Friday, December 14, 2012

How tastes change

Image from here

I was just reading an old canning industry manual for my dissertation research, and came across this sentence amid a list of other agricultural "achievements":
"Canners were among the first to use the strains of beets that are solid red in color all the way through, instead of having alternate bands of red and white"
This sentence made me do a little bit of a double take--the canners were proud of this?

I don't know about you, but I remember the first time I cut into a beautiful chioggia beet--the rarer kind with red and white stripes (pictured above)--that I'd gotten from the farmers' market, or in our CSA farmshare box. I was stunned by its beauty. I wanted to capture those stripes and hang them as artwork all over my house, reveling in their messy symmetry and the watercolor effect of the deep reds and pinks and whites.

It felt like a real discovery to find that not all beets were just red throughout. Not that the solid red beet isn't beautiful in its own right, but this striped version won the beauty contest in my opinion, hands down.

So, now to find that the canners worked hard to develop varieties that were more uniform and less beautiful?

It has left me thinking hard about how food aesthetics have changed over time, how uniformity may have been praised in the middle of the century, where heirloom varieties with quirky features are praised today. How consumer preferences shift and morph as the years pass....

But I'm glad that I've still got access to the "alternate bands of red and white" of the chioggia beet.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Fostering healthy eating habits

There was a short piece on the Wall Street Journal blog today called "How to Have the 'Happy Meal' Talk,"  in which the author considered how to tell his five-year-old twin sons why they would not be eating at McDonald's, that magical place where "they give you a toy with your food."

The Dad/author considered a number of strategies and evaluated their efficacy:

  • Saying, as his wife suggested, "it’s poison and you must never go there."
    • Problem: (You can fill in the blank here, I imagine)

  • Describing the problem of feedlots and factory farms
    • Problem: Too scary for five-year olds? 

  • Michael Pollan's suggestion: teach kids about the marketing itself, explaining why the healthiest foods tend not be adorned with pictures of cartoon characters.
    • Problem: Too complicated?

  • Just say “No, we’re not going to McDonald’s.”
    • Problem: Elevates fast food to an unattainable treat that makes kids want it even more.

  • Tell kids how healthier foods do more to make them grow strong.
    • Problem: Some kids don't care

  •  Reward healthy meals with toys
    •  Problem: “Research shows that bribing or rewarding kids for eating their vegetables can actually decrease children’s preference for these foods,” says Donna Pincus, director of Boston University’s child and adolescent fear and anxiety treatment program and author of “Growing up Brave.”

  • The "Green Eggs and Ham" strategy. Keep asking and offering healthy options, over and over again.
    • Problem: Can be exhausting and frustrating. But remains the ultimate strategy suggested by psychologists to divert attention and create longlasting healthy preferences.
I think it's really interesting to consider this question of how to foster good eating habits in children.

(Not all the commenters on the WSJ post agree with me. As one of them wrote, "I just rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.")

Although I don't yet have children, when I imagine how I'll feed and raise my future potential kids, I'd like to bring the same intentionality to their diets that I bring to my own. And yet, so many of the reasons that inform my own dietary practices are the result of many years of exposure and education. How to convey the same ideas and priorities to little kids, who don't have that deep foundation?

I'd like to think that, ultimately, offering a strong model is the primary way that we foster good habits (in all realms, not just food). Kids soak up the world and practices around them. If we don't eat at McDonald's, our children will likely rarely do so. If they go with a friend a time or two, they may like the hamburger (I loved the thin pickles and minced onions and American cheese when I was a kid. You didn't hear this from me, but there may even be photos of my 8th birthday at the local McDonald's floating around somewhere...), but it certainly won't become a regular part of their diets.

What do you all think?

How have you (or might you) cultivate good habits in those in your sphere of influence?