Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. -Mark Twain
Today’s post isn’t about gardening and I am not to going to coddle anyone. Today, I need to speak up for kids.
I occasionally get to spend time in school cafeteria kitchens. The most recent time was this fall and I am still not over the experience. The people who work there are wonderful, sweet and well meaning but that has nothing to do with this. Let me tell you what we have done to children in most of the schools in the US.
Because we live in a federally determined food desert, the children eat both breakfast and lunch at school five days a week plus a snack each day. That is 10 of 21 meals a week, if they are fed when they are at home.
There are no dishwashers in the school anymore so they eat both of these meals on styrofoam.
The employees are not cooks so there is no cooking. All the food is prepackaged.
At one point, I was taken aside by an employee to be shown crates of beautiful pears and cherry tomatoes. My host explained that not one of them will be eaten. They are the fresh foods mandated by the government but the children do not know what they are so they will not eat them.
Let that sink in.
Don’t get distracted by the fact that every bit of that produce, every day, is thrown away because they cannot do anything with it once it has been offered to the children. Even if the school starts a composting program, this is a disgusting waste but, let me repeat the worst part: the children do not know what they (pears and tomatoes) are so they will not eat them.
It must be an anomaly…
The sweet people at our church, with the help of groups like Second Harvest, provide food to many of the hungry in our community. During the school year, they send food home with children from school and during the summer they provide lunches. I LOVE this service. As I stood contemplating the quality of food we are able to provide (the local produce farms will not let us glean because of the pesticides they use), I was told that on the rare occasion they give out apples, they find them discarded along the street by the children. The problem with this situation is not that someone handed children apples. It is that a food-insecure child would discard the healthiest, most recognizable, thing they are handed.
“Parents would never endorse that,” you say?
I once heard a mother with (whom I grew up in the Midwest US) COMPLAIN that her daughter’s lunch menu included foods like hummus and jicama. Apparently, she wanted to protect her little angel from exposure to actual food or, perhaps, any new foods. Either way, way to go, mom. I am more against judging other parents than anyone I know ( an indicator that this is the most serious issue to me) but her attitude is the equivalent of encouraging her daughter to stick her tongue in the electric socket.
These anecdotes sound like the kind of sad situations about which documentaries are made but, as surreal as it seems to me, I am witness to it all. It is the reality in much of the US.
Why do the children not know what produce is and how can they not want to eat it?
No wonder everyone feels like hell.
I have never found a study (not funded by industry) showing anything more important to health than the consumption of unprocessed produce. Even if you also eat animal products, the most important indicator of long and healthy life is the consumption of plants.
I have also never found a non-industry funded study claiming that most of the substances these children are willing to eat qualify as food. So how do our children NOT recognize FOOD?
Is this the school’s fault?
No. The school can bring in salad and fruit, move it to the front of the line and remove the junk but that is a partial fix.
The employee’s conclusion that the waste is the government’s fault is also wrong. It isn’t the government’s job to teach our children what to eat. The blame stops there after we acknowledge the government’s role in subsidizing and protecting our absurd “food” system.
Is it the giant agribusiness that pumps all this trash into our grocery stores? Who is buying it and creating the demand?
Are you surprised the industry only cares about profit?
Are you shocked to learn the government isn’t working for your best interest?
Is this horrid situation all because the last two generations were duped and we were raised on this crap?
Does it matter to the kids that your mom “didn’t know any better?” Will that be a good justification when they have diabetes, heart disease and die younger than our generation? I’m sure they will be comforted to know we had an excuse.
This is OUR fault.
We live in an age when information is at our fingertips, literally. We have no excuse.
If the kids do not see real, actual food as normal and fake, processed, food-like substances as disgusting and inedible, we have failed them in the single most fundamental way.
The fact that anyone would choose what passes as bread with unidentifiable filling over a vegetable or piece of fruit is mind blowing. We are sick, morally bankrupt and failures.
Little kids want what tastes good. There are two roads to that conclusion. One is exposure to real food that the body can use (the parents’ job) and the other is engineering food to appeal to biological desires (industry).
This isn’t even about the quality of the food. It isn’t about the toxins in conventional produce or the efficiency of shipping food long distances. This is about actual food vs fake food. This is about grapes versus artificially colored and flavored purple candy. This is real bread versus whatever that white fluff-turned-paste is in the sacks that lasts for months. This is water versus pop, salad versus katchup, grass-fed versus sick CAFO meat mixed with God-knows-what. This is about you raising your children versus marketers and advertisers raising them.
What do you MODEL? More is caught than taught. I bet your kids do not eat anymore produce a day than you do. Mine don’t. Do you sit around and lament how hard it is to “eat healthy”? That send a great message. How about running around and talking about how great clean eating makes you feel?
