Food and entertainment

There is a lot of laughter around our dinner table. We amuse ourselves with stories and memories of other meals and other times. We are entertained by the children. Sometimes we pause to take a picture of spaghetti in the hair or a peanut butter smeared face. Last night it was a bowl of rice. In addition to the roast beef, green beans, carrots and potatoes we had a small bowl of rice because there was a bit of rice left over from another meal and our grandson loves rice. He was really going after the rice, using a small, child-sized spoon and a bowl. His grandmother gave him another scoop of rice from the serving bowl and minutes later he had the serving spoon in his hand and he was shoveling in the rice with a spoon that he could barely get into his mouth. Our response was laughter which encouraged him. He continued by taking rice directly from the serving dish.

His mother is working hard to teach him how to behave at the dinner table. Left to himself, he would like to bring toys to the table. He probably would like to take food and wander around the house as well. But his mom has rules and expectations. We eat at the table, not in the living room. Toys and food don’t mix. I’ve even heard the phrase that I said to our children and I remember my mother saying to us when we were children: “Don’t play with your food.”

Eating and food bring us a lot of joy. I guess we don’t play with our food in the sense that we play with toys. Throwing food, for example, is not tolerated in our house, whereas we are allowed to throw a ball in the back yard.

Thinking of eating and playing brought to mind memories of a curriculum writing job that we had a couple of decades ago. One of the stipulations for writers is that we were not to write any craft projects that used food as a principal ingredient. There were to be no macaroni pictures or seed arts. The concept was that food is an essential commodity and there are many people in the world who lack sufficient nutrition. Therefore, food should be used to feed hungry people, not for arts and crafts.

Not long after we completed our assignments for that project, we went to Costa Rica to share ministry with our sister church there. We saw some beautiful pictures made with beans and seeds and other food products that had been made by local artists. In a place where food and a lot of other essentials were in short supply, art emerged. And the artwork was made of the things that were available, which included some grains and other food items.

My children scratch their heads and make comments about the “olden days” when I tell them about my memory of Mr. Potato Head. The original toy that I remember from my childhood didn’t come with a body. It was a set of parts for hands, feet, mouths, eyes, noses and ears that had sharp pins attached. You poked them into a potato or a cucumber or another vegetable to make a figure. I’m not sure, but I think they came in a cereal box. I also remember something about sending in an order form to get more parts.

By the time our kids came around, there was a plastic body and no real vegetables were injured in the making of the toy. The parts were attached with plastic pegs instead of sharp pins. Our kids played with them a bit. We would giggle at hands poked into eye sockets and ears in the place of the mouth and nose. It was temporarily entertaining, but far from the most popular toy in our house.

We have a Mr. Potato head and a Mrs. Potato Head in our camper that has entertained our grandchildren on several occasions. There have been no extended conversations about playing with food or food being an object of entertainment in a world with starving children over the games with the toy, though I suspect that complaints about rotting vegetables in toy boxes might have had some relationship to the change in the toy from using actual vegetables.

For some reason, Fox News and the recent CPAC meeting seem to be upset with the decision of Hasbro toy company to drop the Mr. and Mrs. titles from the toy, calling it just Potato Head. I guess that they were noticing that potatoes don’t seem to have very many gender characteristics. The Fox News pundits and speakers at CPAC seem to think that it is a symbol of a culture war demanding political correctness. I’m not sure that Hasbro was concerned with political correctness any more than they were when the toy changed to a plastic body. They were concerned with marketing. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to be advertised on television. The folks at Hasbro are interested in sales, not in manipulating culture. And their attention to marketing didn’t start with the popular toy. After all, they no longer refer to their company as Hassenfeld Brothers. They know a thing or two about responding to public demand and making money selling toys.

I scan the headlines from Fox News because I want to be aware of many different perspectives and I know that some people rely exclusively on a single source for their news. As a result, I am struck by recent days when Fox News seems to be making a point of the withdraw of Dr. Seuss books and the change in the name of Mr. Potato Head when other news sources are reporting on the hearings on the January attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the precautions being taken today because of threats of additional attacks on March 4, an old date for the inauguration of the president. I am cynical enough to think that those in charge of Fox News aren’t finding much to their liking in the actual news and prefer avoiding the harsh reality of how their coverage contributed to the violence in January.

In the meantime, our grandson has no need of toy eyes and ears. He is entertained by the process of eating itself. Who knew having different sizes of spoons could be so entertaining? He is exploring his own culture without the need for commentary from any news source.