My Children, the Food Activists

Food, Inc.

“I tell all of my friends about food,” my daughter told me. I’ve noticed that both of my children talk about food issues in casual conversation with their friends. “Dude,” my 9-year old son said to his friend, “have you read this book?” The book is the Young Readers Edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. “Yeah, dude. I read that.” And he has! We aren’t the only family who have created food activists.

My efforts to teach my children about food have been deliberate. My children and I worked together to plan a homeschool year focused on food. We eased in with the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, which we read last year. In Hungry Planet, 30 families from 24 countries around the world are photographed with food that they would eat in a typical week.

Every year since they were small I have chosen one book to be our social geography focus. We started with the Unicef / DK Children Like Me series then moved on to Material World: A Global Family PortraitWomen in the Material WorldHow People Live, and, this year, Hungry Planet. I can’t say enough good things about Dorling Kindersley books for children.

Apparently, my children stick out—in a good way. When a nutritionist visited her ballet academy to talk to the dancers, my daughter was right in the conversation with questions. When other dancers see in her food journal the food she eats, they seem confused. Seeing Jamie Oliver’s efforts to clean up school lunches, I’m not surprised that they don’t understand how someone could eat real food at every meal. This is one more reason I am glad we homeschool

Food Revolution

Have you been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? My family watched it online. We started watching late one night. My children were so fascinated that they wanted to stay up to watch all of the episodes (three so far).

Short version: British chef shows up in the town that, statistically, is the least healthy in the U.S., Huntington, West Virginia, to try to plant the seeds of a food revolution. So far, we see a lot of resistance.

We all laughed our collective cynical laughs (oh, I just can’t help it) to see an episode of Food Revolution sponsored by a soft drink company and another by a greenwashing laundry company. But, it is what it is: an opportunity to reach into the mainstream with information about how our food system is killing us. It’s such a potentially powerful message that I almost overlook the the reality TV melodrama, questionable sponsorship, and condescending endearments toward females.

Food Films

In addition to The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Hungry Planet, we have watched quite a few documentary films.

  • King Corn – as two would-be farmers cultivate one acre of corn and trace the systems of industrial corn in the U.S.
  • The Future of Food – tracing genetically engineered pseudo-food of multinational corporations and the potential alternatives
  • Super-size Me – as Morgan Sperlock eats at McDonalds every day for 30 days with devastating effects on his health
  • Killer at Large – on the causes of obesity in our culture
  • The Last Beekeeper – following the journeys of several beekeepers to the almond groves of California as their colonies continue to collapse
  • Food Inc – covering much the same ground as many of the other films listed, though this was the one that brought out the most emotional response in me. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature this past year.

The Most Important Lesson

I asked my son what was the most important thing he has learned about food in the past year.

“I didn’t know how horribly the animals are treated in feed lots and animal operations. They are fed corn and parts of other animals. They are all so close and packed together. If they left them long enough in the feed lots they would die because their stomachs aren’t meant to process corn.”

“Now that you know,” I asked, “what do you do?”

“Eat grass-fed beef. Stay away from any corn-fed beef.”

My daughter answered the same questions.

“Food isn’t always what it looks like. Quality of a burger isn’t as good as it looks.”

“Anything else?”

“The way that animals are treated in feed lots is outrageous.”

“Now that you know that,” I asked, “what do you do?”

“Avoid it. Look at the labels to find the what you are avoiding: corn syrup and corn-fed meat. People are dying with this food, and fast food restaurants don’t care that their food is killing people. Food should be made in the kitchen not a lab.”

I thought I had already made a lot of changes to my family’s food in the past 15 years, but my children are helping me to make more changes. I love how active they are in helping to set priorities and request changes. Hearing them converse easily about fair trade chocolate or phytonutrients gives me a little parenting buzz. What a pleasure it is parenting older children! (And, yes, of course every age has its pleasures.)

I’m quite sure that our homeschool study of food will continue to expand. I hope to cover more of the Facing the Future global sustainability curriculum next. It is important to me that my children learn more than how to take action and why it is important. I want them to understand both the personal application and the global implication.

Go to Food Inc to learn 10 simple things you can do to change our food system.

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