I have a theory about children and their parents. I probably have a theory because I never had a child. If I'd had a child, I probably wouldn't have a theory — I'd already have had an experiment and been horrified at the outcome. But having fallen short in the procreation department, I'll stick with theory.
My theory is this: No child under the age of 16 should ever be fed anything they don't want to eat. And parents under no circumstances, should feed their children anything more exquisite than hot dogs, pizza, tater tots and macaroni and cheese, although the mac'n' cheese itself may be much more exquisite than Kraft Dinner.
Of course, I also have a theory that kids are the reason boarding schools exist... but that's a different column.
There are fundamentally sound reasons supporting this theory. For starters, while children's palates are finely honed enough to discriminate between, say, red and yellow Smarties, their nascent tastebuds don't really register the difference between a hamburger and filet mignon. So any parent forcing their kid to eat something more sublime is either wasting money, torturing their child or shamelessly social climbing. Why bother?
Besides, just suppose you have a mutant — gifted — child. Suppose, because of your out-of-control experimentation, the little squirt actually develops a taste for lightly grilled lobster tail sauced in a reduction of herb-infused fish fumet and rare sturgeon roe. What an insufferable little monster he or she is going to be next time you stop at White Spot for a quick nosh. Introducing kids to food like that is an act of parental over-reaching that can only lead to no good... or possibly sushi day at school.
Kids should "discover" food completely by accident. Or at least driven by their own curiosity led, in turn, by their sensitive little noses. Kind of like the way dogs find their way around the neighbourhood.
The benefits of this theory are manifold. First off, you save a wad on food costs. Second, the words "menu planning" disappear from your vocabulary. Third, you don't wind up raising some weird little Poindexter who doesn't fit in with the rest of his taste-challenged cohort.
And finally, maybe even most importantly, the thrill of serendipitous discovery — at whatever age — is the fuel of creativity. Forcing a kid to eat kidneys is just money in the bank for some shrink twenty years down the road. Letting him discover he's eating kidneys in a funky pub in Munich because he's hung over after two days of drinking high-octane beer at Oktoberfest and doesn't know the German word for kidney, well baby, that's an adventure. Don't ask how I know.
The potential for the thrill of discovery — gustatorially speaking — is rife this weekend 'round Creekside. I've lost track of how many years it's been since the Canadian National BBQ Championships moved up valley and found a home at Dusty's but it's been a lot. A lot of smoke, a lot of meat, a lot of sauce and a lot of happy, stuffed people wondering how in the world anyone can choose to be vegetarian. And a lot of kids discovering for the very first time in their lives real barbecue.
Yeah, I know, it runs afoul of the don't introduce kids to exotic foods theory. But, if one reads the fine print carefully, barbeque clearly falls under the Foods Too Cool to be Missed exemption. My own first barbeque experience — a serendipitous discovery, naturally — was so soul-defining, even I am not curmudgeonly enough to deny the little monsters the same chance to expand their food horizons and catch a glimpse of wonders that can be wrought with a little bit of spice and smoke and a whole lotta love and pork.
Truth be told, barbeque is, in fact, kid food. Sweet, sticky, succulent, finger food. Anyone who eats barbeque without makin' a mess of their fingers and mouths, anyone who even thinks of eating barbeque within sight of a knife and fork, anyone who doesn't suck a polished-clean rib bone just because to do anything less would be an affront to the swine who gave it all up for your personal pleasure — well friends, that's a person who has some serious issues to talk out with a mental health professional and five'll getcha ten those issues have something to do with his or her toilet training.
I was a mere lad of single digits when first I encountered barbeque at the Iowa State Fair, the exact single digit being lost in the fog of childhood. Coming at a time before Max's Theorem, my folks encouraged but did not force me to try a rib, about which I was singularly indifferent, surrounded as it was by plates of corn on the cob which was, most certainly, my go-to kid food.
But little encouragement was needed. Ribs — and how many cuts of meat, as opposed to fowl, are named after their anatomical neighbourhood — had at least two outstanding qualities any sensible kid finds irresistible. First: the smell. Ribs smell like ribs but they don't smell like other meat and they certainly don't smell like other food. Pungent, inherently sweet and smoky, ribs seduce kids of all ages. They suggest a secret adults might have overlooked. Part entree, part dessert, ribs bridge the gap between food and candy. They are the elusive food your parents want you to eat but you want to eat even more, despite the internal struggle raging over whether you should hold true to form and throw a tantrum or just dive in.
And if the smell isn't enough — maybe your nose is a bit stuffy or you're put off by the undertone of vinegar a Carolina sauce has let linger over the whole platter — the socially acceptable method of eating ribs is enough to make your kid heart turn cartwheels in your tiny chest. Adults eat ribs with their fingers. The most sacred rule of mealtime table manners vanishes like a fart in a stiff breeze when ribs show up. Finger food! And not just finger food, MESSY FINGER FOOD! Face-smearin', hair-stickin', clothes-stainin', sibling-torturin' finger food.
I'm sure the first ribs I ever ate were, compared to competition ribs, indifferent. That they changed my life and gave me a whole new insight into heaven on earth speaks to the power of even indifferent barbeque. I can hardly imagine what might have happened if the first rib I ever ate had been a slaved-over, pampered, cosseted, competition rib.
But that's what children of all ages will get this holiday weekend at Creekside. That and a chance to help Playground Builders keep building playgrounds in places desperately needing more play and less killin'. So turn your tastebuds loose, piss off your veggie friends and get into the swine of things with the BBQ champs, where they've got 'em and they'll be smokin' 'em.