Just finished a fantastic book called Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall. I actually came across this book only because I was chasing my crazy toddler through the library, picking up books as she randomly pulled them off shelves. This book happened to be one of her victims and I thought it looked interesting. If you have any interest in food I recommend reading this book – even if you don’t have children.

The author takes a unique view of food. She focuses her discussion on the culture surrounding our food and how this has been eroded by the food industry. Consider some of her points that I found particularly interesting:

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Food Diversity is Lost With Industrialization

There are hundreds of species of tomatoes but all the tomatoes at my grocery store look the same. Why? In order for tomatoes to be farmed on a large, industrial scale, they must have several features including:

  • All fruits are similar size for easy machine handling
  • All fruits ripen at the exact same time for machine-driven harvesting
  • Do not bruise easily to survive rough handling

This results in the mass production of often a single species of tomato – and one that is not necessarily better tasting or more nutritious. Globalization means that single tomato species being eaten everywhere.

But plants are unique, some species grow better in one climate versus another. Before industrialization of tomato production, foods prepared by different cultures were more unique. Every country and even region would have different plant species – adding complexity to our food flavors and nutrients. Different knowledge on how to grow and prepare them. Food culture is lost with industrialization. This applies to every food plant.

Food Preferences are Linked to Our Memories of it

The smell of roast beef still reminds me of Christmas dinners at my Baba’s house wearing those stupid paper hats that come in the holiday crackers. I remember icing homemade cakes with my grandfather and sticking money inside for the guests to find. And I have a distinct memory of eating homemade, canned peaches and ice cream when we had dinner at my grandmother’s house.

As part of our culture, food is often intimately linked to our childhood memories. And these memories, good or bad, play a huge role in our food preferences as adults. We need to consider what ‘food memories’ we are building for our children. If children have positive memories of food – picking vegetables with mom in the garden or a day out with dad to the farmer’s market on Sundays – they are more likely to continue these diet habits as adults.

Kids Don’t Need to be Fed Differently than Adults

After reading this book I reflected that, yes, it is weird that restaurants have separate ‘kids menus’. We have snacks at the grocery store specifically designed as baby food or toddler snacks. We have dinner parties with friends but leave the kids at home with a babysitter.

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Clearly a borrowed image: I don’t own nice stuff like this.

It is interesting to consider the ways in which we separate children from our food culture. It is through these experiences that they learn about both food and social customs. They only way to raise children to eat a certain way is to involve them in the food culture.

These were just some of the points I found particularly interesting in the book. There are a lot more so I encourage you to read it. Since just reading this book means nothing to me if I do not act on what I learned, I aim to do the following to encourage my daughter to participate in a healthy food culture (although I am not sure what the Canadian ‘food culture’ is…unless you count poutine):

  1. Involve her more regularly in helping prepare dinner. She is only 1 so I use the term ‘helping’ lightly here. I do invite her to stand on a chair beside me sometimes while I get dinner ready and she seems to like it. I will make it a point to do this more often.
  2. Last year we did several trips to the farmer’s market and local pick-your-own farms. I will do this again this year with a mind to make it a fun family outing so she develops positive memories of this.
  3. I might consider hosting a few dinners with friends and have children attend as well.
  4. Try not to cry every time she throws the food I made on the wall or floor….aka every meal

Happy Cooking 🙂

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