I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. Well, fruits and vegetables, that is. As a kid in Virginia, I grew up with corn growing down the road from my house, apple trees in my yard, and a local farmer’s stand where you could get produce right away from the neighborhood farmers. With parents who loved any excuse to take a drive to the farmer’s market, I was well acquainted with the wonders that are Hanover tomatoes and Virginia peaches in mid-summer.
It took me a while to appreciate it though. I distinctly remember whining about the bowls of fresh berries that my parents would put out for us to snack on. When I’d wander into the kitchen complaining that I wanted a snack and my father would hand me a perfectly ripe peach or glistening wedges of cold cucumber doused with lemon juice and pepper, I wouldn’t hesitate to turn my nose up at it.
I wasn’t interested in fruit! That was not my idea of a snack!
Still, I have to give my parents credit. They never forced me to eat anything that I didn’t want. When I would turn down their offerings, they’d smile and say: “Good! That means there’s more for me!” My parents weren’t stupid; they knew me well and realized that my fear of missing out on something would lead me back to the fruit and veggies.
By the time I was out on my own, fruits and veggies had become a major part of my diet. Even when I couldn’t necessarily afford the freshest or best quality produce, I always managed to include it in my diet as much as possible. I’ve also met people who did not share my love of produce, but actually eschewed it! One friend I’ve known for about six years has never eaten a fresh vegetable or a piece of fruit (in front of me) unless it has been baked in a crust of some sort. Another friend has a self-described “wooden palette,” and his diet consists mainly of potatoes and meat.
Observing the differences in the diets of others led me to consider the cause. Was it something about the way we were exposed to fruit and veggies as a kid? Does introducing the food early in life make a difference?
Experts overwhelmingly agree that yes, early exposure does make a difference in forming eating habits later in life.
It’s just common sense. While early intervention with veggies and fruit can help establish healthy habits later in life, it is possible that an additional benefit can be found in teaching kids how food is grown. Thanks to the ever popular farm-to-table movement that is all the rage lately, parents in New York City now have a larger myriad of programs to teach little Jimmy or Jane (or Banjo and Fia, if you want to be a little hipster about it) a thing or two about legumes and edible roots. There are programs that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
I once overheard two parents talking about a program that their kids were in that was part of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. One of the mothers was thrilled that her son was now excited to eat vegetables. He now understood where veggies and fruit come from, how they grow, and had the experience of actually picking them from the earth. She went on to say what a huge difference it had made for her son and his diet.
Arising from a concern about the poor eating habits of her own daughters, Michelle Obama created an initiative that help educate families about the importance of early intervention in establishing healthy habit for kids. The Let’s Move!™ campaign is a multifaceted program that includes food and nutrition along with physical exercise. Part of the First Lady’s program was to create a large White House vegetable garden (the first on the grounds since WWII), and she brought in students from the DC area to help with the planting. The First Lady hoped that the garden would be a tool “to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern.”
I’ve compiled a list of resources of Children’s gardening programs around the city.
Knowledge is power!
Next I’ll be interviewing Brooklyn-based musician and educator Tyler Sussman about his work to help kids in Brooklyn learn about their food!