen after the one doing the rejecting is old enough to be aware of the other race.

Prior to that point, I believe that most "yuck" responses are a features of early ego development, which at it's core is a function of the need to protect oneself through the rejection of what the developing mind decides is unsafe or unpleasant and the need to assert autonomy.

However, I'm at the point where I will entertain the notion that a kid who "yucks" a lot during the years zero up to the age where he first begins to associate certain foods with racial groups other than his own, is especially prone to grow up into a George Lincoln Rockwell or Louis Farakhan.

That seems like a reasonable assertion, no?

Abulafia said...

The yuck reaction is kinda interesting. We use it for all sorts of situations.

For food we intensely dislike in terms of taste.

For ideas and experiences we find unpalatteable, or disgusting.

We use pretty much exactly the same disgust reaction to express our disgust at rotten food, at human waste, or, if we are racist, to express our distaste at other cultures.

I'm thinking of the things we make that disgust face for. The link I'd hazard she is tracing is the one between food disgust, and taboo disgust.

And the reacion is the same one. We make the same face for Durian fruit, as we do for dog faeces on the soles of our feet, as we do for ideas we consider so unacceptable as to be disgusting. Incest for instance. It's the taboo reaction.

And, no doubt, there are occasions where one thing gets mixed up with the other.(eg"How can you eat that shit?"or"How can you eat that foreign muck")

A child who is taught that spicy food is representative of a repugnant idea, foreigness and otherness, may take that association to heart. And that disgust reaction can be a taboo taste reaction.

That said, stacks of racists love curry, tikka masala, hot spicy food. A quick trip down to the wrong Indian, or Chinese restaurant on a friday night this side of the water will demonstrate the point nicely.

And stacks of kids just have weird, and bizarre food likes and dislikes. I'm Irish, I had, and retain, a pathological hatred of cabbage. Served every Sunday in my house. Some parents are neurotic without being racist. Some are just macrobiotic. Some kitchens just lack imagination. Some kitchens are so staunchly traditional that certain tastes never make it to the kids palette. Again, I brought the first pepper into my house, age 14. A happy day for all concerned.

Theres certainly a possible relationship. Some children will have inherited a palette that is indicative of, or characterises, an attitude to food determined by racism. They may well bring the same set of determining taboos to the sports they like and play, the tv programmes they watch etc. etc.

But the correlation is far from 100percent. There are far too many other variables at work.

As barometers go, it's not reliable.

Conversely, we often hold up, as an image to ourselves, our liking for diverse foods and cuisines, and knowledge of them, as a working example of our curiousity and open-mindedness, don't we?