For nearly 14 years, my wife and I have been thrilled that our four kids eat nearly anything we put on their plates. Granted, we aren’t overly adventurous with the meals we serve – for example, we’ve never served tripe or cow’s tongue – but the variety of what we cook is likely broader than average, as are the flavors, spices and combinations of foods.
So, coming into next week’s 2009 Eat Local Challenge, I assumed it would be a no brainer for the whole family to get behind it, even enthusiastically, assuming we didn’t have to completely give up chocolate or coffee, two showstoppers in my household.
It turns out that as kids get older (my oldest is 13 going on 21), this developing-a-mind-of-their-own thing kicks in. Dad wanting his family to participate in an important challenge becomes “It’s stupid.”
My reaction? Defensive at first. I was disappointed and a little hurt, since figuring out ways to proliferate sustainable food is how I spend my days. Upon further reflection I began to see inherent difficulties in making good everyday food decisions, especially for young people dealing with very real social pressures and fighting off the onslaught of sophisticated marketers hawking edible food-like substances. After years of taking for granted our success in getting our kids to regularly eat good food, it turns out the rules change as kids grow up, so it’s time to adapt.
Thanks to the Eat Local Challenge, I will no longer assume kids automatically value what we have worked hard to instill in them about food, e.g., supporting local farmers; enriching regional food economies; consuming healthy, flavorful, nutritious food; etc. I expect most kids will realize these things in the long run, but first many of them may need to figure this out on their own.
For my wife and me, as well as many other families taking part in the Eat Local Challenge, there will likely be “disagreements” with our kids over the food we eat. Rather than fight with them about the importance of eating locally, I’m resolved to take a different approach.
Give them choices. Encourage them to participate. Take them shopping and let them pick out some local foods that appeal to them. Let them define “local” if that helps them get engaged. Just don’t force the issue. And positively support the actions they take. If they want to rebel for a week, let them, since it would be a shame to have even one young person end up resisting eating local because their dad thought it was so important.
Food (hopefully local) for thought…
You are SO right. We try to encourage our kids (our 6 range in age from 29 to 9) to join us in our “causes” because their passionate youth brings much to the table. But forcing it makes for a long week for both them and us.
We will be spending next week searching out local chocolate and coffee (research this week saves the mornings next week!) and other treats, and celebrating each meal we can concoct from local-only foods. But if a teen really just doesn’t want to participate, that’s cool. Maybe the “celebration” factor will win over a reluctant grump.
Great post, Rob. I’m of the mind that these kinds of lessons and habits sink in over time, and that there’s nothing quite like a homemade meal. My kids may resist local and organic food purely because it’s what their parents prefer – but they can taste the difference between real food and edible food-like substances, and when we’re not looking, they often opt for the good stuff.
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