Monday, November 3, 2008

Our Children's Food Knowledge

As our connection to an agrarian lifestyle has waned over the past century, society as a whole has suffered in the realm of institutionalized food knowledge and the corresponding nutrition that inherently went hand-in-hand with our rural existence.

Gone are the days when children’s chores included farm work predicated on the cultivation of food, whether it was vegetables and fruits or domesticated livestock.

The state of our kids’ food experience is shockingly poor, and it will only continue to worsen if our reliance on packaged and processed foods that have little resemblance to real foods continues to proliferate.

To our youth, chicken means chicken nuggets, or maybe chicken parts packaged neatly in Styrofoam and plastic, not a real chicken, with feathers, feet and a face. If you are a parent and you are thinking, “That’s gross,” what do you think your child is going to think? Each generation can only learn what the preceding generation is able to teach it. What food knowledge will today’s kids be able to pass on to their children when they become parents?

To our youth, carrots mean “baby” carrots, which are completely devoid of any carrot flavor, come in a plastic bag and are anything but true baby carrots (photo above). These carrot bits are actually the by-product of huge, tasteless carrots that are put through a machine which breaks up the larger carrots into smaller, uniform pieces.

In reality, baby vegetables are vegetables that are simply removed from the ground or picked from the vine earlier in their development process than their adult cousins. There is no special seed or DNA for baby vegetables. For example, carrots take—on average—about 65 to 75 days from when seed is planted to become mature, adult carrots. Real baby carrots—greens included!—are simply carrots that are removed from the ground while they are still growing.

What can we do to stem the tide? The simplest thing would be to educate our children on how real food grows by taking them to a supermarket (the produce section and butcher), a farmers market or a working farm. It would be better if more of us who have a lawn or backyard allocate some of that space to growing vegetables, so our children get a first-hand appreciation of how food grows.

Before you scoff at my suggestion, think about what our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be eating if we continue down this path. Think about the myriad food allergies and ills present in today’s youth; isn’t it common sense to think these problems will continue to increase as edible food-like substances further replace real food?

Are you skeptical about the import and influence of children growing vegetables? A recent story in The New York Times detailed the travails of teenagers in Brooklyn.


Treasures By Brenda said...

Those poor baby carrots. They're sure taking a beating these days. For a page of information that I uncovered in reaction to the negative e-mail that is circulating about the carrots, read Baby Carrots ~~ When Is A Carrot Not A Carrot.

I agree that we need to educate our children about our food!


Anya said...

You learn something new everyday. I did not know that 'baby carrots' are not real baby carrots, but instead large carrots that were processed into small pieces. Wow, it shows how much we prefer convenience over the origins or nutritional value of our food.
I agree that when kids are asked where food comes from, more and more they're answering "from the supermarket!"