I hope this offends you and feels like a slap in the face because if so, it needed to be said. I have seen pet food with cleaner ingredient lists than some of the stuff people feed children. If you are already fighting this fight, all the better. Use me to slap the people around you. I’ll be the bad guy here.
Every adult who has any influence on a child is to blame.
You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit.-Joel Salatin
Parents, we are responsible for our children’s eating habits, first and foremost. The school is in charge of their schooling but we are responsible for their education and FOOD is the beginning of it.
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.-Mark Twain
Don’t think I do not see the problem with teaching your kids about food and then sending them to the school where all the other children are eating processed sugar garbage and expecting them to stay strong. I know what that is like. I know there is no way that every kid in any school is ignorant of fruits and vegetables. And nothing is more frustrating than being with a group and deciding whether or not to be rude to the people providing the meal and refuse to let your child eat the “food” or to just go with the flow to be polite. I experience it all the time. I even give in at church most of the time and then deal with the consequences at home. I claim I am not hungry and, after whispering to my children that it is not what their tummies are used to, let them choose if they want to eat it. Is this the area of raising children you thought would be easy? Well, put on your big-boy panties, because this matters and they need you to step up to the plate.
Conflict and tension are part of life. Tension may be the most prominent characteristic of our existence. That doesn’t justify the last three generations phoning in the job of feeding our children real food.
While we are at it, let’s talk about hunger. Most of you reading this (and your children) have never been hungry. Never. Hunger isn’t an empty stomach. Hunger is an empty intestine and no sign of the next meal. Don’t use “hungry” as an excuse to eat crap.
I do NOT want normal children. Normal in the US is literally sick and wrong. I want kids who only conform to be polite, not out of fear. I want kids who can step outside schemas and culture to see the big picture. I want kids who are willing to live differently and are capable of being content. This sometimes causes tension. It can be tough and uncomfortable but normal is failing.
This is literally life or death.
It is ignorant or disingenuous (or a little of both) to claim you are pro-life, environmentally concerned, worried about food security or the healthcare system and then NOT address this issue. It may be the biggest point of hypocrisy of our time. This issue knows no political ideology. Diabetes, heart disease and cancer know no political party. You can try and spin it any way you want but if your child doesn’t know what an apple is or thinks a drive-through is where food comes from, you have a problem that transcends your politics.
Food is a moral issue and ignoring that fact does not absolve you of responsibility.
Even if you allow your child to eat school provided food, for whatever reason, and their peers get them to skip the fresh produce snack, you are still responsible for every single bite they take during the 11 other meals a week they are in your home and care.
But your child is a picky eater and doesn’t like veggies?
I have met picky eaters. Some say I am one because I chose to eat actual food. A picky eater says they do not like Red Delicious apples because they are the worst apple or they do not like pears because they are grainy. A picky eater avoids broccoli because of the smell or walnuts because of the bitterness. They avoid shellfish in the Midwest or beef from CAFOs. A picky eater doesn’t avoid all fruits and vegetables, the basis of the human diet. That is a poorly educated person with insufficient exposure to real food. A child who understands what food is will eat it if they get genuinely hungry (with the incredibly rare exception of those who fail to thrive, of which I have met one in my life.)
So now what?
I grew up being told that when you know better, you do better. It turns out that isn’t always true. Yes, becoming educated is often the impetus for change but we don’t actually do better until we change our behavior.
I envision a time, soon, when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered renegade.” – Chef Ann Cooper
If you ever take a bite in front of a child, do it thoughtfully. Make sure it is food you would want them to eat and know was nourishing their little, easily poisoned body.
If you have a child in your care, don’t have fake food around them. Cover the counters in produce, nuts and seeds and then eat them. Let them see you enjoy them. If your palette is still off, fake it until you feel it. Your kid’s life is worth it.
If your family eats poorly, include your children in the change to eating real food. Have them learn to be label skeptics alongside you. They can change more easily than you can change. Change your terminology. If something is fake, call it fake. Language is framing. The Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Reader’s Edition is a great place for your children to get information. (Get a few copies to give as gifts.) If a person doesn’t consider most fruit sweet, they need their palate reprogrammed. It only takes a couple weeks.
Teach your children when to expect to be tempted and what to do when everyone around them is eating junk. Celebrate them for choosing to be different. Be honest with them about health issues. Kids in the US over ten years-old overwhelmingly have signs of heart disease. You want to believe your kids are the exception right now but don’t gamble on it.
Get resources into the hands of school dietitians. Here are some to get you started:
The movies Fed Up, and Food Inc are available on Netflix
Just moving the produce to the front of the line in schools makes a difference.
The bottom line
The health of our children, the future of our population, the economy, access to healthcare, food security…all of it hinges on parents and other adults stepping up and doing their job to educate children about food. We have set them on a path to destruction. It is past time to change it.
Happy eating (real food), Katy