It was a riot. Children running around shouting with joy and excitement. They were ripping off their t-shirts and swinging them like nets in the sky.
You would think M&Ms were dropping from the heavens. In fact, they were ngombe, a flying termite that comes out in hoards after the first rains. I watched in awe as children plucked off their wings and popped them in their mouth like candy. For days afterwards, my nsima would be served with these roasted insects. As I struggled to choke them down, the Malawians ate them with a zest and vigour that suggested that these were a delicacy, a special event.
Why did I experience taste so differently?
First of all, in Canadian culture, insects are not seen as a protein source, but a pest. We associate insects in food with spoilage. Insects in your food would be reason enough to throw it away.
Secondly, human taste preferences begin in the womb. Flavours pass from mother’s diet into amniotic fluid and later into breastmilk.
As the baby is weaned, he or she seeks flavours similar to the mother’s diet.
In fact, all throughout history, children have been raised to appreciate the tastes of their particular region and environment.
My youngest is far from an adventurous eater and I have observed that picky eating has become extremely common in our society.
One cause may relate to how we are introduced to food early in life. In Canada, children are often raised on sweet and generic tasting foods like formulas and fruit purees. We avoid feeding our children bitter or pungent flavours. Are we training our children to prefer refined foods, high in salt and sugar right from the start?
I don’t think my children will ever be excited about eating insects, but I can hope that one day she will take a bite of curry and enjoy it. In traditional cultures, children learn to eat all sorts of flavours and textures, starting at a young age. Feeding children “kid foods” may seem easier initially, but the longer we wait to introduce “real foods,” the harder it is for them to accept them.