Watch this video and tell me what you think:
I'm not a food snob. I think if a kid dips her broccoli into ranch dressing before she eats it, that's alright. I think getting kids to eat salad is great. And I won't get all nutty about it if you make the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing from the packet (although ranch from scratch is my preference). All of this is good. We are all in this together - cooking schools, companies, spokespeople, farms, volunteer cooks, chefs - we all want to do right by kids and help them eat well and be healthy. Kumbaya.
But here's the problem: These people are annoying...
They make eating vegetables so pitifully uncool. Why are adults hell-bent on talking to six year olds as if they are two - yes, I'm talking to you crazy, valley-girl, Chef Reba - and so unsure of our kids abilities that even six year olds aren't allowed to use real knives? And really does it have to be salad art? Do we have to make it all dumb and cutesie for kids to get it? Really?
If I were a kid, I would humor the adults, smile for the cameras and then crack open a can of Pringles and go back to reading my graphic novels and thinking adults were weird and irrelevant.
Hidden Valley, Jennie Garth - you are good people, a good company, you care about kids - this isn't how you want to be represented in the world - flat, sweet, hokey, without imagination. (And without any viewers on You Tube. There's no way this saccharin will go viral) You are better than this. You are better than Piccolo Chef, a perfectly nice, run-of-the-mill cooking school like so many others, that charges yuppies $40 a class, so their three year old can make Lady Bug Tomatoes, something they will enjoy creating, but never actually eat. Your mission is better than this. You can do more.
You want to make an impact? Show you care? Come to Harlem. Pick an impoverished, under-funded, ignored public school. There's a bunch. The kids may or may not be camera-ready, so be prepared for that. You won't be able to script this and say dumb things like "Lettuce get started...". You'll have to see what they give you. Some kids might never have cooked before, so there's no telling what they might say or do. You'll have to start from the beginning. You'll have to meet them where they are, wherever that is, and you won't know until you get there.
The setting won't be lush farmland, mind you, but bleak, grey walls and some classrooms will have minimal light. You'll have to adjust your lighting for that, maybe bring in a director of photography.
You can bring your veggies and your dips and your cameras right past the metal detectors - and cook real food. Boggle their minds. Pay the kids some attention. Hand them real knives. Trust them that they won't stab each other in the eye, because no matter what is happening in their lives, every kid is a good kid and wants to be something good in the world. Expect the best from them. Because for one or two kids in the group, you might be the only one who does.
Let them feel the heat of the pan, the sizzle of the oil, the camaraderie of the kitchen - which will be a battered hot plate on a small table in the back of the classroom - the sheer joy and exhaustion of getting a big job done together. Don't talk to them like they are imbeciles. Don't make food with funny faces, or salad art, or vegetable critters that can be "glued together" with cream cheese, or any other cloying, condescending gimmick.
Just cook. Make a salad. Talk to them like they are peers and get them to talk to you, while you shut up and listen. Find out who they are. Smile a lot. Have fun. See how unique and special they are. Let them see that food is about people coming together, not crafts.
Then, share your food and see if they don't eat. See if you can't change the world doing this...and also sell some product.
There's your marketing campaign, Hidden Valley. You're welcome.