The Making of the Picky Eater

Parents have fretted over children’s diets since Victorian times, but today’s mealtime fussiness is different: Blame snacking, unwholesome foods aimed at the young and contradictory signals from adults

What’s surprising is how recent the fight is. The phrase “picky eater” first appears in the lexicon in 1970. Until the early 20th century, there’s scant evidence of concerns over children refusing what they were given, even though what they were given often was an afterthought of an adult menu. As the food historian Bee Wilson wittily put it, during the Victorian era, “Children’s food could be summed up by the word ‘scraps.’” This is something I think about after cooking three different entrees for various family members before eating my own dinner of rejected grilled cheese crusts over the kitchen sink.

Adverse Childhood Experiences International Questionnaire (ACE-IQ)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) refer to some of the most intensive and frequently occurring sources of stress that children may suffer early in life. Such experiences include multiple types of abuse; neglect; violence between parents or caregivers; other kinds of serious household dysfunction such as alcohol and substance abuse; and peer, community and collective violence.

It has been shown that considerable and prolonged stress in childhood has life-long consequences for a person’s health and well-being. It can disrupt early brain development and compromise functioning of the nervous and immune systems. In addition because of the behaviours adopted by some people who have faced ACEs, such stress can lead to serious problems such as alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, unsafe sex, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

The Children at the Trump Rallies

What is it like to see young people exposed to so much anger? Heartbreaking, says a Times photographer.

In those final weeks, I remember being heartbroken that children were exposed to this anger, were learning from it and participating in it. I knew those parents loved their children just as I do mine, and that common bond was my reminder of their humanity and my own. I was searching for a way to connect in an environment that felt so toxic and violently polarized.

.. One of the most poignant photos from that time was of a boy, dressed as a fledgling Trump, in the front row of a rally with his father in Grand Junction, Colo., just two weeks before the election. Together, they chanted, “Lock her up, lock her up!” The father beamed with pride. Vitriol sputtered from his son Jaden’s mouth.

.. I photographed 10-year-old Gianna Musolino holding her father’s arm in the most tender and gentle embrace, her arms entwined around his, her head nestled in the soft bend of his elbow. There was no mistaking the comfort and protection she felt under his wing and the pride he felt in providing it.

.. I thought again about my son, as I have done so many times over these past few months, imagining with deep sadness what it would be like for him to be taken away from us and what it might do to him. How could any parent possibly support a president capable of this?

Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good

The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.

Moral elevation gains strength when it is scarce.

.. Mister Rogers was a lifelong Republican and an ordained Presbyterian minister. His show was an expression of the mainline Protestantism that was once the dominating morality in American life.

.. Once, as Tom Junod described in a profile for Esquire, Rogers met a 14-year-old boy whose cerebral palsy left him sometimes unable to walk or talk. Rogers asked the boy to pray for him.

The boy was thunderstruck. He had been the object of prayers many times, but nobody had asked him to pray for another. He said he would try since Mister Rogers must be close to God and if Mister Rogers liked him he must be O.K.

Junod complimented Rogers on cleverly boosting the boy’s self-esteem, but Rogers didn’t look at the situation that way at all: “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”

And here is the radicalism that infused that show: that

  • the child is closer to God than the adult;
  • that the sick are closer than the healthy;
  • that the poor are closer than the rich and
  • the marginalized closer than the celebrated.

Rogers often comforted children on the show and taught them in simple terms, but the documentary shows how he did so with a profound respect for the dignity of each child that almost rises to veneration. You see his visceral disgust for shows that don’t show respect — that dump slime on children, that try to entertain them with manic violence.

In the gospel of Fred Rogers, children are our superiors in the way

  • they trust each person they meet, the way
  • they lack guile,
  • the way a child can admit simple vulnerability.

Rogers was drawing on a long moral tradition, that the last shall be first. It wasn’t just Donald Trump who reversed that morality, though he does represent a cartoonish version of the idea that winners are better than losers, the successful are better than the weak. That morality got reversed long before Trump came on the scene, by an achievement-oriented success culture, by a culture that swung too far from humble and earnest caritas.

Rogers was singing from a song sheet now lost, a song sheet that once joined conservative evangelicals and secular progressives. The song sheet may be stacked somewhere in a drawer in the national attic, ready for reuse once again.