Is it really so wrong to play with your food? I have a vague memory of being told that it’s not a nice habit. Other animals play with their food: cats toy with mice, orcas enjoy catch with penguins and various flingable prey. Some restaurants dole out crayons so you can draw on the table before the server puts a plate on it, and the practice sets the mood.

Before the days of forking over the iPhone to my child to buy extra time at a restaurant, I amused Max by playing with food. It’s quieter than a percussion session with silverware. The breadbasket holds edible sculpting material. We nibbled bread into various shapes: a boat, a swan, and—when he was learning US geography—we chewed out a number of states: New York, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, the final stage of bread evolution was usually itty bitty Rhode Island.

Sometimes my son and his friend would swallow spaghetti while hanging onto one end of the noodle, and then pull it whole out from their throats like they were pulling a rope up from a hole. It’s thoroughly gross, and I was going to tell them to cut it out before someone choked, but then I remembered that I used to do that trick, too. And how do we get little guys to eat? Say it with me, everyone: Open wiiide, here comes the airplaaaane (or choo-choo or any food-delivery vehicle of choice). We play with their food.

There’s also great entertainment in food prep. People go to Benihana to get food thrown at them. Tom Cruise did a whole movie about a guy who juggles beverages in Cocktails. Did you see the cotton candy guy whipping up trails of fluff as he dances?

I confess, I enjoy the presentation of food a little too much. Ketchup in a squirt bottle is just a sloppy red pen. Tofu began as simple building blocks for Max to pile up into whatever configurations he could imagine over lunch. Now it’s evolved into boxes and armchairs. Shaping pizza dough to the rectangular borders of my baking sheet is too much work, so Max and friend pulls it into miscellaneous subjects: Manhattan, ghosts, Pac Man. And probably everybody plays with jellybeans. You can sort them by colors. You can make pictures with them. You can flick one jellybean with another for target practice.

Show and tell time. Here’s my personal food-play gallery:

Sometimes food play is gross-looking. Maybe we tell children not to play with food simply to keep the mess under control. No one wants to clean up a food fight. I learned in the aftermath of a marshmallow battle that marshmallow is a nightmare to get out out of carpet and furniture when it’s stepped or sat on. Still, so long as the edibles stay within the confines of the plate/counter/designated area I say that playing with your food is a perfectly fine form of amusement. Of course, I also enjoy eating dessert before dinner—but that’s another post.

Oh, and just for fun check out this link to some incredibly cute food at BoredPanda.com.

Permission to Play with Your Food
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