Veggie Tales

One morning not long ago, I was on the treadmill at our fitness club, flipping through channels on the little TV screen in front of me when I landed on the Today Show. I’m always interested in food so when I come across a cooking segment on one of the morning shows, that’s where I stay. On this particular day, I tuned in just as a very perky Jessica Seinfeld was in the kitchen telling Matt Lauer about how she had put pumpkin puree in her kids’ waffles that morning.

Jessica, aka Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld, was making the rounds of the morning shows to talk about how moms can sneak vegetables into little Jaden’s chocolate pudding and according to her, you’ll be adding lots of healthy stuff and he’ll never know the difference. But of course, the real reason she was on the show wasn’t to promote nutrition in kids, but sales of her cookbook, Deceptively Delicious.

It was obvious as the interview went on that Jessica felt very righteous because ““ and this part was implied ““ unlike all us bad mothers out there feeding our kids stale Frosted Flakes, her kids were eating homemade waffles made even more virtuous with the addition fiber and vitamins from the pumpkin.

That’s when I started to get annoyed. I really don’t like it when celebrities, or in this case the wife of a celebrity, try to pass themselves off as just regular folks. Jessica wanted us to believe that prior to coming to the Today Show she was in the kitchen with the three little Seinfelds whipping up the batter for the waffles. She wants us to believe she does her own laundry, too. Ha! My guess is that Jessica’s personal trainer left just in time for Jessica to make sure the nanny put the pumpkin in the waffles.

Plus identifying Jessica Seinfeld as a “cookbook author and chef” seems very contrived ““ particularly in light of the fact that she’s being sued by a rival author for plagiarism of the same concept. I can imagine Jerry, Jessica and their agent in a meeting tossing out the idea that since Jerry’s Bee Movie flopped that maybe they could do something with Jessica to keep the Seinfeld name in the public eye”¦and bring in a few hundred thousand dollars.

I can practically hear their agent saying, “Jessica is cute, she’s a mom, she has great name recognition”¦maybe she could write a children’s book. No, forget that idea, Madonna’s already doing it. And you know how protective the “˜Material Girl’ is about her turf. I know, Jessica, you could put your name on a cookbook! You can do one like that gal who wrote about putting cauliflower in the kids’ macaroni and cheese.”

Moving beyond my rant about celebrities, does Jessica’s book actually have any value? The food columnist of the Wall Street Journal wrote a wonderful review of it last week. As he put it, “these women (meaning the cookbook authors) treat vegetables the way Victorian mothers treated sex, with silence.” And he goes on to point out that instead of encouraging kids to try new foods, these books actually infantilize kids’ taste; they’re not offering real food options, they’re adding baby food to food that’s not all that healthy in the first place.

As a mom, I completely agree. How can you expect your kids to develop new tastes if you treat them like a baby? The Deceptively Delicious attitude seems to overprotect or underestimate kids. “You’re not old enough to have any lasagna. It has spinach in it. And you wouldn’t like it anyway.” And if we all agree eating vegetables is a good thing, why would a parent want to be deceptive about it?

My experience with vegetables is that if you offer it to them, eventually they will try it. Or go with the “everything tastes good dipped in Ranch dressing” approach with the carrots and broccoli. And how many more kids were encouraged to try a new food after watching Ratatouille which instead of hiding vegetables, celebrates them?

And as the WSJ article points out, many of the recipes in Deceptively Delicious add vegetables to desserts or other sweetened foods. I haven’t seen any headlines about kids in the US being at risk for disease because they’re not getting enough vitamins. But there are plenty of headlines about how kids’ addiction to sugar is contributing to the growing rate of obesity among youngsters. Adding spinach puree to brownies just doesn’t make sense; there’s just no way to put enough spinach in a brownie recipe to have the health benefits outweigh the nutritional negatives. But the Seinfeld book would have parents believe it’s worth their kid eating a brownie in order to get a micron of green stuff.

I have to believe that the huge popularity of Jessica Seinfeld’s book isn’t going unnoticed by the major food companies. I don’t think it will be long before “Deceptively Delicious Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower Puree Right in the Mix” appears on grocery store shelves. Or how about “Pumpkin Puree Eggo Waffles” and “Spinach Fortified Pillsbury Ready-to-Bake Cookies.” That leads me to a scary thought: Jessica Seinfeld is the new Betty Crocker.

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