A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Ceri Marsh, one of the smart women behind Sweet Potato Chronicles, a funny, useful and great-looking website devoted to the family meal. SPC offers recipes, product reviews, ideas for how to get your kids eating healthily and one of my favourite regular features: “What’s so great about…?” (sage, bay leaves, coffee, pumpkin, etc.). Ceri asked such good questions, I wanted to include a few of them here. For the complete interview, follow the link.
Q: What do you want kids to learn about the world from What’s For Lunch?
A: I hope that children who read (or flip through!) the book will see both their differences and similarities to other kids around the world. I hope they’ll recognize the way that food connects us all. I also hope they’ll read about the kids who are taking charge of what they eat at their schools and in their homes—demanding healthy sustainably grown food, asking questions about how it’s produced and by whom—and see that they can also make a difference.
Q: How important is it for kids to have some control/input in their own meals?
A: I’ve been working with our school garden for a few years now and have seen first-hand how kids who weren’t willing to try a new vegetable (or any veg at all!) ended up eating kale pesto simply because they grew the kale themselves. And I love my own son’s enthusiasm about the knobbly little carrots and bitsy peppers we grow in our tiny urban patch. There’s no question when children have an opportunity to grow, cook, prepare or even just get involved in choosing their food, they take more chances and will eat more healthily. But it’s also more than that: when paired with talk about what all this means (to the planet and their own bodies, for instance) they start to see that even in this small way, their personal choices can have a big impact on their world.
Q: Why do you think there is such a strong interest now in what kids eat at school? Is it the Jamie Oliver effect or is there more to it?
A: There’s no question Jamie Oliver has had a huge impact on the school lunch world. But I think that the interest in school lunch is part of a more widespread engagement in food issues. You can’t turn on your computer or open a newspaper without reading about food safety scares, environmental degradation caused by factory farming, escalating food prices, small-scale farmers leaving the land because they can’t make a living, the obesity crisis. People are starting to understand that the industrial system we’ve established over the course of the last few generations is not sustainable. Interest in school lunch and talking about food with children is part of this. If we can teach our children about food and how it’s connected to all these things they care about (their environment, their health, their community and culture) they might actually have a fighting chance of truly changing this system for the better.
Q: How hard or easy is it for parents to get more involved with the issues of food in schools? I just learned my 5 year old is being given chocolate milk for a snack at her Toronto public school. What the heck?
A: It took me a long time to figure out where I fit into my kids’ school as a parent—whether it’s about academic issues, food or volunteering my time. Nobody wants to be that guy when it comes to the teachers, other parents or administrators, marching in and wagging your finger about bake sales or insisting on whole-grain pizza dough on pizza day. But parents are key participants in the school system and we need to be both clear and respectful talking to schools about our expectations, hopes and concerns. Chocolate milk might be okay as a special treat, but serving it to 5 year olds every day doesn’t sound right at all. There was a huge debate about serving chocolate milk in schools in the US last year. Chef Ann Cooper, a key school meal activist otherwise known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, calls it “sugary soda in drag.” I think schools need to think carefully about the mixed messages they send children when they talk about healthy eating in class (the food groups, nutrients, etc.) and then urge them to sell cookie dough or chocolate bars to raise money or offer them processed food or sugary drinks as incentives or snacks.
For more from the Sweet Potato Chronicles interview, click here.