Sometimes food can be a surprisingly polarizing subject.
To some it’s simply fuel, but to others (such as myself) it’s a near-constant obsession. I once worked with a woman who ate the same three things each and every day, and the mere thought a life of such culinary paucity and abstinence made my stomach turn. As is often said, some people live to eat, while others eat to live, I suppose.
And as more attention is drawn to the subject of what our society feeds young minds at school, it’s become apparent how literally one can take the phrase “food for thought“. There have been numerous studies examining the correlation between hungry bodies and diminished cognitive ability, which (along with poverty) is likely part of the driving force behind an increase in school breakfast and lunch programs. The Toronto Foundation For Student Success runs one such program, raising money to provide TDSB schools with funding for food programs (if I’m not mistaken it used to be called Breakfast for Learning, but is now known as Feeding Our Future). I dated the son of a woman who was heavily involved in bringing that program to fruition almost 10 years ago, so while there are many programs in the city, it’s the one I’m most familiar with.
On the other end of the spectrum, I recall an article in Edible Toronto’s Fall 2007 issue that profiled a company called Real Food For Real Kids and how they were catering lunches to daycares and schools after finding the offerings at their own child’s school inadequate (the article can be accessed from their website by clicking on the Edible Toronto link). While the TFSS program tries to provide funding so that no child ever has to experience hunger as an impediment to learning, the RFRK approach counts on parents to pony up the fundage for nourishing their budding Einsteins. It’s realistic to expect parents to take ownership of their child’s relationship with food, and I think healthy food is important for all children, but I don’t agree with the undercurrent of elitism that this program implies – because people (especially children) should not be denied nutrition just because their parents don’t belong to a certain tax bracket.
The presiding theory behind both programs is what’s relevant, though. Neither organization believes in feeding children processed, freeze-dried, preservative-laden crap; rather, they intend to give kids fresh, balanced, satisfying fare. Looking at some of the options available to children around the world, it doesn’t seem like this should be such a difficult concept to master. Yet for some reason, in vast swatches of North America and the UK, it is. If you’ve ever watched any of Jamie’s School Dinners, then you know how similar their situation is to the one on our side of the pond. When I was in high school just about everything coming out of the caf was deep fried or pre-made, and pop machines were ubiquitous. When searching for something remotely healthy, you were often met with some pretty slim pickings. We’ve made some strides in a positive direction, but there are still way too many schools that serve those ridiculously disgusting aberrations known as “Smiles” and call them food (if you’re unfamiliar with “Smiles”, they’re a mashed potato-type product that is processed into the shape of a smiley face and served to kids as a side dish).
It would appear that the areas of the world that struggle with healthily providing for their children the most are the industrialized nations that don’t have a defining national food culture. America, the UK (and to a lesser extent Canada), don’t have much in the way of a cuisine that is uniquely their own; at least not in the sense that we recognize bulgogi is Korean and carbonara Italian, or paneer as an Indian ingredient. We lost our food identity (if ever we had one) a long time ago, and all we’ve replaced it with is synthetic (fast) food. As a perfect example, someone asked the Everyman and I recently what we would consider Canada’s national dish and neither of us could come up with a steadfast answer. My first thought was either peameal on a bun or poutine, but even those aren’t widespread enough to be considered national. Multicultural countries are wonderful for a myriad of reasons, but one thing they seem to suck at is upholding the traditions of food. If someone asked me what America’s national meal was, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything more creative than hamburgers, apple pie or tv dinners. And you know that can’t possibly be it, but if no one is taking the time to preserve the identity and pass it on to future generations, how are we supposed to teach children the ways that we (healthfully) nourish ourselves? Grease, sugar and empty calories have become the de facto answer, but I’m telling you, that answer is wrong.
I sometimes wonder if the lack of proper nourishment also directly increases the onslaught of online content diarrhea that has become a hallmark of the younger generation (otherwise known as the “overshare”). Not following my meaning? Think Facebook, Live Messenger, texting and Twitter, for example. There have been studies that have proven how poor diet can aggravate conditions like ADHD, so it stands to reason that poor diet could also affect the concentration required to maintain one’s internal filter v.s. the constant need to spill all the vacuous minutiae of your day. As the internet becomes ever more prevalent, it seems like nobody knows when to stop, hold back or contain themselves anymore. The universe doesn’t need to know that you just bought a Coke or stopped to tie your shoe. Really. If you just had an apple instead of that slushee, perhaps we could avoid all of the resulting white noise.