It doesn’t surprise me that many children don’t know the origins of food and produce. Some adults don’t really know how everything is done in production chain and where it comes from, or they don’t want to know. Discussing the slaughter of cattle so you can have a steak or a pig so you can have a piece of ham is not such a nice topic for many. I have worked with adults who couldn’t eat a whole baked fish, only a fillet, or pieces, because it no longer looked like the animal it came from. Explaining to a young child that when they eat yogurt, it is milk with bacteria in it, may also not be so appetizing, but it is true!
What always surprises me about articles like this is when the media tries to blame the educators or departments involved. “It’s the teacher’s fault, the educator’s fault, the schooling system’s fault, agriculture’s fault, the governments fault” …do the parents really believe that?
As a parent, I believe discussing of food and where it comes from (as with most topics that affect my children’s lives) is my responsibility. My kids often ask at meal time where a certain food comes from (particularly different meat, beef – cattle, pork – pigs etc). We discuss how they are killed. We talk about the foods that go it breakfast cereals and how a factory “cooks or makes” them into the foods we see coming out of the box. We also combine this talk with discussions of healthy and not so healthy food choices, packaging and recycling. I believe that all these topics are inter-related; healthy food choices of fresh foods cooked at home (or “slow food” as it is now called) and fast pre-packaged foods that sometimes are not the healthiest choices for our bodies or the environment.
Don’t these discussions just naturally happen around the dinner table or looking at the world around us? Or maybe not, maybe this shows just how removed we, as a whole, have become from our children and real life. I have written before about families living a whirlwind of appointments, work schedules and care/school drop offs.
How much time do you have to “just chat” to your children? I’m not talking about the organizational times (Busy, “everyone’s got to go” breakfast time, going on outings, racing to soccer/dancing/swimming “fill in your activity here”), I mean, hanging around looking at fruit trees, chatting over a meal, sitting under the sky and contemplating the universe.
When I stopped to think about this, many families do not have meals together! I have had children in care from 6am – 6pm. A child in care for these hours may only have meals with their family on weekends. Meals are something to “fit in” to our busy schedules so we can get everything else done.
Many busy parents find it faster to go food shopping without the children. How many fantastic learning opportunities are lost by leaving the kids at home. The children may think of food as something that comes out of the pantry, fridge or a fast food outlet!
Here are just a few great ideas for families that are free and you can usually combine with crossing some chores of the list.
1. Grocery shop with the children (make the list with them ; sometimes words and pictures help, let them draw their own list, refer to the list often with the children, let them get the items from the selves). Yes it will take longer, but is vital to their life long learning.
2. Grow some of your own food, let them see where it comes from (pots on a balcony are fine!), make the outing to buy seeds or the plants together and let the children choose (with a little guidance, you can’t have a 5 meter tall fruit tree on the patio!), Make little signs together for the plants and fruit. Whether it grows or dies, it’s all an education.
3. Have “slow” meals, discuss the menu, or write it up, let the children help prepare it, discuss the different foods and where they come from.
4. People eat dead things…get over it and discuss it! If discussed in a factual way, most children cope better than adults.
5. Visit a local farm or farmer’s market, many farms now will do pick your own days and you only pay for the produce.
6. Make some items that you would normally buy in containers and packets like yogurt and bread at home.
I’m sure you can come up with many more!
Educators, teachers and government departments cannot teach children every single fact on the planet (where did that expectation come from, children go to formal schooling for only 5 contact hours a day!)…that’s why learning how to learn and encouraging curiosity is so important, so children will search out the answers themselves. As parents, we are the constant, consistent guide and learning support in our children’s lives, let’s not waste that wonderful opportunity and rather honorable privilege.