This past week my stepdaughter turned 21, and that made me think... Martin and I shared many memories with her growing up that centered around the dinner table. As I pondered the poignancy of “coming of age”, it occurred to me that the traditions around such celebrations are more about the drink than the food. Is there such a thing as "adult food"?
I guess you could take sides on this issue: there is the serious, responsible side of food that most people would class as “mature” (some might say “boring” but that just depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?); then there is the lighthearted, whimsical side of food. If there was some kind of tradition about representing the passage into adulthood with food, then it seems that the serious side would prevail.
There is an adventurous side to food too, and I think this gets explored as we start to come of age. I remember a summer in my teens where my cousin and I made Dagwood sandwiches of all size and description, with ingredients that we would have previously snubbed. Red onion slices became an exotic addition to ham sandwiches, and eating cheese that didn’t come in its own plastic sleeve all of a sudden was cool. We definitely wanted to be cool, so we tried all the fancy adult things in the fridge and the cupboards.
I think if any kind of food or drink is associated with the “coolness” of adulthood, it is alcohol. Quite often the ritual involves nothing more than the theory of “more is better”, but I wonder if perhaps the aftermath is bittersweet as we usually discover that overindulging just because you can is rather anti-climatic. The maturity there comes in learning how powerful a hangover can be; you discover that as an adult you don't need someone else to supervise. You can punish yourself for your bad behavior!
Maybe we do have rituals that are not presented at a coming of age party but are unwritten rules. As I seem to recall, once I got older my parents just took it for granted that I WOULD eat my broccoli. Looking back, I suppose it was akin to giving up my blankie when my little brother was born; I just knew deep down that I was expected to step up to the plate (up to the table?) and be a big girl.
Could we start a new trend? Maybe we should tell the kids the really cool adult thing is to drink broccoli shakes…but then we would have to set the example to really push the point home. I guess that doesn’t work, as the best part about being an adult is when you get to make your own choices. You can say, “I think I would like to relive a childhood moment” and you order an extra scoop of ice cream, or you put sour cream AND bacon bits on your baked potato just 'cause it tastes so good'…