This is part two in a week-long conversation with Jeannie Marshall, author of the brilliant Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products.
For those of you who missed yesterday’s installment, the book is 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. Jeannie’s easy-to-read style and chilling, clear-eyed marshalling of the facts makes it a standout among books about food and children.
Today, how Italian kids learn to love spinach and stinging nettles because of their school lunch. (For more on Italian school lunch, check out my interview with two Roman schoolchildren here.)
Q: In your book, you suggest that school lunch could be the factor that can change a food culture for the better. Tell me how you imagine this might work in Canada (or elsewhere).
Jeannie Marshall: School lunch is an amazing, though mostly squandered, opportunity. Children exert such an incredible influence over each other’s tastes, and that influence can be harnessed for the good of their health if children are allowed to eat a communal meal at school. There are destructive things going on in Italy at the moment in terms of food and children because of the influence of the food industry. But one thing that still works in most of the country is the school lunch program.
My son Nico is now going to a different school than the one I describe in Outside the Box, but the lunch is still set up in mostly the same way. He sits with his classmates and his teacher at a table set with placemats, napkins and cutlery. The teacher facilitates a group conversation and gently corrects their table manners while they eat. Just looking at the menu for today I can tell you that Nico and his classmates are eating pasta with tomatoes and basil for their first course, and then they will have a frittata with a green salad for a second course and pears for desert. The food is all organic and mostly local. The important thing here is that there is one menu. There are no choices, though the school will make exceptions for children with genuine allergies (but there are few).