Teach Our Children Well

When I say I’m a food writer, people often impose a gourmet status onto me that’s just not so. Sure, I can whip up a stellar chichi meal, but nowadays that happens about twice a year. The rest of the time I still enjoy cooking, but it’s a simple affair. I’ve spent a good deal of my career, in fact, trying to bridge the perceptual chasm between how America defines “gourmet” (people who love food) and “normal” (people who think people who love food are “gourmet”).

teach-our-children-well{My daughter, Noemi, triumphant with the one and only bunch of carrots we reaped from our garden this year}

Which is why I’ve been so delighted to see Michelle Obama digging in the kitchen garden with middle-schoolers and teenagers rather than with Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller. The strategy Obama is using, says Jane Black in her recent Washington Post article, is to link “the personal to the political by gardening, cooking and eating with students.” Note that Obama isn’t trying to impart to the children that they, too, can become Top Chefs if they learn to cook. Nor that arugula is only for the elite. Exactly the opposite, in fact. As Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, puts it in the article, Obama and her team are “normalizing something that should be normal.”

It may sound simplistic, but it’s working for Obama. By getting kids to interact with their food—shucking corn, cleaning lettuce—the first lady is transforming something that was loathesome (vegetables, blech!) into something cool. I’ve seen this scenario play out firsthand with our daughter, Noemi. People balk when they hear she loves figs, for instance, thinking we’re raising her to be a food snob. But it really has little to do with us. When she peeks under our tree’s broad leaves every day to see if any figs have ripened, how can she not adore them? To her, they’re not some exotic fruit, but a playmate in an ongoing game of hide and seek.

The principal is simple: when you engage food in its raw state it changes the way you think about it, whether you’re 3 or 30 or a 103.

I agree with Obama and her team that the earlier we get children interested in their food—how it grows, what it tastes like, how it makes them feel, how good it is to sit down and share a meal—the more likely they are to remain engaged throughout their lifetime. I also agree that the first step to dealing with all the complex issues surrounding food policy (which we’ll be addressing little by little here on ) is simply to care about the food we’re eating, not from the perspective of a gourmet chef, but the perspective of a human being.

Don’t miss, though, that by her very actions Michelle Obama is also sending a secondary message that bears voicing. Sure, children are our future . . . but we’re their role models today.

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10 Replies to “Teach Our Children Well”

  1. Pingback: Politics of the Plate « The Nourish Network Discussions

  2. Lia – I have very happy memories of a fig tree in my aunt’s yard in Redding in the summer where the temps reach 114 at times. The shade, the sweet warm figs, my cousins. And the carrots look wonderful – I have a similar recipe but I’ll certainly try yours too. steph

  3. Antoine eats raspberries in his granparents’ yard, right from the shrub, and he’s crazy about them ! Unluckily, your fig tree down in the Drôme doesn’t give any fruit.

    I fully agree with you on engaging kids with food and was thrilled when I heard about the Obamas’veggie garden. Wish I could have one here in Lyon, too !

  4. Anne-Liesse . . . We’ll just have to get on that Drome fig tree, eh? So wonderful that Antoine nibbles on raspberries with his grandma–I used to do the same and I remember what an adventure it was to find them. I miss raspberries here; we tend towards blackberries here in the West. Not that I’m complaining . . . I’m very content with blackberries and figs.

  5. Isn’t she precious? And I second you on the carrots . . . I, too, would love a few more to grow ;-). Although we did find a stray straggler the other day, which Noemi proceeded to gobble down before I could even give it a proper rinse-off with the hose.

  6. Lia, love the picture of Noe! Just want to gobble her up (as well as those carrots!). Certainly fresh carrots, figs, and rasperries are the ideal, however, I’ll just share that you have been such an inspiration to my kids (and our family)when it comes to simply encouraging kids to cook/bake and just be in the kitchen! In fact, just this afternoon we brought out the “Cool Kids Cook” book by Donna Hay, and the 3 kids made chocolate fudge almost by themselves! It was very cute to see them reading the recipe and figuring out which measuring cups to use. Thanks for inspiring kids to enjoy time together in the kitchen!

  7. Jules . . . It’s always made me so happy that the kids look forward to cooking with Auntie Lia. It sounds like we are well on our way seriously to making ‘kitchen makers’ out of them all. Although that garbage man and his truck does give me a serious run for the money in terms of entertainment-value.

  8. Pingback: Nourish Network — Blog — Teach Our Children Well « Great Chefs

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