Food rebellion

Yesterday’s posting “Rice pudding in the land of quilted steel” focused on diner rice pudding, but the Wikipedia article covers quite a large territory, including rice puddings in different cultures around the world and rice pudding in popular culture. On the latter front, there’s a humorous poem “Rice Pudding” by A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) that Benita Bendon Campbell has reminded me of. The poem takes off from the Anglo-American tradition of rice pudding as plain food for children or invalids — and shows young Mary Jane’s rebellion against the tradition: “She won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again”.

(#1) E.H. Shephard’s illustration for the poem, superimposed on the cover of the 1924 Milne volume in which it was first published

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her dolls and a daisy-chain,
And a book about animals – all in vain –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’t a pain;
But, look at her, now she’s beginning again! –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her sweets and a ride in the train,
And I’ve begged her to stop for a bit and explain –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well and she hasn’t a pain,
And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

Mary Jane rejects repetitive blandness. Much more common is the child who rejects novelty and/or intense flavors. As in this famous New Yorker cartoon:

(#2) The origin of the spinach catchphrase and idiom

From Wikipedia:

I say it’s spinach (sometimes given in full as I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it or further abbreviated to just spinach) is a twentieth-century American idiom with the approximate meaning of “nonsense” or “rubbish”. It is usually spoken or written as an anapodoton, thus only first part of the complete phrase (“I say it’s spinach”) is given to imply the second part, which is what is actually meant: “I say the hell with it.”

The phrase originated as the caption of a gag cartoon published in The New Yorker on December 8, 1928. Drawn by Carl Rose and captioned by E. B. White, the cartoon shows a modern bourgeois mother at table trying to convince her young daughter to eat her vegetable, the dialogue being

– Mother: “It’s broccoli, dear.”

– Daughter: “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.”

(Broccoli was a relative novelty at that time, just then being widely introduced by Italian immigrant growers to the tables of East Coast cities.)

What White called “the spinach joke” quickly became one of the New Yorker cartoon captions to enter the vernacular (Peter Arno’s “Back to the drawing board!” and Peter Steiner’s “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” being other examples), becoming a bon mot of the 1930s, with continued, though diminishing, use into the early 21st century.

Broccoli was new, and, like other cruciferous vegetables (brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnips), it’s strong-tasting — with a sulfurous taste and smell (and, to some people, a bitter taste). The more familiar spinach is also strong-tasting (with a bitter taste from the oxalic acid in the leaves and a somewhat metallic taste as well) and, if overcooked (or canned), is unpleasantly slimy in texture. So spinach is detested by many children.

Getting kids to eat their greens (including spinach, kale, and yes, broccoli) — in the name of a healthful diet — is a perennial parental battle. There are innumerable recipes for sneaking healthful greens into food that will appeal to children, many using cheese as a vehicle.

One Response to “Food rebellion”

  1. John Baker Says:

    The Milne poem has another possible interpretation. Many adults assume that Mary Jane is out of sorts because her mother or father, who loves rice pudding, serves it all the time, and she has become constipated as a result.

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