Last year, while passing through London, I visited one of my best and oldest friends on his tiny houseboat in Little Venice. Cabin fever set in hard and fast and we left the cramped galley for an urban hike through Maida Vale, a neighbourhood so regal in Edwardian charm that I felt snotty and small wandering around it. When it started to rain, we ducked into a little boutique grocery store, where the overpriced granola and gluten-free coconut flour made me feel right at home.
"You know," said my friend, "This stuff is really good." He pointed to a line-up of colourful foil packets that reminded me of the Capri-Sonne juice pouches I coveted as a fourth grader (we were a Lacnor family). They were conveniently squeezable, resealable and emblazoned with droopy, juvenile penmanship. My friend praised his favourites, like the salmon and spinach risotto and the aubergine and lamb moussaka. I asked if he knew they were designed for an 8-month-old. He was. "Baby food is great for those times when you're too lazy to cook." He threw me a look that said: "And don't act like you don't know what I mean."
While it's true that my friend has witnessed some of the epic low points of my cooking life, that's only because he has known me for all of my cooking life. I like soups and sauces but I want my moussaka in solid form, please.
In case he was about to suggest we grab a dozen bags of baby food and head back to the houseboat for a Blackadder marathon, I suggested pizza. But even a hot, gooey pizza couldn't erase the unsettling image of my sweet friend wrapped in a Pendleton blanket, diplomas from Yale and Cambridge hanging from the crooked walls of the houseboat, sucking puréed "chicken tagine" out of a bag more suited to holding IV fluids than some random chowder created to prepare little gremlins for a future of chicken cordon bleu.
Plum UK, the company responsible for my friend's beloved baby food pouches, was bought out in January by Plum Organics, an American company that pretty much does the exact same thing (although it was announced a few weeks ago that it's being acquired by Campbell Soup Co). Plum Organics' line of "mish mash" pouches for miniature gourmands is no slouch in the pouch department. With ingredients such as quinoa, root vegetables, yogurt and fruit, these snacks don't sound all that different from what many adults will spend 20 minutes and almost as many dollars inhaling at the health food store's juice counter every morning.
Now that I've thrown my friend under the bus, I'll admit that it wasn't the first time I'd heard an adult confess to a baby food habit. An old colleague once admitted to stealing packets of her niece's purple smoothies, made by Ella's Kitchen. The company also makes a well-received salmon risotto for sprites, called "Super Scrummy Salmon Risotto with a Sprinkle of Cheese", touted on the pouch as being "nicely chunky 'n' lumpy". Someone should probably tell Ella that a real risotto would never combine seafood and cheese. Seriously: what are we teaching our children?
Nouf Al Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico
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