Baby-food subscriptions take culture of convenience too far

Raised Real baby food
© Raised Real

Why have a baby if you don't want to bother feeding it?

Having a baby is a big job. It’s scary, foreign, and constantly evolving. And the work never ends. I repeat, it never, ever ends. If you are not willing to work all the time, then don’t have a baby.

This is why I found it amusing (and kind of sad) to read Fast Company’s article on boutique baby-food delivery services, which apparently are popping up all over the United States. The market, though still small, is growing as new parents seek healthy, convenient alternatives to … what? Having to think about feeding their babies? So it would seem.

The article recounts the unfortunate tale of Angela Sutherland, former Goldman Sachs banker, who discovered that what a baby eats in its first 1,000 days is “fundamental to health and development.” (Who knew? I’d hate to be the one to break it to her that it matters for even longer than that.)

“Sutherland recalls how the baby nutrition category seemed, to her, inefficient and overwhelming. If she tried to learn everything about baby nutrition to feed her child, where would she find the time for all that peeling, cutting, steaming, and puréeing? Her options were either spending hours each week in the kitchen or grabbing a jar off the supermarket shelf that, as she describes, ‘was sometimes older than my baby.’”

So she launched a baby-food delivery service called Yumi that offers elaborate organic meals for the wallet-slimming cost of $45-$85 per week. Yumi has joined the likes of Raised Real (requires purchasing a special 'processing' machine), Little Spoon (by invitation only), and Thistle (whose pre-washed and chopped veggie packets you still have to steam and purée), other startups with the same idea.

As a new parent signing up for any of these services, you effectively eliminate the need to: (a) steam vegetables or fruits and purée them in a blender; or (b) grab a few spoonfuls of whatever you are eating and purée it in a blender. Try as I might, as a mother of little children, I just don’t get it.

First, these baby-food subscriptions are marketed as stress relievers for new parents, and yet they seem more like stress perpetuators – peddling a ridiculous notion that babies need complex diets in order to thrive, which is enough to make anyone go crazy. Look at this sample item from Yumi:

“Think blueberry chia seed pudding mixed with quinoa, dates, and wheat germ oil, or puréed squash and kale with spirulina, nutritional yeast, and flax. The company caters to moms who want the very best for their little one – which might mean chopped dragon fruit.”

Dragon fruit? Seriously, in what universe do these parents exist?

That leads to my second issue with the service, which is that no baby needs exotic imported foods. A baby should eat whatever the parents eat, and, ideally, whatever is in season and produced locally. My northern Canadian babies have never tasted a dragon fruit in their lives; they’ve done just fine on cheaper, fresher local apples and pears. But for babies in dragon fruit-producing regions, go nuts.

Nor do I understand the practice of blending flavors for babies to make foods more palatable (not unique to these startups). Why does every jar of vegetable baby food comes ‘sweetened’ with fruit? This prevents the baby from getting to know true flavors. The following quote from Bee Wilson, author of First Bite, resonates with me:

"We simply lack the imagination to think that a child might actually enjoy the ferrous taste of spinach or the bitter peel of oranges. The 'kid food' of modern times is designed to please; and so, given the reinforcing power of positive exposure, it does please. 'Kid food' is based on the presumption that children have a natural palate for simple carbohydrates, fat, sugar and not much else. As we've seen, there is no truth to the idea that children have an innate drive that will automatically make them like hamburgers more than grilled fish or muffins more than fresh berries. But if you eat enough 'kid food' meals as a child, the presumption of limited tastes may become a self-fulfilling prophecy." - Bee Wilson, First Bite 🍅🍆🥒🥕🥑🌰🌶🍊

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Finally, these services strike me as a grotesque waste of money and resources. Babies are notoriously fussy; a good portion of their meals ends up on their faces and laps. It’s absurd to spend so much money on something that’s being used for training purposes and not being enjoyed. As for the excessive individual packaging, it gives me the shivers: “Each plastic meal cup of puréed organic fruits and veggies comes with a kid-friendly spoon”? What does ‘kid-friendly spoon’ even mean? Small? Soft? It’s a spoon, for goodness' sake. It’s the stuff of my zero-waste nightmares, the kind of convenience habit we, as a society, need to be fleeing as fast as possible.

My best-ever investment as a parent while teaching my babies to eat was a little plastic hand-grinder that came to the dinner table for every meal. Whatever we ate, our babies ate, too. It’s always been that way, still is, and always will be until the kids want to take over their own food prep.

Tags: Babies | Food Safety | Kids

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