Last Saturday I had the pleasure of talking to Mary Ito at CBC’s weekend morning show, Fresh Air, about What’s for Lunch? I told her about the learning curve I’ve had in my first experience writing for children. I talked about how I’ve heard in the past that if you really want to figure out if you understand something, explain it to a child. I think it’s true—have you ever tried to explain lightning or why clouds exist to a kid? Most of us will come up against the limits of our own memory/knowledge when it comes to explaining even such simple things. I don’t think it’s about dumbing down—I believe kids are much smarter and more sophisticated than many adults think—it’s more about breaking ideas down to their constituent parts, unravelling the complexity. Sometimes, it’s also about questioning the bias that you take for granted.
The subject came up because Mary asked me if I found it challenging to negotiate bias when writing a book for children. She said that the food system is political and that there are many competing voices arguing this way and that. (Not to mention billions of dollars spent by food companies to support their own interests—my words, not hers.) How did I choose to take a particular stand?
My answer then as now is that I went where the research led me. I was focusing on a very specific issue: school lunch around the world. When I looked into how different nations deal with feeding their kids (or not), I found that the same issues came up over and over. Hunger, malnutrition and poverty, diet-related illnesses (like diabetes and obesity) that threaten the very fiber of many nations, environmental degradation caused by certain intensive agricultural approaches that put profits ahead of the health of the land or people.
I found kids who wouldn’t be getting an education at all if a meal wasn’t offered at school; I found kids whose lunches are unhealthy and benefit the companies who provide them more than the children they’re set up to support. I found that school meals help ensure girls get an education and offer an opportunity for governments and NGOs to provide other health interventions such as malaria medication or iron supplements to prevent anemia. What I found, too, is that the poor all over the planet are the people suffering the most from the international food system we’ve created over the last 50 or 60 years.
I didn’t make this stuff up. This is the reality of our world right now.
That said, I don’t propose specific political solutions to these problems in What’s for Lunch? That would be a rather different kind of book, but I do propose to children that they can have a hand in creating solutions, that they have an important stake in reimagining a food system that is equitable for everyone.
I wonder if this is why The Kirkus Review called What’s for Lunch? “a very political book, biased toward food equity….” I guess I’m guilty as charged (imagine a book bias toward food inequity!). I think all children should have the right to adequate amounts of healthy food and that we should all be working toward building a world where hunger and poverty don’t prevent kids from getting an education or creating a better future for themselves. If this is bias, I suppose I’m alright with that.
To read other reviews of What’s for Lunch? check out the News page of this site.