Thursday, 8 April 2010

Annabel Karmel's feet of clay

My first experience of weaning was coloured by the primary bright pages of Annabel Karmel's bestseller, The complete baby and toddler meal planner. She alone is responsible for me staying up till all hours pureeing butternut squash and sweet potato.

It is her fault I wasted vast sums of money on a mysterious mouli device, which I could only find online from chi chi cookery store Divertimenti. Despite the expense, I used it once and then threw away its many complicated and dysfunctional parts in disgust after spending an age squishing potato through its slits, only to end up with a teaspoonful of goo my son promptly spat across the room.

My fridge was full of individually frozen cubes of veg and my son was inducted into the religion of healthy eating following her plan to the letter. He was stuffed with spinach and broccoli and not allowed a taste of fruit until he was well and truly inducted into the cult of the vegetable. I cooked every meal he ate and carried them around in little plastic pots which had a rebellious desire to spill all over my change bag at inopportune moments. I tried in vain to force the gallons of milk she recommends into my lactose hating boy, and as he grew older I fiddled with his food turning every pizza into a smiley face, every sandwich into a tempting shape.

My god I worked hard for that woman, and how was my toil repaid? Well my son is now six and his favourite food is chicken nuggets and potato Smiles, just like pretty much every other six-year-old I know, whether they were weaned on Wotsits or organic parsnip puree. So forgive me if I am a little disgruntled at all that wasted effort.

But this isn't really my gripe with AK, for while she may have caused me much personal pain, what really gets me is the way that the woman who pioneered the home made movement, who had us all stuck in the kitchen steaming, chopping and pureeing, now seems happy to slap her jolly logo onto any old box and call it healthy.

She has already endured a scandal earlier this year, when it was revealed that her Eat Fussy range of ready meals (I ask you, is that not sacrilege enough?) had more salt and sugar in than most grown up nosh in a box. But that hasn't stopped her selling her name to Disney pushing crisps and snacks (albeit healthy ones) at our kids in Mickey shaped packages. Or from slapping it on the kiddie grub served at Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventure and Thorpe Park.

That's not all, the lady is happy to lend her name to toys, cookery products as well as an ever expanding range of baby and children's cookery books. Given the acres of print she has devoted to weaning babies you would think it was a complex science, not just a process of shoving goo into their mouths until they are old enough to smear it over themselves unaided. All of which culminates in them all opting for burgers, chips, bolognese, pizza or chicken nuggets when given the choice.

Of course none of this would be a problem if what AK was producing was up to the high and admittedly delicious standards of the recipes she peddles, but as well as salt and sugar-gate, I notice that some reviews of her products online are less than glowing. I was looking for a mat to put under my twins' highchairs and was tempted by Annabel's bright red mess mat, until I read the other customer reviews. Both were devotee's of Annabel's books, but panned the mat as little better than a plastic bag, which at £9.99 is unacceptable.

Then I opened my fridge to see the box of teddy bear pizzas I had bought to try out on the twins had expanded to twice it's size. Puffed up like a fish in fear of its life, it looked like a toxic health hazard and I am too afraid to open it for fear of what might spew out. Of course this can happen to anyone, and may be down to poor handling by the supermarket who sold it or any number of other factors, but I'm afraid I saw it as indicative as a guru grown too big for her boots.

No one can blame AK for cashing in, but her penchant for slapping her name on any product that will pay for the priviledge whilst also polishing her halo as a champion of healthy eating for our enfants rather sticks in my craw, as I am sure would the pizza if I were brave enough to unbox it. It's a bit like Gordon Ramsay striding around provicial kitchens sneering at their poor provisions in Kitchen Nightmares, whilst happily microwaving bought in ready meals at his own pubs.

Perhaps I am displaying that horrible British trait of knocking someone for their success, but I do think that if you put yourself up on a pedestal, or your name of a veritable pyramid of ready meal boxes, there's always a threat of someone spotting your feet of clay.


  1. Brilliantly written piece. Hope you've pitched it.

  2. This woman irritates me. She was on BBC's Horizon re salt and sugar-gate and her superior attitude, coupled with patronising looks, was enough to turn me off forever. Yes, I've got a couple of her books. Will I ever buy any of her ready-meals or branded goods? No I will not, on point of principle. She is a con-artist.

  3. baby led weaning, the lazy-arsed mother's secret weapon...

  4. I, too, bought that book. Then felt guilty and inadequate whenever I bought a pot of baby food instead of doing my own fresh stuff.

    And guess what. Some children will eat a sandwich because you've put eyes and a smiley face on it, but lots won't. Mine wouldn't. More guilt.

    Like all these things, if it works for you and your child, great. If not, put it to one side and do things your own way. I know lots of people who loved that book. It's the Gina Ford effect, I think. If it worked for you, you swear by it. If it didn't, you assumed it was all your fault, until you met someone else who whispered quietly that it hadn't worked for them either, and then you felt liberated enough to make your own judgement.

    Having said that, if what is said in the press article you link to is true (and that's quite a big IF), then I agree with you. You can't be a promoter of healthy eating for kids if your own stuff doesn't meet the standards.