Mom’s Voice: Playing with Food

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Don’t you think we’ve crossed some line somewhere when an eating contest is televised on ESPN? I love food as much as the next food lover, but when the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest can be viewed on a sports channel, should we be worried or take it with a grain of salt?

Have we evolved beyond viewing food as a cornerstone of survival? For most of human history, an enormous amount of time and energy must be dedicated to finding, killing, growing, and cooking food. With technological advancements and wealth beyond imaginations of many, our society is now literally playing with its food.

In 1996, Joost Elffers’ book “Play With Your Food” was a coffee table book sensation with colorful pictures of food as animals and faces. It was described as “a groundbreaking collection of photographs featuring playfully carved fruits and vegetables.”

Groundbreaking? Really?

I come from an era when Mickey Mouse pancakes were about the coolest thing anyone could do with food. The second thing I remember from the seventies were the ice sculptures. And while that wasn’t technically food, perhaps it was a gateway.

Not only has food become sport and art; it’s made its way into the toy industry. Good news for some kids! No more boring meals where mom and dad are harping on you to learn to keep your elbows off the table or put your napkin on your lap. Kids can instead show off their spaghetti beard or meatball nose with their Food Face Plate. It’s a regular dinner plate with a plain looking face right in the center. The packaging says the plate “inspires interactive food fun.”

A competitor sells an almost identical plate and boasts, “A Fun and Acceptable Way to Play with Food”

Why not get a set for the whole family? On nights when the Food Face Plates are dirty, the family can train for the hot dog eating contest together.

It’s not unreasonable to guess that the ironic twist – aside from the obvious promoting play with food – is that the plates are probably manufactured in China. By starving kids.

As the comedian Jim Gaffigan said, “It would be kinda embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country though. “Yeah the appetizer, that’s the food we eat before we have our food…No no you’re thinking of dessert, that’s food we eat after we have our food.”

Hard to imagine what they would think of our nifty plates and coffee table books.

This is little doubt that food – the abundance of, and the lack of, plays a critical role in shaping our culture.

Food. It’s what’s for dinner. And now apparently, it’s what’s the topic of books, art, and television shows. It’s what we play with and take photos of.

Apparently the world really is our cold, plum, raw oyster, sipped from its shell, with cocktail sauce on the side.


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