La petit gourmand

Liko (my son, 3-yrs old) looking through fridge: What are these?
Mommy: Beets.
Liko: What are beets?
Mommy: They’re kind of like sweet, red potatoes.
Liko thinks for a moment, then: Is that what you make borscht out of?

When I was a lad in New Jersey and Michigan in the 1970s and ’80s, hamburgers, pizza, and french fries were the very height of kid cuisine. My wife (who grew up in Hawaii as part of a relatively sophisticated and omnivorous Chinese-American family) has labored for many long years to repair the damage inflicted on my palate and broaden my tastes enough so that she can eat a decent meal in my company.

Today, we live in San Francisco. And I’ll tell you one idiosyncratic thing about many San Francisco kids, something you don’t hear much about: They are a bunch of little gourmands. I got my first hint of this before we became parents, when one of my wife’s fourth-grade students explained that he loved to cook. In fact, he said proudly, “My specialty is Risotto.”

If I had said that in the fourth grade, the other boys would have beaten me up. They beat me up anyway, but that’s another story.

Risotto boy isn’t alone. I’ve since encountered many such examples that reveal the culinary chasm between my childhood diet and that of San Francisco kids, from the second-grader who loves rolling sushi to the toddler who can identify the main ingredients of duck tongue soup–and still loves it–to the junior-high-school kid who won’t eat chicken that isn’t labeled free range and organic.

Is this about social class? Not really. I think it probably has more to do with San Francisco being a port city with lots of different cultures mixing together, combined with an unusually coherent tradition of cultural tolerance. I guess some people might choose to read it as evidence of alleged San Francisco elitism, but whatever. It’s healthier and more fun than what I grew up with. My son likes borscht, and I’m proud of him.

But I am also wondering if San Francisco kids are really so special. Has America’s palate changed on some fundamental level? Is it true everywhere that kids now partake of the world’s cuisines, or is it just isolated to a few areas? What’s it like in your area?

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