Kids have been drinking out of pouches for a generation at least. It bears remembering that when many of us were in our juice-drinking days, juice boxes and pouches, as well as sippy cups, didn’t exist. Now, it’s more common in some circles for kids to drink out of so-called spillproof devices or disposable containers than to use cups. I get (and have availed myself of) the convenience factor, but there’s a point at which convenience far outweighs commonsense. And I think we may have arrived there.
It occurs to me that drink pouches (and now food pouches, about which more in a sec) are a perfect anthropological example of an item that, once it came into existence, altered people’s lifestyles to suit it; created a need, and then filled it. Like Tivo, or voice mail. But not necessarily in a good way.
So, yes, now you can take semi-solid sustenance from a pouch. Instead of sipping, you can slurp. Plum Organics’ latest offering – veggie and fruit puree blends in a pouch – were introduced in 2008. Other companies (baby-food household names such as Gerber and Earth’s Best, for example) have their own versions of the product, but Plum Organics is the main player in this New York Times article, which elevates pouch food, as an alternative to actual meals, to a trend.
I read the piece, and it had me choking on my actual food.
The pouches don’t appear to contain anything different than what a parent can make him or herself, or buy in another, non-pouchy form, such as purees of veggies and fruits in jars that you then feed to a baby, or have a toddler feed herself, with that old-fashioned and slow-moving conveyance, the spoon. I was left wondering, if you can’t get your toddler to eat pureed food off a spoon, is the idea to trick her into it being more fun if you can suck it?
But apparently the novelty and the trickery (for lack of a better word) is only a part of the marketing thrust here. As the Times quotes Plum Organics president Neil Grimmer as saying, suckable food pouches “empower” children.
I wasn’t under the impression that our toddlers and preschoolers (who it would seem are the intended consumers, though we shouldn’t leave out models and anorexics) needed empowering.
The pouches are also touted as a way to squeeze (sorry) mealtimes into a modern family’s busy schedule, allowing greater flexibility in eating. Parents, Grimmer says, want a “less structured alternative” to regular eating times; that way, a child can eat whenever he’s hungry.
- Being able to reach for a pouch “whenever” has the potential to divorce eating as a biological need from eating because it’s a pleasurable activity to share with people. Does anyone remember dystopian future visions of a meal in a pill? By that logic, it would appear a next step after pouch-sucking might be the nasal-gastric tube.
- A child – anyone, really – should learn to eat when it’s time to eat. Yeah, that sounds highly rigid of me, but them’s the rules around here. Kids who pull up to the dinner table with mildly growly stomachs eat. Kids who have been grazing and munching and slurping all day eat one bite of chicken or two forkfuls of pasta, declare they’re full, and return an hour later looking for more, and “more” in the after dinner hour is usually not the veggies they left on their plates.
Another supposedly genius benefit of the grab-and-suck pouch is that it frees busy families from the tyranny of meals when they’re trapped in an afternoon-to-evening cycle of activities and parties and practices. The Times writer, Matt Richtel, reports that his 22-month-old daughter consumed one pouch on a day she’d barely touched breakfast, on the way to gymnastics class. The next day, another pouch was her sustenance en route to a birthday party.
Is it possible that the solution – food so convenient you don’t even have to sit or stand still to eat it, much less spend two seconds on preparation (which is what you’d spend on, say, grabbing an apple or peeling a banana) – has arisen to fix a problem, being crazy-busy, that can be fixed other ways? Such as in not being so busy all the time?
No, says Plum Organics’ Grimmer:
…that ship has sailed. And not just for us, but for our children, too. “My kids are more scheduled than I am as C.E.O.: soccer, ballet, theater.”
Regular mealtimes just add one more item to the schedule, he said, whereas the pouch supports “those moments and gaps when they can truly be unscheduled. It’s about supporting the idea that they don’t have to have every last second structured.”
So, he’s saying that the pouch becomes the unstructured part of the day. That’s scary.
Then, chimes in Maureen Putman, chief executive of Hain Celestial Group, the parent company that makes Earth’s Best:
“We’re always asking more from our children. They’re expected to be involved in so many activities, sports and music and language classes. How do you fit a meal in in between?”
Her conclusion: “It’s just necessary to live life on the go.”
But think: Who is asking all this of our children? It’s us, right? I mean, that’s obvious, surely. And if we’re doing the asking, we can do the un-asking, yes?
Could be that space-age food is necessary for a “life on the go,” as Putman puts it, but we can stop our lives from being lived on a launch pad, can’t we? And have breakfast, while we’re at it?