I can’t help it.  I just can’t help it.

Last Monday, I ranted a bit about “Worst Cooks in America.”  You should understand that my disgust with the show is equally matched by my fascination, and thus, it’s growing into an obsession for me.  I MUST watch it on Sunday nights.  I MUST report back on what’s happening on this show.  It’s almost pathological.

Of course, I said to J. last night, as we settled into watch: “I’ll only write something about it if it provides me with any really good fodder.”  I had good intentions.  But here’s the thing: “Worst Cooks” didn’t disappoint me.  Within the first 10 minutes of the show, it provided me with enough eye-rolling moments to make me head into the bathroom on commercial break to remove my contact lenses, just to play it safe.

Disclaimer: I’m not trying to be mean, and I’m not trying to personally attack anybody who’s on the show.  I actually do think that it’s somewhat admirable — if a bit odd — for all of these people to offer themselves up as examples of what NOT to do in the kitchen, especially since they’re ultimately trying to get some help and improve their skills.  That’s great.  I especially felt for the mother of two who said on last night’s episode, “I really want my kids to eat real food, besides PB&J.”  I mean it with all sincerity when I say, good for her for wanting to do better in this particular area as a parent.  I’m sure she’s probably a great mom, and she probably has an immaculate house — something about which she could teach me, perhaps.  It’s just that cooking is not her strength, currently, and she’s both acknowledging that and taking steps to fix it.

So why, oh why, did she have to also be the one to make me completely crazy?

It started innocently enough.  The participants were taken to a farm, where they were given tables of beautiful farm-fresh ingredients and shown, step-by-step, how to make a lovely rolled omelet with a side salad.  I was nervous for them, because frankly, though an omelet seems like an easy enough challenge, it can be quite tricky to get it just right — especially if you’ve never really cooked anything like it before.  I was rooting for every single one of them.  Until Mom Of Two refused to taste the demo omelet the chef had cooked.

“Refused” is possibly too strong a word — what she did, actually, was try to get away with just tasting a teeny little bite of the fruit salad and hope that he wouldn’t notice that she’d neglected to eat the eggs.  When she was questioned about it, she actually made a face and said that she hates eggs, so she wouldn’t try them.  It took coaxing from her entire team to get her to even try one small bite; she told the camera that she found it disgusting and that eggs are just “nasty.”

Okay.  We’re all allowed to have food preferences.  But even J. blurted out, as he watched these events unfold, “What is she, two years old?”  The chef, Robert Irvine, sternly told the contestant that he didn’t care if she liked eggs or didn’t like eggs — in order to learn to cook them, he quite sensibly stated, she had to know what they were supposed to taste like. She seemed underwhelmed by the argument, and went on to perform the challenge halfheartedly at best.  She was determined not to taste those eggs again, no matter how it would affect her performance.  Her attitude about the whole thing culminated in her literally chucking a giant handful of salt into her pan of eggs with a defiant glare.  The result was an inedible omelet, and a visible chip on her shoulder as she tried to tell the chef that she hadn’t, in fact, oversalted the thing in a fit of pique.

Why was I so bothered by this whole episode?  I guess I just kept thinking about her kids, eating their nightly PB&J, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much her attitudes about food have already shaped not just their current eating experiences but their lifelong relationship with food.  Clearly she’s not made real food and balanced eating a priority to this point in their lives — and while, again, she deserves applause for doing so now, she’s certainly set herself a challenge if she thinks that her little ones will just happily come along for the ride.  And now it’s evident that she’s a “don’t try it, you won’t like it” kind of person — the kind of parent who so strongly entrenches herself in her own food preferences that she likely doesn’t encourage too much experimentation from her own kids.  I bet her kids don’t eat eggs, either, because not only does she not cook eggs for them, but she’s probably made at least one “yuck” type of comment about eggs in her kids’ presence, which goes a long way towards convincing little ones that the food in question is not okay to try.

Once again, “Worst Cooks” has illuminated for me another startling fact of our nation’s food culture.  It’s become increasingly possible to grow to adulthood with a severely limited palate and an attitude of “why should I?” when confronted with the opportunity to try new things.  We’ve got so many edible options that there’s simply no incentive to eat what you don’t want to eat; whereas our ancestors had to develop a taste for vegetables, or eggs, or whatever else was available to them — or at least EAT the darned things, like it or not — we have no such imperative.  PB&J every night?  Fine.  Nobody will starve on that, but neither will they thrive.

It’s not easy to change lifelong food aversions, but it’s far easier in a young child than in an adult.  I’m hoping that this mother will not only learn to cook on the show, but will learn to open up a bit to different tastes and textures, and to lend some of that open-mindedness to her children when she goes home and starts them on a new, PB&J-limited menu.  I’m not saying that she has to like everything, or that her kids have to like everything; one of the things L. and I talk about, now that he’s old enough to articulate how he feels about food, is whether something is “pretty good” or “just okay” (we try to avoid terms like “yucky,” since I want him to understand that by continuing to eat foods we don’t favor, we may develop a taste for them).  Last night, he ate Brussels Sprouts for the first time, and the verdict was “just okay.”  I didn’t try to talk him out of it; I didn’t try to tell him that he’ll like them better next time; I just told him “thanks for trying them — they’re really good for your body.  Now you’ll know what Brussels Sprouts are the next time we have them.”

The point I’m trying to make, however clumsily, is that it’s possible to both respect food preferences/aversions AND have an open-minded approach to food and eating.  We seem to be losing sight of that very rapidly, judging from the number of adults and older kids I know who routinely say things like “I will not eat (insert entire category of foods here)” or “I’ve never tried (whatever food is on offer), but I know I don’t like it.”  The “Worst Cooks” people are on the right track, with learning how to prepare food — but that won’t solve the larger issue.  Merely knowing how to cook broccoli won’t make anyone go to the store and buy it, bring it home, prepare it, and serve it to their families; and it won’t make their kids eat it.  We’ve lost the respect for ingredients that was once essential to our survival, and we’ve fooled ourselves by believing that it’s not still integral to lifelong health.  That’s what I want to see as the next reality food show: “Try It.  It Won’t Kill You.  And You Might Even Like It.”  I’ll even host it.  Come on, Food Network.  Give me a call.