Jan. 5th, 2010

valancystirling: (Default)

Waldorf background--it is believed that children under age 7 are more i"in their bodies" as opposed to "in their heads". Teaching is done via example and through movement and hands-on activity. Giving kids big ideas is thought to be counterproductive, and anything academic is put off till age 7 or 8. I can see how some of the big ideas surrounding food--particularly in our current industrial food climate--is too much for a little mind to absorb, and that those choices are better left to the parents on their behalf.

Having said that, I disagree with much of this article because I view making correct food choices as being as essential to survival in this modern world as teaching kids not to play in the street. That's a pretty big idea too, really, but it's necessary. I would absolutely love to have a set-up in which my kids weren't exposed to any differing views about food until they were already old enough to be involved in intelligent discussion about it. But that is not the case, probably for anyone outside a commune of like-minded people. And so every time we are out in the world, at the grocery store, at a playdate, at a birthday party or a holiday dinner, we are faced with handling how we present the rationale of our own food choices to our children, generally with a hostile audience watching intently.

In our case, our food consciousness began in earnest when we discovered that Topaz was "colicky", only further investigation suggested that for her and probably millions of other babies, the cause of that was food-related. She had sensitivities to dairy, corn, and soy. As I was exclusively breastfeeding, that meant she was sensitive to what I was eating. A visit to any grocery store in the country would reveal the difficulty with working around these sensitivities. Even in an organic store, almost every food product has some derivative of dairy, corn, and/or soy in it. This led to a whole other list of questions about our food supply, but more directly led to our choosing a whole foods diet--one in which we buy single ingredient foods and mix them however we want, knowing there are no additional ingredients to worry about.

Over time I have learned more and more about the flaws of our food system, and have become increasingly convinced that it really does take constant vigilance to ensure that I don't expose my children or myself to dangerous toxins. I believe very strongly that children need a foundation of good health, and that it's the parents' job to build it. Toxins build up very quickly in little bodies, and with such rapid development taking place, those toxins can have a huge, seemingly disproportionate impact on their growth and overall health. We have been conditioned to believe that so many "childhood illnesses" are normal and reasonable, and that they just happen, with no cause and no contribution on our part. I don't buy into that, and I am always trying to minimize exposure to chemicals and toxins in my home and anywhere near my kids.

This constant vigilance is fine and well in our own homes, and I am reminded every time we leave our house just how differently we live from the majority around us. Grocery stores are full of "food products" that are not really food. Well-meaning (are they?) friends and family push their food on us and take deep offense when I decline to accept it, even when I offer no meaningful excuse other than, we just ate, or simply, no thank you. I think human beings have many unspoken rituals surrounding food. Someone comes to your home, you offer them food. It's like breaking a secret code of conduct to refuse under any circumstances. And so, frequently, without meaning anything of the kind, I cause offense and negative feelings simply because for own personal reasons I am choosing what to put in my own body or my child's.

So what do I teach my own children about food? Because our "issues" began with real sensitivities with such visceral consequences (let's all pause for a moment and imagine a young mother up with a tiny tortured, screaming baby for hours and hours every single night, feeling helpless and alone and panicked here), I took it very seriously and made severe changes to our family's diet overnight. And as Topaz grew and was old enough to go grab a cookie off a plate at someone's house, I decided to educate her as simply as I could that not all foods are equal and that asking questions is a good thing. I have taken many different stances on this issue. I have tried to tell her very simply that people do things differently in different families, and we do such and such thing. Or that what's okay for one person isn't always okay for everyone. Which is unarguably true. However, as she's gotten older and asked more questions--Mom, WHY can't I have Halloween candy like all my friends???--I have gone more in-depth with my answers. Yes, it stems to her food sensitivities (which, incidentally, she seems to have outgrown, or at least those things don't keep her up all night screaming), but it goes way beyond that. People preach at me, moderation! moderation! I don't buy into that either. When is it the right time to consume high fructose corn syrup? When is it a good idea to give my kid red dye? How is it a "treat" when giving it to her decreases her health? That seems like a punishment to me. I wouldn't let my kid drink moderate amounts of Clorox, and I feel the same way about foods with additives and non-organic foods of unknown and dubious origin. They all come from the same factory, plastics, chemicals, and food additives.

So. Back to the original question. Does this come down to what we teach our kids, or how they take that information and present it to the world?

Teaching our kids tolerance is an important thing. Certainly we all do things differently and a certain amount of backing off and respecting people's choices is called for. However, I have a problem with tolerance taken too far. In our society, we are constantly being told to be tolerant. But I think this has led to us tolerating the intolerable. I certainly don't feel that people are overwhelmingly tolerant of MY food choices, despite the fact that they are probably far more thought out than their own. Perhaps I would have a greater feeling of tolerance for people making their own bad choices if they weren't constantly bashing me for making mine. I will respect that your kids eat oreos washed down with a can of coke, if you respect me and don't keep insisting that my kids share it. (This is why we usually bring our own food to playdates, which also seems to be an inflammatory gesture--can't win.)

I think manners are a big part of it. Be the change you want to see in the world, and all that. So while Topaz is well-versed on the evils of corn syrup and red dye and would happily lecture anyone about them, I have taught her that it is not polite and we let people do what they do, and we do what we do. The only problem with this is that she is afflicted with the same urge I am to share the joy of knowledge and help people. When she sees a kid eating a piece of red candy she is genuinely upset because she wants everyone to be healthy and feel good. But yes, sometimes we get more worked up about it than is strictly necessary. Even my mom frequently mistakes my enthusiasm for whatever piece of food news I've just read for an assault. So I try to make it a non-issue even though it hurts me to see people I care about doing what I think is self-destructive. If you had the cure for cancer, you'd want to share it with the world, or at least people you care about, right? This is how we feel.

I could go on and on about this, but it's enough for now.


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