When I was a kid, I had a T-shirt that I wore to death with the words KIDS ARE PEOPLE, TOO! emblazoned across the front in scrawly kids’ writing.
At the time, there was a popular TV variety show of the same name (check out the cheesy theme song, disco moves and trampoline KISS kicks), but for me, it was the message behind the words that really rang true.
From about the time I was 9 and had some independence, I found myself outraged by the way some adults treated kids—as if we had nothing relevant to say, as if we should shut up in restaurants and stores, as if our opinions didn’t matter. I hated that when my friends and I collected our pennies and other coins, hopped on our banana-seat bikes and headed to the corner store, the store owner treated us like we weren’t legit customers. He’d eye us as if suspecting we were planning to pocket the penny candy instead of pay for it, then hustle us out once we’d made our choices.
These days, the general mood regarding kids has changed a lot, and there are many people who think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction—that all adults do now is cater to the whims of pint-sized dictators. I think there’s some truth in that, but there are still many times and places when kids feel as if the adult world simply ignores them. Indeed, if the stories told to me by the kids I work with at Word-Play (an after-school creative writing program for Grade 6s), are any indication, the outrage I felt about being denied a voice is still very much a reality for children.
When it comes to food, it’s the same story. In the guise of catering to kids, we’ve created children’s menus, specialty processed foods and special kid-sized portions. But do children really want this stuff or have these products been created simply to pad food corporations’ bottom line?
Everything I’ve seen, read and heard researching my book, What’s for Lunch? makes me think it’s the latter. Kids really do care about what they eat. They want to be healthy and have energy and, also, like everyone else, they want to enjoy yummy stuff. Sometimes, it’s treats, sure, but given the opportunity, they also want to eat fresh, delicious fruit and other whole foods.
Last week, this was brought home to the world in vivid form by Never Seconds, a blog authored by a 9-year-old Scottish girl named Martha Payne. When she started posting images of her school lunch, complaining that they were never allowed seconds (and she was hungry because of it), that the food was inconsistently healthy and tasty, the world stood up and took note. Her blog topped a million hits. The media started calling. Jamie Oliver tweeted his support. And her school’s lunch service took action. The rules were changed, and kids were allowed unlimited salads, fruit and bread. Bravo to Martha!
But to me, it was when kids all over the planet started sending her images of their own lunches that it got really interesting. Some look great, others, not so much. It’s the idea that this shared experience (eating a meal at school) can be common cause around the world—even a tool to change the food system—that’s thrilling to me. They might just have launched a real food revolution.