351. Eating Your Vegetables

A typical strategem for adults who want children to do certain things they’d rather not do is to remind children of something better that awaits them if they just finish doing the less pleasant thing: “There’s a great dessert waiting for you, and you can have it as soon as you finish eating your vegetables.” That’s a time- honored method; I’ve had it used on me, I’ve used it on children, and I’ll bet you’re no stranger to it. But let’s examine it a little.
First of all, there’s an implicit message in that approach about the relative desirability of vegetables and dessert – that vegetables don’t really taste too great, or at least nowhere near as great as dessert. Of course, if children have already gotten adults to use dessert as a bribe, they’ve probably already developed that implied preference, but using vegetables as the price to pay and dessert as the goods only reinforces that dichotomy – maybe sanctions it. I recently told a child (jokingly) that I used to have to finish all of my dessert if I wanted to have my vegetables, and she recognized the absurdity right away, laughed, and corrected me.
And what becomes of all those children who are made to eat their vegetables before they have dessert? When they move away from their parents, do they continue to have their vegetables first, or do they
celebrate their freedom by eating nothing but dessert for weeks? Months? Years? The rest of their lives? Do they raise children who are allowed to have dessert whenever they want? Or do they carry on the tradition? From what I’ve seen and experienced, my generation of eaters and servers has pretty much carried it on.
Once, and only once, I successfully outmaneuvered my mother on this issue. I talked about the absurdity of wasting hard-earned money on eating food I didn’t like when there was food I did like right in the refrigerator. If there were children in the world who would have loved to have asparagus (as my mother
assured me there were), what sense did it make to force me to eat it? It wouldn’t help those poor children, and if she was concerned about vitamins and minerals, I could have some Wonder Bread, which, advertisers assured me, helped build strong bodies twelve ways. Asparagus, I argued, probably only helped in five or six ways.
I thought I had a point to make when I started writing this article. I wasn’t sure whether it was about the importance of vegetables, the rights of children, both, or neither. Now that I’m done writing it, I still don’t know, but I’m glad I’ve had my say. Let’s leave this as the literary equivalent of abstract expressionist art: I may have a point to make, but I’m not going to come right out and tell you what it is. That would be too simple. What does this article say to you?

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