Last year at this time, my family and I visited Rome. We ate and walked and bumped into major historical sites at every turn and then ate some more. (See my post on school lunch in Italy here.)
While there, a mutual friend introduced us to Jeannie Marshall, a Canadian writer and journalist who’s lived in Italy for many years with her husband, James, and their young son, Nico. We met up at a wonderful pizza place in Trastevere (where one of my sons promptly feel asleep with his head on the table!), and I learned that Jeannie was also working on a book about kids and food.
Well, that book, Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products is out, and it is a game-changer. Part manifesto, part family story, it’s about the disappearance of “real food,” as the title suggests, but more than anything, it’s about the value of “food culture” in ensuring a healthy and sustainable food system for kids and adults alike. Anyone with an interest in children and food (parents, teachers, activists, educators of all kinds), or the politics of the food system should run out and get it now. Jeannie’s easy-to-read style and chilling, clear-eyed marshalling of the facts makes it a standout among food books.
Jeannie graciously agreed to answer some questions for all of us here at What’s for Lunch? and I’ll be running her answers all week. Please come back the rest of the week for more!
Today, why kids in the Hebrides used to love to eat cod heads stuffed with liver and why kids in Toronto wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.
Q: I was fascinated and a bit depressed by your early chapter on how children’s taste for healthy, whole food is perverted, even destroyed, by industrial food. What can we do to support kids to establish a taste for healthier, more sustainable food?
Jeannie Marshall: The first thing we can do is avoid the industrial food in our own homes. That means pretty much everything that comes in a package, whether it’s sliced, whole wheat bread we buy in the supermarkets or frozen fish sticks. We have to resist the urge to buy “products” that we think are healthy and remember that real food is always healthier.
But, another important thing is to recognize that what we do in our homes is not enough. As children grow up they naturally try to understand and fit into their communities, particularly with their peer group. Whether we recognize it or not, we live in a culture – it’s like a fine net that holds us together and is all but invisible to those of us who live within it. Yet it exerts an incredible power over our preferences in everything from food to fashion. It even forms a fundamental part of our identity. What we eat tells us something about who we are. For centuries in many parts of the world this sense of shared identity that comes through eating and enjoying the same foods as our neighbours has kept us alive.