When I was a child I really, really hated boiled peas. I hated everything about them: their sickly green color, the fact that they smelled like a combination of rotting swamp water and a freshly dug grave, the way they burst open in your mouth like little pustules, but most especially, I hated the taste. They tasted bad to me: really, really bad. Somewhere along the way from childhood to adolescence my antipathy for peas settled down into a more normal loathing, and then, with adulthood, it became an even more normal dislike. In fact, these days, if I had to I could even eat a pea and be gracious about it, and while I would never go so far as to actually order something off the menu if it listed peas as the primary ingredient, if they do show up in my food I am not completely anal about picking each and every single one of the little round abominations out of the dish. Not completely anal, but still—a tiny bit anal, nonetheless.
Which is probably why I have never been a big fan—let alone an enforcer—of the “clean plate club.” The memories of needing a quart of milk to help me gag down a handful of peas have always been too fresh for me to ever seriously contemplate putting someone else through that torment—anyone else, actually, let alone the people that I love. And so the food rules at my house have always been somewhat relaxed. Sure, like any other parent I experimented with the whole “just try one bite” thing, but then I remembered how much of my pea despising occurred before the pea ever touched my lips, and I relented on even that. (When you think about it, “How do you know you won’t like it if you’ve never even tried it” is actually a pretty stupid argument. I could count on one hand the number of times I have been presented with something truly disgusting—fermented fish eyes, for example—and it turned out to be my new favorite food. Really, if something looks disgusting to you, the best you can reasonably hope for is that when you try it it won’t make you spew chunks all over the table. And what kind of recommendation is that for a food? “How do you know it won’t make you hurl if you’ve never even tried it?”)
Interestingly enough, my refusal to join the food police has made me more of a pariah amongst my fellow parents than almost any other parenting decision I have ever made. Every time I let my kids hop up from the table without first studying the leftovers on their plates like an ancient priest reading auguries other parents look at me like I’ve broken some sort of secret parental pact to torture all of our children together. It’s enough to make me feel like the only guy at the bar who doesn’t beat his wife.
It’s no better when I try to avoid the accusing “clean plate club traitor” looks by only serving foods I know my kids will finish: you’d think I was sending my kids to school with a crumpled pack of menthols and a thermos of black coffee every time I let them take a baggie full of Lucky Charms and a piece of cold pizza for their sack lunch.
And yes, I’ve heard the argument that the only way your kids will ever grow up to have any kind of refined palate at all is if you are diligent about exposing them to all kinds of food when they are young, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take if it means that meal times can pass at my house without all of the drama and fun of a water boarding session.
And, of course, without any damn peas.