How many posts have I written (or have I yet to write) about time? It seems like it’s always going to be a hot topic on a family-and-food blog; after all, so much of what seems to hold us back as a culture from the homecooked, sit-down, family dinner of yesteryear is a simple factor of too little time. We’re rushing, rushing, rushing, and when push comes to shove and priorities come into play, it’s often easier or more convenient to do a grab-and-go sort of meal affair than a real dinner-table dinner complete with actual food, utensils, and plates that might need to be washed.
I didn’t think, though, that I’d be writing about time tonight. No, I thought I was going to share with you the recipe for the AMAZING homemade baked samosas I wizarded up this weekend (yes, I’m beating my chest a little bit on this one, because they were completely awesome and I did it entirely without a recipe). However, something else caught my attention today — something you probably saw already — a little something about a woman known as The Barefoot Contessa, and the 6-year-old boy she appears to have snubbed.
Quick recap: The Make-A-Wish Foundation contacts the Barefoot Contessa, aka Ina Garten of Food Network fame, and tells her there’s a 6-year-old cancer patient who’s requested to meet her as his one wish. Not once, but TWICE, the Contessa declines, citing scheduling conflicts. In other words, she’s too busy to spend a couple of hours with a critically ill kid who really wants to cook with her. I swore to myself that if I wrote about this, I wasn’t going to do it with any kind of spin whatsoever — that I’d play neutral on the topic — but it’s really hard to be neutral about just what in the world might possess somebody to say “No, thanks, kid, I’ll pass” and leave the Make-A-Wish Foundation to explain to this child that he’ll have to pick something else.
However. I’m not writing this post to be just another blogger who’s trying to defame the Contessa. I’ve actually been a fan of hers and have enjoyed some of her recipes, in the past; and while I’m not very happy about this news story, I AM certain that almost every piece I’ve read on the subject was more opinion-based than fact-based, so while it certainly seems cut and dried, I can’t say that I know everything there is to know about this situation. It’s just that, well, the Contessa’s decision brought to mind the whole issue of time and priorities, when it comes to cooking, family, and our kids.
“I don’t have time.” How often have we uttered those words, to ourselves or to our children? Sure, we know that feeding our offspring 3 squares a day is the RIGHT thing to do; and we know that “squares” doesn’t refer, necessarily, to anything that comes from a freezer box, is handed through a window into our cars, or is labeled in any way with purposeful (and therefore fun?) misspellings. In other words, if you’re popping a cling-wrapped tray marked “Sooper Cheezy Mac-Attac!” into the microwave, it probably doesn’t qualify.
But we don’t always follow through on what we know is right, because we know there’s a less right, easier, and still socially acceptable safety net available to us. Think about it. I offer up the following scenario:
Your kid spends all day playing in the dirt with his friends; comes home and gets spaghetti sauce all over him (even in his ears — God knows how children do things like that); and chucks his grimy clothes on the bedroom floor before going to sleep. In the morning, the still-filthy little dear puts the disgusting playclothes BACK on his body and comes down to breakfast. You hustle him out the door to the bus stop, where another parent suggests a bath and a change of clothing. You shrug. “Don’t have time,” you respond, kissing your little Pigpen good bye and waving him onto the school bus.
You wouldn’t do it, would you? Of course not — none of us would. We wouldn’t because it’s disgusting; because it might make the other kids shun their stinky classmate; because over time, it might have health-related consequences; and because we’re afraid of what others might say or do. It’s not socially acceptable to let children run around unwashed.
But what about feeding them well? Let’s see…a steady, lifelong diet of processed junk foods IS disgusting, for any number of reasons. It WILL have health-related consequences in the long run. Yet for some reason, it’s okay with us. Nobody will say anything to you if your kid brings Funions and Yoo-hoo to school every day; nobody will do anything if Junior subsists entirely on Lunchables and Twinkies. He may be less healthy, less attentive, and less able to learn and behave to his full potential than he would be on a diet of whole foods, but it’s not going to be obvious to anyone, because most of his classmates are eating that way, too.
We have to make time in our lives for all the tasks involved in caring for our children, from washing them to taking them to the pediatrician, from helping with their homework to getting them properly dressed in the morning and out the door to school on time. In no other area of their lives would we meet with anything but disapproval from other parents and well-meaning adults if we just threw up our hands and said “Sorry, I don’t have time for that.” Yet when it comes to feeding them, we can come very, very close to the line — as long as they’re not technically going hungry, no one much cares what we’re putting in their mouths.
The reverberation of shock and disdain on the message boards all over the internet today was palpable, as tens of thousands of people lined up on blogs and news outlets to rage against the Barefoot Contessa’s seemingly heartless decision. How, everyone seemed to want to know, could she possibly not be able to find even ONE HOUR to take away from her book tour, her Hamptons parties, her apparent life of leisure, to cook some food with an ill child? But I think we should be turning that mirror on ourselves and asking, how can we possibly not find even ONE HOUR to take away from all OUR myriad commitments — pressing though we may think they are — to cook some food with and for our children?
This was a moment in time, a single opportunity she turned down (OK, twice, and for the record: for shame, Contessa). She apparently already regrets it and has made an effort to rectify things, but she’ll likely not forget it, nor live it down, for quite some time. The rest of us get 365 of these opportunities a year. We’re not being contacted by Make-a-Wish; and God forbid any of your children, or mine, have to suffer what this little boy and his family have endured. But it shouldn’t take cancer to tell you that your children are precious to you, and worth it — worth every minute taken to care for them in the best possible way. 365 days a year to take the time, to make the right decision, to do what’s basic, necessary, and really not so hard. Which choice are you going to make?