In elementary school, our cafeteria trays looked like this.
The left hand vertical section was for silverware and the bottom left square was for a carton of milk. The remaining four sections were for food. And the food was made by the cafeteria ladies. I have watched Jamie Oliver’s show and followed his advocacy and passion to change the way we feed our children. He’s right but he leap frogs over the origin of the problem: the parents. He gathered the mothers at the school to explain his elimination of chocolate milk. He did a very convincing argument that capitalized on revulsion and aversion: fill a smelly green dumpster with big globs of fat, piles of sugar and cooking oil and explained that “chocolate milk” is milk with all these “non-milk” ingredients. Milk isn’t even milk. The mothers all looked horrified and he got tremendous support. Converts! Disciples! Except…..school cafeterias don’t make our children fat. Even if a child gets both breakfast and lunch at school, it’s simply not enough calories to cause obesity. We could argue that the calories provided are not healthy: low in protein and fiber, high in fat and carbohydrates. And very little of it is LIVE or FRESH. The healthy eating of out children starts at home. It starts on our own plates. What do I eat? I eat healthy. I may not eat super low calorie. And I could stand to lose a few pounds. But I eat fresh. I eat from scratch. I eat simple. Non sugared cereals. Peanut butter & honey sandwiches. Cheese. Homemade bread. I follow simple rules. Nothing shrink wrapped. Nothing from the fully prepared frozen food section. No meals ready to eat from a can. Real food is not hard or time consuming. I think real food is easier and tastier. One of the simplest confirmations that kids can appreciate fresh, real food as substitute for MREs was my recent, spontaneous soup creation.
I made a chicken bouillon and seasoned it with fresh crushed garlic cloves, rubbed sage and cracked pepper. I added the capellini nests to the pot and covered for the package directions. I didn’t stir! I ladled out intact nests into bowls and plopped mozzarella pearls on top. It was a hit! Add some toasted garlic bread and fresh fruit and the boys eat eagerly. Food is fuel. But food is also pleasure. I want to teach that pleasure doesn’t have to be sneaky, taboo or shameful. If food is pleasure and we associate pleasure with some repressive, puritanical judgment, then food becomes a secret. And there in lies the origin of our whole problem. We are repressed, so profoundly repressed that FOOD is the primary place we get off. And everything else gets kinda perverse and kinky. I wonder what a sociologist would say about the exploding obesity rates and the parallel arc of pornography.
Restore food to a simple, acceptable, lovely pleasure. Make life and living joyful and sensual. And maybe…..just maybe….we can raise children that don’t horde food and sneak candy and binge on crap. If they can learn to have a healthy relationship with their own cravings and pleasures surrounding food, then maybe….just maybe…they will extend that to other realms of their life. When food is elevated to intimacy….is it any wonder that we are as dysfunctional with food as we seem to be in our other relationships? Start with the basics. Fix our food disturbances and maybe we can improve our other relationships: with work, with family, with community, with our friends and lovers. I think of food and how it appears in the Bible. Martha cooking for Jesus. The fish and the loaves. Bread and wine. Simple but powerful. And the food permits even encourages intimacy among those around the table who break bread and join.
Keep it simple and welcome visitors. And a simple bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich can be AMAZING. Bon Appetit!